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Discovering the Roots of Hopping John: A Festive Feast for the New Year

Dear Foodie Friends,

Hope your festive season was fabulous and 2023 ended on a successful note! Our 2023 was an exhilarating whirlwind - from Christmas catering parties like a Wild West-themed 'Hoe-Down' and an epic launch party for Exobourne, a new American post-apocalyptic MMO game, to our involvement in local school fairs across Tooting and Balham.

In 2024, we’re gearing up for more, starting with a sporting pop-up at Belleville Taproom for the Six Nations in February and March. Stay tuned for all the exciting details!

Amidst the festive buzz, at ours, food took the spotlight, with Christmas eve dinner featuring hot-smoked salmon with buttered boiled potatoes, veggies, and a tantalising green goddess sauce - a deliciously divine, guilt-free prelude to indulgence. The main event? A treat from The Ginger Pig: a 5-bone Côte de boeuf and no cooking by me required!


And then there was New Year's Day - a time for special meals. Enter Hoppin’ John, a dish symbolising peace, prosperity, and good luck for the year ahead. Rice, peas, greens, and pork come together, each representing a facet of fortune. The peas, represent coins. The greens, represent the mighty greenback. And pork, optimism because pigs forage forwards and not backwards. Counting peas equals counting blessings, and a hidden coin heightens the luck!

Folklore surrounds the origin of this cherished New Year's dish, as diverse as its flavours. Recipes for this culinary delight, trace their roots to the coastal Carolinas, where enslaved people savoured dishes made of rice, peas, and pork. Renowned food historian Karen Hess categorises it as a "bean pilau of the African diaspora." Plantation owners sought a profitable crop for the region's challenging climate but fertile delta wetlands, eventually embracing rice cultivation, thus coupled with the widespread growing of cowpeas, Hoppin’ John infiltrated various echelons of society, becoming a beloved dish.

Vintage ad from Dukes
Vintage ad

Its rise to prominence during the depression era stemmed from its simplistic yet richly flavoured composition.  The dish's essence lay in the providence of its ingredients, relying on heritage varieties for its wholesome taste. However, as industrialisation swept through farming, mechanisation led to the loss of heirloom grains and breeds. The Carolinas’ marshy rice fields succumbed to the weight of heavy machines, traditional flavoursome red peas being scarce outside their native region. Consequently, black-eyed peas became the standard, and pigs underwent breeding practices favouring factory-raised standards that resulted in leaner meat compared to the hearty breeds characterised by meat almost purple in its rich hue, accompanied by thick layers of fat.

Despite modern challenges in sourcing authentic ingredients, recent strides, notably by Anson Mills with their Carolina Gold Rice & Sea Island Red Peas, have reintroduced heritage breeds and grains. Yet, the evolution of this dish through the 20th century introduced various embellishments, catering to modern taste buds with diverse cooking techniques, additional ingredients, and spices. Even in South London, while authentic ingredients may be elusive, our version of Hoppin’ John on New Year's Day retains its delicious essence, with hopes of bringing abundant luck and fortune!


Cheers to a year of culinary marvels!

 

The Southern Kitchen's Hoppin' John - serves 3-4


1-2 tbs vegetable oil
250g cooking bacon, preferably smoked, finely chopped – streaky or lardons are good too, but more expensive – you want quite small bits
1 Onion – finely chopped
3 cloves garlic – finely chopped
1 celery stalk – finely chopped
1 green pepper – finely diced
2 teaspoons smoked paprika, hot or mild, dealers’ choice
1-2tbs tomato puree
200g black eyed peas – soaked overnight
1 litre chicken stock
1 can chopped or plum tomatoes
2 bunches spring greens – chiffonaded
1.5 cups rice – a fluffy American long grain is prefered

Instructions
1.       Heat the oil in a large-ish pot – (about 4l should do it) – and cook the bacon until fat rendered and starting to brown – don’t go to far as you want it a bit chewy
2.       Add the onion and cook until translucent, about 5 or so minutes
3.       Add garlic, celery and green pepper.  Cook until softened
4.       Add smoked paprika, stir and cook in for 1 minute, followed by the tomato puree.
5.       Add the black eyed peas, give a quick stir to coat and then add in the chicken stock, followed by the chopped tomatoes.  Bring to a simmer and check seasoning.  Cook until beans are tender – 30-45mins.  Add more water if necessary; you want a soupy-brothy base.
6.       Add the greens and then continue simmering for another 20-30mins until greens are tender.
7.       After the greens have been added, cook the rice, ready for serving.
8.       The beans and greens will quiet happily bubble away longer if needs be, and like most things like this, are even better the next day!
9.       Serve by spooning the rice flat on a plate and then ladling the beans n’ greens over the top

Whilst traditionally eaten on new years day, it is just as delicious all year round!

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