The following post is based on a web page written by Dennis Adams (Information Services Coordinator, Retired) for the old Beaufort County Library website at various points between 1998 and 2007. Created: 20 December 2017. – Grace Cordial
Hoppin’ John …
In much of the United States, dishes featuring rice and beans are considered lowly fare as well as an ethnic manifestation of a lower social -economic status. According to “Hoppin’ John and Other Bean Pilaus of the African Diaspora” a chapter in The Carolina Rice Kitchen by Karen Hess, “In the Americas rice-and-bean dishes are associated primarily with peoples of African ancestry, and with justice.”
As Queen Quet of Gullah/Geechee Nation points out in her blog post, Gullah/Geechee, Hoppin’ John, and Greens and What This Means, recipes can be adapted to reflect newer tastes and the latest nutritional guidelines yet still be treasured for their cultural significance and enjoyed with gusto.
Regardless of the recipe source, the two basic ingredients for Hoppin’ John are rice and dried peas, cow, field, or black-eyed. There is much speculation about when this dish became traditional fare though Chef Marvin Woods notes that a recipe for the rice dish is in print by 1838 in his The New Low-country Cooking.
According to the Penn School & Sea Islands Heritage Cookbook, the traditional New Year’s menu on the Sea Islands “is a simple one: Hoppin’ John, collard greens with hog jowls, and ribs for a side dish. Hoppin’ John, or brown field peas cooked with rice, is eaten for good luck throughout the year. The collard greens represent dollar bills. It is said the more one eats, the more money one will have.”
Local celebrity chef, Debbi Covington introduces her recipe for “Southeastern Hoppin’ John” in Celebrate Everything! this way:
Throughout the coastal South, eating Hoppin’ John on New Year’s Day is thought to bring a prosperous year filled with luck. The peas are symbolic of pennies or coins, and a coin is sometimes added to the pot or left under the dinner bowls. On the day after New Year’s Day, leftover Hoppin’ John is called Skippin’ Jenny and further demonstrates one’s frugality, bringing hope for an even better chance of prosperity in the New Year.
In A South Carolina Christmas, Jan Kiefer says to be sure to soak dried peas on New Year’s Eve, at just the right time for the peas to “take up” the luck.
Although a number of variations are possible, Virginia Green’s “Hoppin John (Peas and Rice)” in the Penn School & Sea Islands Heritage Cookbook is quite traditional:
1 lb. bag dry field peas
1 lb. white rice
1/4 lb. fatback
2 pieces ham hocks
Desired seasonings (salt, pepper, Season-All, etc.)
Boil ham hock and fatback in 5 cups of water for 1 half hour. Add field peas to the ham hock and fatback. Boil peas until tender and keep adding water until brown gravy appears. Then add rice and let simmer with top on. Stir with fork and let cook for 45 minutes. Season to taste.
The recipe for Hoppin’ John to serve 4 – 6 people in The Beaufort Cook Book is:
1 cup raw rice
2 cups dried cow peas
4 slices bacon
1 small onion
Salt and pepper
Cook the peas until tender. Meanwhile dice the bacon, chop the onion and fry together until bacon is crisp. Add fried onion and 2 tablespoons bacon grease to the peas, along with the rice, adding more water if needed to cook rice. Cook slowly for 1 hour, adding bacon just before serving.
… and Greens
Eating collards or mixed greens is a deep tradition in the Southern United States and no New Year’s Day feast is complete until the dark leafy greens have been consumed. Many people prefer a jot of vinegar over cooked greens. Some say that the greens are symbolic of United States currency bills. So, it is said, if you eat Hoppin’ John and greens you’ll have plenty of dollars and cents and a prosperous (or at least a financially solvent) New Year.
According to cookbook author Sallie Ann Robinson in Gullah Home Cooking the Daufuskie Way, her mother called collards “greens fo’ da soul.” The aroma of simmering collards greeted the returning church-goers every Sunday:
1 large bunch collards (about a third of a bushel basked if you pick your own)
2 pieces smoked pork neck bone
2-3 pieces fresh pig tail
1/2 fresh pig’s foot
1 ham hock
1 large onion, diced
salt and black pepper to taste
Cut the collards into 1- to 2- inch pieces, wash them in warm to hot water at least two or three times, then leave them in warm water until needed. Place all the meat in a large pot, two-thirds filled with water, cover, then boil 20 to 30 minutes. Drain the water and refill the pot, then cover and boil the meat again for about an hour. Drain the collards, add them to the cooked meat and stock, along with the onion, salt, and pepper. Cook the whole potful for another 30 to 45 minutes. Some people like greens cooked less, so they’re chewy. The longer you cook them, the tenderer they get. Serve alone, over rice, grits, or potatoes, or as a side dish.
