New Year’s Meal Provides a Serving of Good Luck
Countless cultures prepare food on New Year’s Day that symbolize good luck, prosperity or longevity. The American South is no exception, and I was brought up in a Southern household eating foods we hoped would bring our family all the aforementioned.
Southerners not only consider serving food to be good luck, they consider not serving them to be bad luck. The Holy Trinity of lucky foods in our house has always been Hoppin’ John, corn bread and collard greens. This trio is not exclusive to New Year’s Day – most of these dishes are Southern staples – but they have special significance when served as the first meal of a new year.
Hoppin’ John is a classic Southern dish of black-eyed peas cooked low and slow, flavoured with smoked pork and loads of seasoning, traditionally served with Carolina Gold rice. The name Hoppin’ John is said to have come from an old hobbled street vendor in Charleston, South Carolina, who sold a popular dish of peas and rice. It starts with a Cajun mirepoix, a base for many dishes, especially in New Orleans, made from two parts onions, one part celery and one part green bell pepper.
Hoppin’ John was my father’s favorite. He made it every year, and it took care of three symbolic essentials for our New Year’s Day meal, a hat trick of good luck. Black-eyed peas are said to symbolize coins, thus wealth. They are also considered lucky because nearing the end of the Civil War, the Northern soldiers swept across the Confederate states leaving behind very little in the way of food for Southern families except black-eyed peas and collard greens, which were considered animal feed. These two staples kept many families alive. From that time forward, the two foods were considered lucky.
Among the best black-eyed peas are the Camellia brand. The Hayward family has been selling them at the old French Market in New Orleans since 1923. They can be purchased on Amazon, and they are a staple in my Southern larder.
Pork is symbolic of progress since pigs are always moving in a forward motion, head down to the task at hand. The thought is that if you eat pork you will progress and move forward in the New Year. I use bacon in my Hoppin’ John, ham hock in the greens and bacon fat in cornbread.
Rice is symbolic of abundance. Carolina Plantation Rice offers certified Carolina-grown Carolina Gold rice. This rice has been grown in South Carolina since 1685 and originated in Madagascar. It is also available on Amazon and is a staple in my kitchen as well.
The green color of collard greens is also symbolic of money and is said to bring wealth in the New Year. Well-made collard greens also contain pork (a double dip in the luck department) in the form of a ham hock, which flavors the broth or pot likker as it is called regionally. Pot likker refers to the broth and juices left at the bottom of a pan and is typically served in a coffee cup along with the meal.
Cornbread is king in the South and its gold color symbolizes wealth in the new year. A proper cornbread recipe contains pork in the form of bacon. Bacon is fried in an iron skillet then removed. A small amount of fat, enough to coat the surface of the skillet, is then heated until smoking hot. The cornbread batter is poured into the pan thus frying the batter and forming the amazing crust of all good cornbread. If you are feeling naughty, you can crumble the bacon into the batter before it is added to the pan.
According to most Southerners, the best cornbread is their mothers’ cornbread. I know my mother, Sybil, made my favorite version. There are as many versions of cornbread as there are Southern cooks, some like it sweet, some like it dry and crumbly, while others like it moist. My mother’s cornbread is served with butter and a side of blackstrap molasses.
Palmetto Farms makes wonderful yellow stone ground corn meal, which again I purchase through Amazon. The Plantation brand makes a good blackstrap molasses, which you can get locally. But if you can get your hands on Steen’s Homestyle Dark Molasses, it is the best. Steen’s has been made in Abbeville, Louisiana, since 1910 in an open kettle using the same steam equipment build by C. S Steen Sr. (Steen’s cannot be shipped to California due to Proposition 65).
I require two things for this meal to be a success, a bourbon-based cocktail for the preparation and a fainting couch for after the meal. Good luck!
RECIPE | COURTESY OF CHEF CLYDE VAN ARSDALL IV
Clyde’s Hoppin’ John
- 7 thick-cut bacon slices, chopped (maple or hickory smoked)
- 4 cups dried Camellia black-eyed peas (may use canned or frozen)
- 4 celery stalks, chopped (1 ½ cups)
- 1 medium-size yellow onion, chopped (1 ½ cups)
- 1 small green bell pepper, finely chopped (1 cup)
- 4 garlic cloves, chopped (1 tablespoon)
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
- ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 8 cups chicken broth (low sodium or homemade)
- 2 cups Carolina Gold rice
- 1 bunch sliced scallions
- Cook bacon in large heavy pot over medium heat 10 to 12 minutes or until almost crisp. (Reserve bacon fat)
- Add broth and dried Camellia black-eyed peas and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer one hour. (If using canned or frozen blacked eyes peas skip these first two steps. Sauté all ingredients in steps 3-5 and proceed.)
- In separate skillet, heat 4 tablespoons of reserved bacon fat over medium heat.
- Add celery, onion, and bell pepper (Cajun mirepoix) and sauté until tender about 8 minutes.
- Add garlic, black pepper, cayenne, and 1 teaspoon of the salt, cook for 3 minutes.
- Add mixture to broth and black-eyed peas and bring to a boil over medium-high. Reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer until peas are tender, about 30 minutes.
- Cover to keep warm; set aside.
- Serve with Carolina Gold rice (follow instructions on package) and fresh sliced scallions.
(INDIGO RESTAURANT, ATLANTA 1996)
- 6 hickory-smoked bacon slices, finely chopped
- 1 medium-size sweet onions, finely chopped (approx. 3 cups)
- 1 ham hock (score with knife on all sides)
- 4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
- 1 ½ quarts chicken broth (homemade or low sodium)
- 1 ½ pounds fresh collard greens, stems removed, washed and chopped
- 6 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
- 2 teaspoons sugar
- 1 teaspoons crushed red pepper
- ½ teaspoon salt
- Cook bacon in a 10-quart stockpot over medium heat 10 to 12 minutes or until almost crisp. (Pour off all but 3 tablespoons bacon fat.)
- Add ham hock and brown over medium heat
- Add onion and sauté until soft
- Add garlic and sauté 1 minute
- Add broth, collard greens and remaining ingredients, cook 2 hours or to desired degree of tenderness.
- Drain greens and plate, reserve liquid (pot likker) and serve separately in a cup along with meal.