Eating black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day is an old Southern tradition in the U.S. In fact, black-eyed peas have been a symbol of luck and prosperity for many cultures as far back as ancient Egyptian times, and were originally brought to colonial America from Africa.
Here’s an easy, delicious way to enjoy their tasty, lucky goodness this new year—or any time of year!
History of Hoppin’ John
Hoppin’ John is a traditional New Year’s dish from the American South that is made with bacon, salt pork or jowl, black-eyed peas, greens like collards or kale, and is often served over rice. It is said that the peas represent coins, the greens symbolize cash, and the pork represents prosperity. What better way to bless the new year?
Some say the dish is named for an old, hobbled man called Hoppin’ John who became known for selling peas and rice on the streets of Charleston, South Carolina, but most food historians think the name comes from a French term for dried peas, “pois pigeons,” which is pronounced PWAH pee-JON. It’s also uncertain exactly how the dish became associated with New Year’s.
Fun Hoppin’ John New Year’s Traditions
Some people believe you should cook your New Year’s Hoppin’ John recipe with a new dime or penny, or add it to the pot before serving. The person who finds the coin in their portion is said to be extra lucky that year.
Some traditions say you should eat exactly 365 peas on New Year’s Day. If you eat any less, you’ll only be lucky for that many days. (I guess on leap years, you need to eat an extra pea!) And of course, if you eat any more than 365 peas, it turns those extra days into bad luck.
Some say you should leave one pea on your plate, to share your luck with someone else. Others say if you don’t eat every pea on your plate, your luck will be bad. It’s also said that if you eat only black-eyed peas, and skip the pork, collard greens and the accompaniments, the luck won’t stick. They all work together or not at all.
But cultural mythology notwithstanding, this Hoppin’ John recipe is fast, easy, yummy and nutritious, so enjoy this dish (minus the choking-hazard coin) anytime greens are in season—not just on New Year’s Day.
About Salt Pork
Salt pork is made by salt-curing pork belly, or, more rarely, fatback. Salt pork typically resembles uncut bacon, but, unlike bacon, it is typically fattier, saltier, and never smoked. This old method of preserving meat was used throughout the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, and salt pork was a standard ration for soldiers and sailors during this time.
Salt pork is used today in traditional American cuisine, particularly Boston baked beans, pork and beans, Hoppin’ John, collard greens, and other soul food. It is also often central to the flavor of clam chowder. If you aren’t sure where to get salt pork, ask for it at your butcher counter in your local grocery store or find it (from sustainably-raised pigs) here.
Salt pork is so fatty, it can be hard to cut into pieces, so be sure to have a large, very sharp knife for this job. To make it easier to cut, partially freeze your salt pork till it’s firm, but not solid, and then cut it. It will quickly defrost during cooking.
As it cooks down, salt pork will produce a lot of fat. You want to cook your peas, onions and greens in this fat. But, if you have an especially fatty cut of salt pork, sometimes there is just too much fat rendered out. In that case, pour some out into a dish until you have enough left over to sauté with, and add more back as needed.
Be sure to use a splatter screen as this dish cooks!
More Pork Recipes
- Is Pork Bad for You?
- Stank-a-Dank” Slow Cooker Pork Spare Ribs
- Brined Pork Shoulder for the Slow Cooker
- How to Cure Bacon at Home
Hoppin’ John Variations
Many people serve this dish over rice, but it is fine on it’s own, or even served over mashed sweet potato.
You can also make a vegetarian version of Hoppin’ John by simply leaving out the pork, but you will need to substitute another high-heat oil for the sauté, like grapeseed, avocado or refined coconut oil.
Hoppin’ John with Kale
- In a wok or large cast iron skillet, sauté the diced pork on medium low until crispy and brown on the edges. It will release a lot of fat and water in the process. Let the water cook off; then the pork will brown.
- Remove crispy pork from the pan, drain, and set aside. Remove excess hot fat from the pan to leave about 1/4-inch (.6 cm) remaining to cook with.
- Add chopped onions to the pork fat and cook until clear.
- Add cooked black eyed peas (if using cans, include their liquid), and then add the minced garlic. Sauté 2-3 minutes more, until the garlic becomes fragrant.
- Add chopped kale and thyme, and sauté until cooked down, about 5-6 minutes.
- Return crispy salt pork to the mixture and cook 1-2 more minutes, stirring to incorporate the pork.
- Season with salt, pepper and hot sauce (if you like), and serve alone or over rice or sweet potatoes.
- It is much easier to dice salt pork or pork belly when it is partially frozen. Be sure to use a very sharp knife.
- For a vegetarian version of Hoppin’ John, simply leave out the pork, and substitute about 1/4 cup another high-heat oil for the sauté, like grapeseed, avocado or coconut oil.
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Updated January 2, 2024