Something about turning a calendar causes us to turn around with our thinking. It is a natural time of reflection on the old year and anticipation of the opportunities ahead during the new year. Many will resolve to change their eating habits, and what better way to do that than on the very first day of the year.
I am not a superstitious person, but I love traditions that are built around food. One of those says that if you begin the new year with a meal of black-eyed peas, spinach and hog jowl, you’ll have good luck for the next 364 days. Many have heard of the practice, but don’t know how it started.
The legend supposedly began when a pioneer farmer was down on his luck and digging post holes. He had nothing to eat except for hog jowl that seasoned some black-eyed peas and a few greens. He ate his measly lunch on New Year’s Day and returned to his post hole digging, where he promptly unearthed a pile of gold coins. Forever after, he and all who heard the story ate the same meal on New Year’s Day.
Hoppin’ John Satisfies
While those peas and greens can take on many forms, I typically serve cooked greens and Hoppin’ John. If you are a Southerner, you know that Hoppin’ John is an iconic dish that is simple yet magnificent.
It is a concoction of rice and black-eyed peas served with plenty of hot sauce. While some cook the peas with the rice, I spoon the peas over the top, using a ham hock to flavor both the peas and greens.
I’m not sure why the dish is so satisfying. Perhaps it’s the simplicity of it after enjoying fussy food for more than a month of celebrating. Maybe it lies in the lore that rice signifies abundance, peas are thought to bring wealth in the form of coins, and the greens that accompany the meal represent dollar bills. Whatever it is, you’ll find it equally fulfilling and a great comforting meal.
Select dry or canned black-eyed peas if you don’t have any in your freezer from the summer garden. If you don’t want to serve them cooked, mash the peas into a hummus or sprinkle them on a salad.
Don’t Forget The Greens
There are loads of greens that are a good value on the market that can fill out the traditional menu nicely. Look for turnip greens, collards or mustard greens that have been hit with a nip of frost, enhancing their flavor beautifully. Make sure to wash and rewash them before cooking to remove any loose pieces of grit.
If you don’t have a ham hock, there are several options that can serve as substitutions. Chop up some ham or use bacon for seasoning. I like to use country ham if a ham bone isn’t available.
For the rice, make sure you select a long-grain variety over medium or short grains. You want the rice to be fluffy and not stick together.
Whether you enjoy the combination of black-eyed peas and greens to begin the new year on a healthy note or for just the tradition, you’ll have a piece of Southern history on your plate.