A Lucky New Year’s Tradition
In the South, we believe there are two things that matter more than any other on New Year’s Day—what you eat and who you eat with. Hoppin’ John, Collard Greens, and Cornbread have long been essential components of the New Year’s Day meal because of their promise of health, wealth, and luck in the new year.
Stories vary from hill to dale, from the cornbread signifying gold to the greens representing paper money; but they all revolve around cowpeas or black-eyed peas (often seen as coins).
Most say that General Sherman considered them cow fodder and left them in the field as his ravenous troops marched through. The nutritious legume saved the day and was ever afterwards seen as a symbol of hope and better fortune for the Southerners, who continue to eat them each year. And what would tradition be without a gathering of friends and family.
At Lucky 32 Southern Kitchen, we both honor and break the black-eyed peas tradition. We serve the dish that goes back to this restaurant’s beginning, and further back in the lowcountry region’s history; to what inspired the black-eyed peas tradition.
Serving our New Year’s Special is a long-standing tradition at Lucky 32, and it’s one of our busiest days of the year! This year, we’re offering Country Ham Steak or Pork Loin Chop with cranberry chutney, both served with Hoppin John, collard greens, sweet potatoes and cornbread.
Need some New Year’s Eve ideas? Get the recipes and watch us whip up a few drinks and dishes on myFox8.com: Green Chile Pimento Cheese, Bayou Punch, Apple Margarita, White Bean Salad, Boozy Hot Chocolate, Chatham Artillery Punch, Hot and Buttered, Hot Rum Batter, Bourbon Pecan Bars, Bourbon Icing, and the New Jersey Cocktail.
Hoppin’ John = “Pois au Pigeon”
Hoppin’ John is credited with being created in the lowcountry, around the Charleston, South Carolina area. There’s no definitive story about what Hoppin’ John means. What we believe to be the truth about its name is based on linguistics.
The term Hoppin’ John stems from the Creole French word for “pigeon peas,” a cousin of black-eye peas, that is cultivated and consumed by peoples in the African diaspora.
Descendants of African slaves that have retained their indigenous foodways still cook pigeon peas in the sea islands off of South Carolina and Georgia, such as the Gullah and Geechee. Haitians called the peas “pois au pigeon,” which is pronounced “pwahz o peeJon.” If you don’t speak French, this phrase actually sounds like “Hoppin’ John.”
The Hoppin’ John dish was originally pigeon peas and rice cooked together. In Jamaica, they still serve this dish with coconut milk, kidney beans, rice, and green onion. All year long, Jamaicans will use kidney beans, but once a year, on Christmas, they use pigeon peas.
A complete protein in the Antebellum South
The reason you cook beans and rice together is to bring together the necessary amino acids for a complete protein. In the Post-bellum South, meat was harder to come by as the region struggled with a devastated economy and countryside and those two agriculture products — beans and rice — cooked together provided ample nutrition and also a symbol of hope (and luck) for the new year
Most people make Hoppin’ John with black-eyed peas and rice. But the last two years on New Years Eve at Lucky 32 Southern Kitchen, we’ve gone further back, to make the dish that both honors the Antebellum South and the Sea Island cultures that passed it on.
We make it with Sea Island Red Peas and Carolina Gold Rice from Anson Mills in Columbia, South Carolina, because we believe that to be the “Ur-Hoppin John” (in literature, some scholars believe that Shakespeare’s Hamlet was inspired by a previous story, known as the “Ur-Hamlet”). The original. The mother lode.
Happy New Year, and good luck!