The new year does not begin in the south without a bowl of Charleston Hoppin John. Tales surrounding the origins of Hoppin John are mystical and controversial. Even the spelling of the old Charleston receipt varies among Southerners. The promise of good fortune that cowpeas and rice represent on New Year’s however is grounded.
Cowpeas symbolize coins on Southern New Year’s plates. Some sticklers actually plate the cowpeas with coins. Whatever the ritual, the cowpea represents good fortune. Legendary botanist, George Washington Carver recognized the incomparable value of a good crop like the cowpea. In his early bulletin How to cook Cow Peas, he wrote, “Every progressive farmer recognizes that certain crops exhaust or make his soil poorer, and certain others build it up or make it richer.”
The value of family recipes is built up over time. Every New Year’s, David Bessinger (owner of Melvin’s BBQ) prepares Hoppin John the same way his Great Grandmother, Emma Hearn Droze did generations ago. David insists that you not leave out the “coins” when you prepare this recipe- “Make sure you buy cowpeas y’all, not black eyed peas.”
Hoppin John ingredients
- I cup raw cowpeas
- 4 cups water
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1 ham hock
- 1 onion chopped
- 1 cup raw rice
- 2 tablespoons butter
In a large dutch oven, combine first 5 ingredients. Bring to a boil.
Then simmer gently until cowpeas are tender (about 2 ½ Hours).
Strain peas, hocks, and onions. Reserve the stock.
Debone and dice ham hocks.
Combine stock, strained peas and onions, ham hocks, raw rice and butter.
Bring to a gentle boil and simmer until broth is absorbed.
Enjoy through richer and poorer.