A New Year’s Tradition…Just For Luck
January 1, 1985. Caswell Beach, North Carolina. On this first day of 1985, we were contemplating the idea of taking our 4-year-old across the street for a walk on the beach. “The wind is pretty calm.” I said. “Do we even need a sweater?” The absurd irony of that question had us laughing. Just one year ago, living in Massachusetts, the idea of taking a walk ANYWHERE on New Year’s Day would involve so much more than a sweater! There would be boots and hats and mittens and a good hour of driveway shoveling and oh-let’s-just-stay-in-and-watch-football. Today, it was sunny and mild and the three of us spent a lovely hour walking past the waves, watching the sandpipers trying very hard not to get their feet wet and looking for treasures along the tide line. As we crossed back over the dune, sand in our shoes and shells in our pockets, we could see our neighbor, Alice Griffin, at the top of her stairs. “Happy New Year!” she hollered. “Have y’all had your Hoppin’ John yet?” Hoppin who? The blank look on our faces made her laugh out loud. “Don’t y’all know about Hoppin’ John?” Again---Hoppin’ WHO?? I think I saw her roll her eyes and she might even have muttered something about “clueless Yankees”. Now she was waving us over. “Well, you’d best get up here and eat if you know what’s good for you!” Well, we may have been clueless Yankees, but we’d have to be some kind of crazy to turn down an invitation to Alice’s table.
We climbed the stairs and left our sandy shoes by the door. The house smelled wonderful! Her husband Dan was at the stove, lifting the lid off a big pot. “Dan’l, they don’t know about Hoppin’ John!” Alice informed him, sounding incredulous. Dan paused in mid-lift and turned toward us with his eyes wide and his mouth hanging open. “What?!? Well I’ll be doggoned!” (I think he said doggoned out of respect for our 4-year-old. That particular look of shock would typically have led him to choose a more colorful word…). Shaking his head, he took down three extra bowls and proceeded to serve as well as educate us. We learned that Hoppin’ John was a juicy stew of black-eyed peas and smoked ham hock, served on New Year’s Day in a Southern tradition going back hundreds of years. The stew was served over rice with collard greens and cornbread alongside. It was supposed to bring a year of luck and good fortune to all who tried a bowl. The black-eyed peas signified coins and the collard greens were supposed to represent dollar bills or, as Dan called it, “folding money”. The more you ate, the more good fortune would be yours. That sounded good to me. Hoppin’ John was delicious! (My 4-year-old was not too keen on the collards, but she didn’t really need the money anyway.)
That day, I loaded up on luck and good fortune and haven’t had a New Year’s Day without Hoppin’ John since! Over time I have tweaked the recipe in a more healthful direction, but it’s just as lucky as ever. The most brilliant idea I’ve had is to make it in a crock pot. That way, even if you’re not feeling your best after watching the ball drop at midnight, just throw everything in the pot, set it on high, then crawl back into bed for a while. There’s still some time before New Year’s Day, but it’s never too soon to set yourself up for good fortune. Happy New Year and Good Luck!
1 package smoked turkey sausage, sliced into ¼ inch thick rounds, or ½ inch chunks
1 large onion, chopped
2 carrots, peeled and diced
2-3 stalks celery, chopped
1 16 oz. bag dried black-eyed peas (or 2 14 oz. cans)
1 14 oz. can diced tomatoes (may substitute stewed tomatoes or tomatoes with chilies)
2-3 cups chicken or vegetable stock (or water)
Cajun seasoning or hot sauce
Salt and pepper to taste
In a slow cooker or crock pot place sausage, onion, carrot, celery, black eyed peas and tomatoes. Add chicken stock until the level reaches 2 inches above the other ingredients. Water may be added to reach the level if needed. Add Cajun seasoning or hot sauce and salt and pepper to taste. Cover and cook on low for 8-10 hours. To serve, ladle Hoppin’ John into a bowl over rice. Serve collard greens and corn bread on the side. Happy New Year and Good Luck!