Happy New Year 2024!
Are the wars, political unrest, and climate change making you nervous about what’s to come in 2024? This year, instead of paying attention to the bad news, you need to focus on improving your luck. For me, that means starting January 1 with Hoppin’ John.
Getting to Know Hoppin’ John
I first came across Hoppin’ John in Oriental, North Carolina, while writing for TownDock.net. A neighbor of Keith Smith and Melinda Penkava (founders of TownDock.net) invited us to his house for this funny-sounding meal he called Hoppin’ John. He said it was for good luck. He smoked a cigar and had a deep southern drawl, and I was embarrassed that, even though I’d grown up in North Carolina, I’d never heard of it.
We went to Ray’s house (the neighbor’s name was Ray), and a big group of friends was already there. Ray steered us to a pot full of black-eyed peas and collards. I dumped some on my plate, grabbed a hunk of cornbread, and we all dug in, wishing each other good luck in the new year as we ate.
It was cold out, and the simple meal shared with friends made it feel like whatever was going to happen next was going to be good.
About Hoppin’ John
There was something so simple and peaceful sitting around with friends eating one of the simplest meals imaginable. The black-eyed peas and collards tasted salty and warm, like something that grew in the southern dirt right down the street from where we were eating.I have no idea exactly how the custom of eating Hoppin’ John came to be, but I have since read that it was born deep in the soul food belt of the South. That makes sense. Dried peas, collards, and cornmeal are all things that can be sourced in January. As to the name, it supposedly comes from a southernification (is that a word?) of the French words for pigeon peas. Pigeon peas look a lot like black-eyed peas and are called “pois pigeons” in French. It doesn’t take much to go from “pois pigeons” to “paw peejohn” or “hoppin john”.
Hoppin’ John Recipe
There’s no one right way to make Hoppin’ John. The basic recipe is black-eyed peas with collards and cornbread. If you feel like getting into an argument, I’m sure you could find a regional Hoppin’ John expert who would tell you that, instead of black-eyed peas, you needed field peas. Or, instead of collards, you could use mustard. Just remember the world is divided over everything right now and you’re trying to improve your luck, not get into a fight.
The bottom line is it doesn’t matter how you make Hoppin’ John. It was always made from what people had in their pantry and garden. In our case, that means black-eyed peas cooked on our wood stove and mixed greens from our garden. What greens we have on hand in January vary, and this year, they’re collards, curly greens, purple top greens, radish, and white turnip tops. We may or may not make cornbread. I’ve started some years with cornbread and some without, and my luck always seems good.
Come and Get it
Here are few photos of how our meal came out. I ended up finding some corn meal and pancake mix and whipped up a few drop biscuits instead of cornbread. Instead of boiling the greens, I chopped them up, put them in a soup bowl and poured the black-eyed peas on top.
Don’t have time to cook black-eyed peas from scratch? You still have time to rummage through your cabinets for a can of black-eyed peas and get cooking. If you can’t find any, it’s not too late to get your butt down to the grocery if you head out RIGHT NOW. In a pinch, you could even pick up a can of collards. Because luck in a can is better than no luck at all
Happy New Year, Friend
I wish you all the best in 2024. Around here, that means starting the New Year with Hoppin’ John.
Isn’t that a better way to start the year than stressing about everything that’s wrong in our world?
All the best in the coming year!
What’s Your Lucky New Year’s Day Meal?
What special meal do you eat to celebrate the New Year? Just leave me a comment and I might be over after I eat!
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I’d love to give you a free copy of my just-released 134-page photo book 19 Million Mule Steps. The book contains a lot of the material that didn’t fit into my upcoming book Two Mules to Triumph, about my 7 month, 2,300 mile Long Ride from North Carolina to Idaho with my mules Brick and Cracker.