As many of you know, I’m a “recovering New Yorker”. One of the first really ‘alien’ things I found when I first moved to Virginia, 40-some years ago, was that if I saw friends on New Year’s Day, their first question was usually “Did you have your black-eyed peas yet?”. If I said “no”, I was usually dragged bodily into the kitchen and handed a bowl and spoon and told “It’s good luck”. (Some were pretty bad, some were delicious.)
I had to do some research to find out why. It turns out that, before the Civil War, black-eyed peas (beans) were grown, but considered a low-grade animal fodder crop in the South. Both armies involved in the conflict tended to commandeer much of the “people food”.
Animals, green vegetables, fruits, wheat, hay and field corn went to keep the armies fed. Civilians, black and white, rich and poor, were all very short of food. The bottom-line was that it was ‘survival food’, but if you had those dried beans, and maybe some smoked pork hocks to cook on New Year’s Day, you were already starting off the year lucky.
I don’t really believe that things are good or bad luck (except for the really obvious – it’s always bad luck to purposely whack yourself in the hand with a sledgehammer), but, a really tasty century+ – old tradition needs to be remembered and spread beyond its source. Here’s a modern version:
Hoppin’ John, the lazy way (not just for New Year any more…)
You Will Need:
- 1 lb dry Black-eyed Peas
- 1 “country style” smoked ham hock
- 1 yellow onion, quartered
- about 2 qt chicken stock
- 1 yellow onion, diced
- 1 bunch fresh thyme
- 1 large green pepper, diced
- boiling water
- chopped garlic
- 1/2 lb bacon, diced.
- stone-ground coarse mustard (optional)
- Add dry beans to a crockpot, cover by about an inch with boiling water.
- Set slow cooker on “Warm” and let is sit overnight to hydrate beans. Add more water if needed.
- In morning, drain off water, re-cover beans with chicken broth, add the ham hock, quartered onion, a ‘pinch’ of garlic and cook until tender on “Low” setting.
- When beans are tender, remove ham hock, shred and return to slow cooker, saute bacon over medium heat to render fat, until ‘somewhat crispy’ (my personal choice- I don’t like it if it breaks when you bend it).
- Remove bacon and excess grease, saute diced onions, peppers and garlic until onions translucent, then add to your beans.
- Stir, add fresh thyme bundle, add a little more broth if needed, and cook on “Low” about another half hour. A little mustard doesn’t hurt, but not traditional. Add broth or water as needed, you want some good ‘bean juice’ :)
Serve by itself, over rice, or with cornbread, or both. YUMMMM.
It’s “good luck” to start the year with something delicious. It would be very cool to know that we’re all sharing a meal, even though we’re all geographically separated.