Even if you’re not from the American South, you’re likely familiar with the tradition of eating black-eyed peas on New Year’s for luck. One version of this culinary superstition maintains that each person at dinner should leave three peas on their plate to represent luck, fortune and romance.
There are a bunch of black-eyed pea recipes you might try, but the most famous one is called Hoppin’ John. It’s made by cooking peas with rice, chopped onion, sliced bacon and salt. Some people substitute ham hock or country sausage for bacon, while others leave the pork out all-together.
The peas symbolize pennies or coins. Sometimes a coin is tossed into the pot or left under the dinner bowls. Leafy green vegetables like collard greens, mustard greens, or turnip greens are served as well because their green color is said to attract money. Another traditional Southern food, cornbread, can also be served to represent wealth, as it is the color of gold.
Hoppin’ John may have evolved from rice and bean mixtures that were the subsistence of enslaved West Africans en route to the Americas.
Chef Sean Brock claims that traditional Hoppin’ John was made with the once-thought-extinct Carolina gold rice and Sea Island red peas. There is a ton of information about the history of this dish on the third episode of the second season of the Anthony Bourdain produced food show, The Mind of a Chef.