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Hoppin’ john is a rice and bean dish that is common to Africa, the Caribbean islands, and the southeastern region of the United States. The dish is typically made with long-grain white rice and black-eyed peas, although other types of beans or peas may be used. A traditional hoppin’ john recipe also includes diced onions and some kind of salt pork.
Each household and region has its own method of preparation for hoppin’ john. In some places, the rice and peas are cooked together; in others, the rice and peas are cooked separately and served together at the table. Variations on black-eyed peas include black beans, kidney beans, and field peas. To give the dish its savory flavor, ham hocks, fat back, or bacon may be used. Some cooks also add sausages to the dish.
Much folklore is associated with hoppin’ john, although the origin of the name is uncertain. It is believed to be a mispronounced derivation of the French word for pigeon peas, “pois de pigeon,” which is properly pronounced “pwah-duh-pee-zhon.” Other possible origins include a nickname for a limping man named John or the tradition of extending a dinner invitation with the expression, “Hop in, John.”
Hoppin’ john is most popular as a meal on New Year’s Day. It is believed to bring good fortune and prosperity, especially when it is served with leafy greens such as collard, mustard, or kale. Sometimes a coin is hidden in the dish for extra luck. When leftover hoppin’ john is served the next day, it is called Skippin’ Jenny or Limpin’ Kate.
The dish first appeared in the New World on the intercoastal islands along the mid-Atlantic seaboard and the low country plantations of South Carolina. One of the most colorful references to hoppin’ john in American literature is in the novel “The Member of the Wedding” by Carson McCullers. In this passage, the main character expresses her passion for the dish:
"Now hopping john was F. Jasmine's very favorite food. She had always warned them to wave a plate of rice and peas before her nose when she was in her coffin, to make certain there was no mistake; for if a breath of life was left in her, she would sit up and eat, but if she smelled the hopping john, and did not stir, then they could just nail down the coffin and be certain she was truly dead."
@Scrbblchick -- I don't know about you, but I think I know what's going to be on my New Year's Day menu!
I've always loved the beans and rice mixture, in just about any combination you want to come up with: black beans and rice, refried beans and rice, red beans and rice -- you name it. I love it.
I like the idea of making a rice ring around the edge of the serving platter and then putting the peas into the middle of the ring. That's a nice presentation idea.
I love hoppin' john. We don't normally have it on New Year's Day, although that does sound good for next year!
I like it with field peas or black-eyed peas, and a lot of onion. It's all about getting a lot of flavor into the food. Pork knuckles or fat back are also good for getting some porky goodness into the dish, which also improves it, along with a healthy shot of garlic and black pepper.
Hoppin' john and cornbread, with a slice of ham -- hard to beat that combination!