Eva Segar offers additional advice regarding preparation and cooking in her My Gullah Kitchen:
You have to cook collards longer than other greens. You want them very tender. Leftover greens are delicious reheated in a frying pan with crushed red pepper.
Collard Greens with Pork
1/2 pound smoked pork neck bones
about 3 pieces of pig tails or 3 pieces of fresh neck bones
5 pounds greens
1 dried hot pepper (optional)
Boil the smoked pork in about a gallon of water, uncovered, for about 30 minutes. What you’re looking for here is a nice, rich broth. In the meantime, clean the collard greens. You’ll end up with only about 3 pounds of greens, since the stems of the collards are tough and must be thrown away. Tear the greens into pieces about the size of your palm and add them to the pot along with the hot pepper. Simmer the greens, uncovered, until they’re tender, up to 2 hours. Serve with hot pepper vinegar.
Makes 10 to 12 servings.
Grace Cordial’s personal recipe for New Year’s day collard greens is much more vague and amounts of ingredients depends on how many people one is feeding that day:
A mess of fresh collard greens
Enough water to cover in a pot
Equal parts sugar and salt, to taste
Ham hock, thick bacon or fatback, as preferred
Wash and rinse the greens thoroughly to remove grit. Put in a large pot and bring to a boil, then reduce heat to simmer. Cook for about an hour (Test them for “doneness” from time to time. Few things are worse than leathery foliage”).
Allen Jennette’s recipe in the Penn School & Sea Islands Heritage Cookbook is particularly healthy as it includes collard and mustard greens as well as kale:
2 pounds collard greens
2 pounds mustard greens
2 pounds kale
1/2 pound salt pork
1/2 pound smoked neck bones
1/2 pound rib tips
Salt and pepper
Dash of sugar (optional)
Wash meats and put in a large pot and cook for 45 minutes. Cover with water. Clean greens well. Cut up and combine with meat. Season to taste. Put a dash of sugar if desired. Cook over medium heat for 50 to 60 minutes or until tender.
Additional recipes on the theme of peas, rice, and greens can be found many cookbooks listed in the SCLENDS consortium catalog. Try these subjects to locate other delectable dishes: Cookery, American – Southern States; Lowcountry Cooking; or Gullah Cookery.
The Beaufort Cook Book: A Treasury of Carolina Recipes collected by Dee Hyrharrow and Isabel M. Hoogenboom. Beaufort, SC: Beaufort Book Shop, 1965.
The Carolina Rice Kitchen: The African Connection by Karen Hess; featuring in facsimile the Carolina Rice Cook Book compiled by Mrs. Samuel G. Stoney, Charleston, South Carolina (1901); with additional collected receipts making a total of some three hundred historical receipts for rice. Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina, 1992.
Celebrate Everything!: Delicious Menus for Festive Gatherings and Easy Entertaining by Debbi Covington. Hilton Head Island (S.C.) : Lydia Inglett Ltd., .
Gullah Home Cooking the Daufuskie Way: Smokin’ Joe, Butter Beans, Ol’ ‘Fuskie Fried Crab Rice… by Sallie Ann Robinson. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2003.
My Gullah Kitchen by Eva Segar. Beaufort, SC : You Should Write a Book [BarbaraMartin.net], c2006.
The New Low-Country Cooking: 125 Recipes for Coastal Southern Cooking with Innovative Style by Marvin Woods. New York: William Morrow, 2000.
Penn School & Sea Islands Heritage Cookbook: A Collection of Recipes sponsored by the Penn Heritage Celebration Committee. [S.l.] : Fundcraft Publishing, Inc., c1978.
A South Carolina Christmas, written and compiled by Jan Kiefer. Englewood, CO: Westcliffe Publishers, 1997.
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Please contact the Beaufort District Collection at (843) 255-6468 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org for additional information about local history and archives relating to the people, places, and themes of the history, culture, and natural environment of Beaufort County, Jasper County, and Hampton County, South Carolina.