For you non-southerners, Hoppin' John is a traditional southern dish originating in the Low Country and the Gullah Islands (South Carolina, Georgia) comprised mainly of black-eyed peas and rice. It is usually prepared with a slab of bacon or a hamhock. Some Hoppin' John afficionados cook the peas with the rice and some cook them separately. The dish is purported to bestow good luck for the year to someone who eats it after the stroke of midnight on New Year's Eve. There are many legends surrounding this tradition. It was said the southern slaves had smuggled the black eyed peas from Africa and used them in their magical feasts. The plantation owners jazzed the peas up with the pork products and some even hid a shiny dime in the dish. The person at the table who found the dime would have extra good luck in the coming year. There are many theories as to where the dish got it's name. My favorite is that there was an old man with a crutch called "Hoppin' John" who peddled mugs of the magical dish on the streets of Charleston.
I was raised mostly in rural Virginia, which is not as southern as where I am now, but it was southern enough for us to eat black eyed peas for good luck on New Year's Day. My mom never used any piggies in her peas, she just served them straight out of the can with a little garlic salt, I think. I loved 'em!
So yesterday, on January 11, I endeavored to bestow good luck for the year upon those I hold dear. I made up a recipe based on what I had on hand. Inspiration had struck too late for me to soak dried peas, so I pulled a can out of the cupboard. You are probably wondering what's so ironic about this lucky-pea installment of A Midlife Vegan. Well, I'll tell you . . .
Once almost all the ingredients were happily bubbling away in my crock pot, I raised the pepper grinder to add one more generous grind of my favorite multicolored fresh pepper. Then the grinder broke in my hands. About 3/4 cup of unground peppercorns were suddenly in the stew and bouncing mischievously all over my countertops and floor. The dogs went bananas, barking and chasing the naughty little spices. My husband went bananas trying to keep the beasts from wolfing down what would surely later result in piles of vomit. I went bananas just in my own little head, as I stared, wide-eyed at the pile of pepper in my good-luck peas.
"This has got to mean something!" I moaned, ridiculously.
"I mean -- why does this happen?"
My husband, uncharacteristically cool-headed as he went to get the broom and dustpan (I guess he could sense I was hot-headed enough for the both of us) said, "Things don't always have to happen for a reason,"
I disagree, but I kept that to myself since he was being so helpful.
I scooped as much as I could off the top of the half-finished stew, then reassessed. "I guess I don't need to add that scoop of salsa I was considering," I said to myself.
As I stirred and inspected, I realized I was at a decision point. Do I throw it away, or go through the stew pea by pea, grain of rice by grain of rice? I opted for the latter. I wasn't giving in to whatever the universe was dishing out, or rather, I just didn't want to waste it, and it would be too much of a mess to throw away. We are all snowed in, and who knows when the garbage man will make it out here.
In any case, I turned off the crock pot and got a large bowl and a plate. I spread out scoopful after scoopful onto the plate, going over the contents with clean fingers to extract every last peppercorn that I could find. This took an hour. Check it out:
Those are the soggy peppercorns I extracted and that is the broken peppermill -- I don't know if you can see the vertical crack in the collar -- the whole top fell off.
The good news -- the resulting peas were expertly seasoned after the peppercorns had steeped for an hour in the hot broth. But you don't have to do it the hard way. Just an extra grind from an intact peppermill would also do the trick.
Here is my recipe:
Good Luck Peas and Rice for a Snowy Day
3 c. water with bouillon cube or broth
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 c. long grain/wild rice
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 large onion, chopped
1-2 organic carrots, chopped
heart of a bunch of organic celery (about 5 small stalks with leaves) chopped
Salt and pepper
can of black eyed peas, drained and rinsed
a sprig of rosemary, intact (remove later)
a couple of sprigs of sage, intact (remove later)
1 Tbsp. sherry
Put all ingredients into the crock pot except peas, herbs and sherry. Bring to a boil and then lower heat and simmer for about 2 hours. After the first hour, add peas and herbs. I also noticed it was getting dry but the rice wasn't yet done, so I added another cup of water. When the stew is thick again, after two hours, it is done. Right before serving, stir in the sherry and remove the herbs.
Here is my good luck stew right before the pepper explosion.
And here it is after I got it all cleaned up, I let it cook a little more and added the herbs. I didn't get a shot of the peas right before I ate them. I was over the whole thing at that point and just wanted to eat. It turned out to be really delicious! Give it a try, and better luck to you, now and throughout the year!