The South Carolina Encyclopedia describes Hoppin’ John as “a pilaf made with beans and rice.” Typical of the one-pot cooking of the South Carolina lowcountry, the Hoppin' John recipe is said to have come directly to America from West Africa. The first written appearance of the recipe in English was in Sarah Rutledge’s The Carolina Housewife, or House and Home by a Lady of Charleston, published anonymously in 1847.
The original Charleston version called for “one pound of bacon, one pint of red peas, one pint of rice.” Red peas are cowpeas or dried field peas and were used as cattle feed. Like black-eyed peas, they are not peas but legumes (beans). The culinary scholar Karen Hess said she believes that both recipe and name are derived from Hindi, Persian, and Malay words that mean, simply, “cooked rice and beans.” Whatever the origins, the dish, originally made with pigeon peas in West Africa, became a favorite of the rice plantation owners as well as the enslaved. As the recipe moved inland, it became the traditional dish for good luck on New Year’s Day throughout the South and a favority Gullah food.
HOPPIN’ JOHN RECIPE
Tradition says that eating Hoppin’ John, collard greens and cornbread on New Year’s Day will bring a year filled with good luck. Made of black-eyed peas and rice, seasoned with ham hocks, onions, green peppers, and spices, the origin of the name is unknown, but it’s thought to be a slave dish from the colonial era. New Southern Cooking author Natalie Dupree said that the black-eyed peas are said to represent each Confederate soldier who died for the South during the Civil War.
- 1 cup chopped onion
- 1 tablespoon bacon drippings
- 2 cans (about 16 ounces each) black-eyed peas, slightly drained, or about 3 cups cooked black-eyed peas
- 1 cup chopped cooked ham
- ¼ teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
- 3 cups hot cooked rice
- salt to taste
- sliced sweet onion, optional
In a large saucepan sauté chopped onion in bacon drippings until tender. Stir in black-eyed peas, ham, and cayenne pepper. Simmer for 10 minutes; stir in hot cooked rice and salt. Serve Hoppin' John hot with sliced onion and cornbread.
Serves 4 to 6