Origin of Hoppin’-John

Published 7:00 am Tuesday, December 31, 2013

A bowl of black-eyed peas and cabbage on New Year’s Day is a tradition most Southern families are very familiar with, but the question comes to mind, how did this tradition begin.

While Southerners will claim the recipe and tradition as their own, it was actually started over 2,500 years ago as part of a Jewish Tradition.

According to Poopa Dweck in her book “Aromas of Aleppo,” Syrian Jewish families will eat black-eyed peas to symbolize good fortune during Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, although their beans are not paired with rice and pork.

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In an article by Forward.com, it is believed that the tradition arrived in America with Sephardic Jews who moved to the South in the 18th century. Many Jewish families had African American cooks who prepared a combination of what the families requested.

From there the Southern tradition of black-eyed peas begins.

The dish, Hoppin’-John, was black-eyed peas cooked with pork, usually a ham hock and served over rice. Still to this day, it is eaten to ensure a prosperous year. Some families will eat greens or cabbage with the dish to symbolize paper money.

If visiting Germany or Ireland during the New Year, you will also find residents eating cabbage to symbolize fortune because of its green color and resemblance to money.

Douglas Opie, a food historian, wrote that the tradition evolved out of the rice and bean mixtures that West African slaves survived on during their journey to America.

For some Southern residents, recipes are passed down from generation to generation and are a staple of New Year’s Day dinner tables.

Anthony Paternostro, a Picayune resident from New Orleans, La., said his wife cooks the traditional black-eyed peas dinner with cabbage. He said she also makes candied yams, which is a New Year’s dinner tradition for their family.

For other people, the tradition is something their family followed when they were younger, but as adults, they don’t continue on the Hoppin’-John dinner.

Harold Culp, a Picayune resident, said growing up his family would eat the traditional meal, but as an adult he doesn’t cook it.

As more years pass and more traditions are created, it’s possible we may never discover the true origins of this dish. But at least we have two probable sources and many great memories.