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The Foodie Column: Hoppin' John Edition

Hoppin' John traditions

Having survived the Mayan apocalypse, we can think ahead to the food traditions that surround New Year’s Day – a celebration of rebirth, football and plenty of awesome chow.

I polled some friends from around the globe to see what food traditions may be in the works. My Haitian friends like Belinda stew up a big pot of soup joumou (squash soup) and prolific cook Nick fondly recalls the Flemish–inspired New Year’s Day menus of tomato soup with mini meatballs, roasted pork or chicken with green veggies and potato croquettes.
Roasted pork and sauerkraut made good luck for the Pennsylvanian family of reader Karen’s youth. Lots of Irish friends rely on the staple corned beef and cabbage as their New Year’s Day tradition.

Angie created her own family tradition years ago by making a big pile of pot stickers and other Chinese–inspired dishes.

Retired NASA employee Ed, who reads my column from North Carolina, has a tradition more familiar to me. Ed writes, “Black–eyed peas, collard greens and a big ‘pone’ of corn bread.”

I take the black–eyed pea thing one step further and make Hoppin’ John — a savory stew of sausage, rice and peas — all flavored with a couple of fatty ham hocks. Of course, there are as many version of this recipe as there are dried peas in a bag.

I called on a John who knows a thing or two about Hoppin’ John. Chef John Witherington fed me several awesome meals when he was chef of the now extinct Cobblestone Conch House. The self–taught chef teaches hotel and restaurant management at Ogeechee Tech and spends his spare time being a dad, fishing and hunting.

We batted around the origins of the term “Hoppin’ John,” of which there are also myriad legends, myths and theories. You can plow through a very academic treatise on the subject at, or you can just make and enjoy Chef John’s recipe to create your own New Year’s Day food tradition.

Hoppin’ John

Makes 10 bowls


2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

2 meaty, smoked ham hocks or   pound of smoked bacon, diced cup green bell pepper, small diced cup celery, small diced

1 cup yellow onion, small diced

1 tablespoon garlic, minced

3 bay leaves

2 teaspoons dried red pepper flakes

4 cups stock (pork or chicken)

  1 pound dried black eyed peas, soaked overnight, drained and rinsed

2 teaspoons dried thyme

1 cup long grain white rice

Salt and pepper to taste


1. In large pot or cast iron Dutch oven, heat oil and add ham hocks, bell pepper, celery, onion, garlic, bay leaves, and pepper flakes. Cook until onions are translucent, about 5 minutes. (Add teaspoon of salt to mixture to release liquid. You want to sweat the vegetables, not caramelize them)

2. Add stock and bring to a boil. Add peas and bring back to boil for one minute. Reduce heat and simmer peas for one hour.

3. Remove bay leaves, add rice and thyme and cook with the lid on for about 20–25 minutes or until rice is tender and most of the liquid is cooked out. (This is a point of debate. Some recipes call for more of a stew–like dish, while others call for the dish to be drier like a pilaf or perleau. Personal preference should prevail.)

4. Add salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste.

Bubbles anyone?

Champagne is a New Year’s Eve necessity. Forego the cheap stuff and go for an American–made sparkling wine with plenty of French influence.

At $14–$16, Gruet sparkling wines hail from America’s highest elevation vineyard, near Truth of Consequences, NM. The French family founded the vineyard in 1983 after eliminating potential sites in California wine country. Specifically for NYE toasting, try Gruet Blanc de Noirs or Brut. Need more sweetness? Choose Gruet Demi Sec.

Happy New Year!