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When I was growing up in Dallas, I was always struck by the similarity between the foods I was used to eating at home in my Nigerian household and many of the dishes that were considered Southern fare. The first time I had Hoppin’ John I was in middle school, and I remember being so excited by the fact that, although a bit different, it reminded me a lot of the rice and beans my mom would make for me at home.
Fast forward to 2019, when Toni Tipton-Martin published her Jubilee cookbook and I came across her recipe for Hoppin’ John in an interview on Shondaland. The book was a breath of fresh air. It celebrated the traditions of African American cooking, and in doing so helped keep history alive. I loved that Tipton-Martin didn’t attempt to reinvent these classic dishes — instead, she put them into context and paid homage to them.
History of Hoppin’ John
Hoppin’ John is a staple New Year’s Day dish across the South. Usually served with collard greens, which are meant to symbolize money, it’s a dish that Southern tradition tells us will bring good luck and prosperity in the new year. Different variations of the dish abound, but the indisputable components are rice, pork, and beans. While most recipes call for black-eyed peas, the earliest variations of this dish used field peas.
This mixture was a staple among enslaved Africans in the Carolinas, who were familiar with field peas and rice from Western Africa long before the recipe was ever printed on paper. Originating in South Carolina, the earliest recipes for the dish appear in cookbooks as far back as the 1840s. Many modern recipes call for cooking the beans separately from the rice, but traditionally Hoppin’ John was made in one pot. Although it’s a dish enjoyed by Southerners of all colors and creeds, this dish is part of the legacy of enslaved Africans in our country, as so much of our culinary history is.
For me, a bowl of rice and beans will always symbolize comfort, so it makes perfect sense to start out the year with a helping of Hoppin’ John. I won’t be eating my mom’s rice and beans this New Year’s Day, but I will be making the version from Jubilee. The recipe is simple, easy, and delicious — and who couldn’t use that after the year we’ve had?
Here’s to good luck, prosperity, and more Hoppin’ John in the new year.
At Kitchn, our editors develop and debut brand-new recipes on the site every single week. But at home, we also have our own tried-and-true dishes that we make over and over again — because quite simply? We love them. Kitchn Love Letters is a series that shares our favorite, over-and-over recipes.