Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Hoppin'John : Happy New Year

Hoppin'John with collards and cornbread

Its New Year's Day in the evening, and that can only mean one thing around these parts: Hoppin'John.  Every year for most of my life has begun with a bowl of black eyed peas.  It is a tradition rooted in the deep south.  Why am I making it in the far north you ask?  For one, I love traditional foods, and traditions that are based on or that surround food.  I think that eating meals is one of the best and most meaningful ways to mark the passage of time.  Also, we lived in Alabama for a few years when I was young,  and worked on the first organic CSA in that fine state so we had an abundance of black eyed peas come January first.  Our family has eaten it once a year ever since. 

One branch of my family tree is the Lee's of Mississippi (of General Robert E. fame).  Sometimes I like to think that I'm making dishes my great grandmother or her mother might have made, though the reality is that she may have thought meal one fit only for slaves.  Hoppin'John is, essentially a pot of black eyed peas with some seasonings.  It is thought to have derived from the afro-cubano inspired slave culture of the cotton plantation south.  The OED's first citiation of its use is from an 1800's travelogue called "A Journey in the Seaboard Slave Slave States" by Fredrick Olmsted.  He says "The greatest luxury with which they are acquainted is a stew of bacon and peas, with red pepper, which they call 'Hopping John'."

I base my recipe off the one in "Sundays at Moosewood" with a nudge or two from my mother's "Joy of Cooking:"  it has peas and peppers, spices and pepper, a bit of tamari and no bacon.  We usually eat it, as is traditional, with rice but this year I made cornbread instead.  And of course served collards.  Cornbread and collards, now.  That is a southern tradition I can guarantee my great great grandmother would have approved of. 

Hoppin'John eaten on the first of the year is said to bring luck and prosperity and peace in the new year.  So I eat it as an intention for my own upcoming year and as a conscious act of love for all with whom I share this planet.

Happy 2013!  May it bring you much beauty and joy!

The Darlin'Man and me dear Da.

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