Every New Years Day my parents would take us calling on all our older relatives: Aunt Willie and Arnie, Mama Gwen and Daddy Roy, and Grandmother Marjorie. They all lived in Harlem, and my father’s relatives had been a part of the Great Migration of African Americans who travelled there from Charleston, SC and Savannah, GA in search of greater opportunity and freedom. So, they had been raised eating rice, instead of potatoes (you may know that most of our rice is still grown in that region, including Louisiana also.) We would tramp from one house to the next to personally wish everyone a Happy New Year, and in return, we would be fed, the same traditional meal, in every house. And so, I became an expert, at a very young age, on the nuances of two dishes: black eyed peas with rice, and collard greens. (The pig’s feet I stubbornly refused to eat, so I can’t speak to those.) Cook books call black eyed peas with rice “Hoppin John,” but I have never heard any real person call it so. My elders told me the peas bring luck and the greens, money.
I thought eating these foods on New Year’s Day was an African-American tradition until I befriended two sisters from Tennessee when I was in my early twenties and working in Washington, DC (which is still a very southern city in terms of its culture). We had attended a New Years Eve party together, and in the morning they called me up with an emergency. “We just realized we have no black eyes peas and rice for New Years! Do you have any?” they called in a panic voice to ask. I had an old bag of peas in the back of my pantry, and they discovered a can of collard greens in the back of a kitchen cupboard, and between the three of us, despite being hung over and exhausted, we cobbled together that most traditional of southern meals. In his highly opinionated but deliciously accurate book, Classical Southern Cooking, Damon Lee Fowler informs us that “There can be little doubt that hoppin’ John did at least come to South Carolina from West Africa…Today Carolinians eat Hoppin’ John on New Year’s Day for luck, supposedly because it’s humble fare, but seldom has humility been so lusciously rewarding.”
My husband and I have been enjoying the following updated recipes I developed as healthier versions of this traditional fare since January 1st. Happy New Year!
Grandmother Marjorie’s Black Eyed Peas
1 bag dried peas
2 smoked turkey wings or 1 pkg turkey kielbasa in 1” slices
1 green pepper
3 cloves of garlic
1 bay leaf
Lots of freshly ground black pepper
Tobasco sauce (optional)
Cayenne pepper (optional)
- Pour the bag of peas into a colander, and swish your hand through them to find any stones or discolored, shriveled peas. Rinse them.
- Slide the peas from the colander into a large bowl, and cover them by at least a couple of inches with cold water. (They will absorb the water and grow in size). Soak at least 4 hours, but preferably overnight.
- Cover the bottom of a Dutch oven with a light film of olive oil, then heat it. Add in the chopped onions, then the green pepper. Stir until translucent. Then add in garlic and sliced sausages and cook until lightly browned.
- Drain the peas in a colander, then pour them into the Dutch oven with the sausage mixture. Generously cover them with water, add in the bay leaf, and as many cubes of bullion as appropriate for the amount of water you included to cover the beans. Salt lightly and grind lots of fresh pepper into the water.
- Cook for 30-45 minutes until the peas are tender and soft. Use the back of a large wooden spoon to mush some of the beans against the side of the pot to thicken the sauce.
Serve spooned over rice. Great accompanied with collard
Modern Collard Greens (without pork)
4 bunches of collard greens (Stems cut out, then roughly chopped. See pictures)
2/3 pkg turkey bacon (chopped)
1 large sweet onion (chopped)
Additional sliced onion (if desired as garnish)
8 cloves of garlic (peeled + chopped)
Tobasco sauce (optional)
- Brown the bacon and onions in the oil. Add in garlic, cayenne pepper, creole seasoning and heat through.
- Pour in water (6-8 cups) and the appropriate amount of bullion for the water added.
- Add in collard greens and stir. Then, add a good sprinkling of balsamic vinegar, and a large pinch of brown sugar; stir again.
- Bring to a boil, then simmer for 45mins or until very tender. (This can vary widely depending on the size, freshness, and thickness of the raw greens).
- Serve with Tobasco sauce and sliced raw onion on the side
Wishing you and yours every blessing,
and every year!