Hoppin' John: A Traditional Southern Dish for New Year's Day | The Old Farmer's Almanac

Hoppin’ John: A Traditional Southern Dish for New Year's Day

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Eat Hoppin' John for Good Luck in the New Year!

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Welcome in the New Year with Hoppin’ John, a traditional New Year’s Day dish, and luck will follow you all year long!  

Hoppin’ John is a Southern American dish made with black-eyed peas, rice, and smoked pork, often served on New Year’s Day for good luck. It is believed to bring prosperity and good fortune to those who eat it. Why not serve some up Hoppin’ John this year?

What Is Hoppin’ John?

Hoppin’ John is a dish traditionally eaten in the southern United States on New Year’s Day. Dating back to the early 1800s, it is made with black-eyed peas (aka cow peas), rice, and meat (usually pork, in the form of bacon or ham). The meal can also include collard greens and cornbread.

Hoppin’ John is also known as “Happy Jack,” “Happy John,” and “Hop-in-John.”

When Do You Eat Hoppin’ John?

For some, the tradition of eating Hoppin’ John begins at midnight (New Year’s Eve), when the dish is served with a champagne toast.

New Year’s Day is the traditional day to eat Hoppin’ John. Any leftovers can be enjoyed on later days, but be aware that the name of the dish changes to Skippin’ Jenny. Stretching the dish into leftovers demonstrates your sense of frugality and promises even greater prosperity in the new year!

Recipes for Hoppin’ John

What Makes Hoppin’ John Special?

The ingredients in Hoppin’ John have symbolic importance, and eating this dish on New Year’s Day portends good fortune in the new year:

  • black-eyed peas represent coins
  • collard greens represent greenbacks (dollars), or cash
  • corn bread represents gold
  • pork—especially ham hocks—recall the cheap cuts of meat provided to enslaved people
  • tomatoes, if included, represent health
  • Sometimes, the cook slips a dime into the dish before serving. It is said that wealth awaits the diner who gets the dime (and hopefully not a chipped tooth).

Some say that good luck visits those who count the black-eyed peas on their plate for a hint at the amount of luck or wealth that will ensue. 

The custom of eating all but three of the black-eyed peas on your plate promises a trio of benefits—luck, wealth, and romance.

Legend has it that Sephardic Jews served black-eyed peas during Rosh Hashanah in the hope of fertility and good fortune.

black-eyed peas, the main ingredient in Hoppin' John
Black-eyed peas are the main ingredient in Hoppin’ John.

What Is the History of Hoppin’ John?

Hoppin’ John is considered Southern cuisine, mainly associated with North and South Carolina, but especially the Sea Islands off the coast of South Carolina and Georgia. Historians believe that the recipe was created by enslaved people from Africa, who introduced black-eyed peas to America and grew them in small gardens on rice plantations. Some sources suggest cattle grazed on black-eyed peas in the Carolinas in the early 1700s. The peas helped to suppress weeds and added nutrition to the soil and, therefore, the livestock.

The first appearance of the recipe for Hoppin’ John occurred in 1847 in a book titled “The Carolina Housewife.”

Where Does the Name Hoppin’ John Come From?

  • One source suggests that “Hoppin’ John” was a handicapped man who cooked and sold the dish in Charleston, South Carolina, in 1841.
  • One tradition has children hopping around the dinner table as the dish is brought in from the kitchen.
  • A more dubious explanation suggests that, in South Carolina, it was customary to invite a guest to dinner by saying, “Hop in, John.”

Learn More

→ Want more New Year traditions? Read about New Year traditions from around the world.
→ New Year’s is the time to make a resolution. Here’s our advice for resolving a change and sticking to it.

About The Author

Catherine Boeckmann

Catherine Boeckmann loves nature, stargazing, and gardening so it’s not surprising that she and The Old Farmer’s Almanac found each other. She leads digital content for the Almanac website, and is also a certified master gardener in the state of Indiana. Read More from Catherine Boeckmann

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