Hoppin’ John Recipe and History

Hoppin’ John Stew –  Stove Top and Slow Cooker Preparation

Eat poor that day, eat rich the rest of the year.
Rice for riches and peas for peace.

Southern saying on eating a dish of Hoppin John on New Year’s Day.

This recipe for Hoppin’ John black-eyed peas is a southern dish rich with tradition and lore served to celebrate the New Year.

Bowl of Hoppin John Stew with collard greens

History of Hoppin’ John:

Hoppin’ John is found in most states of the South, but it is mainly associated with the Carolinas. Hoppin’ John is also known to many as Carolina Peas and Rice.  Gullah or Low Country cuisine reflects the cooking of the Carolinas, especially the Sea islands (a cluster of islands stretching along the coats of South Carolina and northern Georgia).  Black-eyed peas, also called cow peas, are thought to have been introduced to America by enslaved Africans who worked the rice plantations.  Hoppin’ John is a rich bean dish made of black-eyed peas simmered with spicy sausages, ham hocks, or fat pork, and rice.

There are many variations to traditional Hoppin’ John.  Some cook the black-eyed peas and rice in one pot, while others insist on simmering them separately.  Some also like to add the collard greens to the pot.  The favorite way to eat a Hoppin’ John meal is with collard greens and corn bread.  Each item on the plate has symbolic meaning for the New Year.  Black-eyed Peas represent “coins,” collard greens represent money or “green backs”, corn bread represents “gold,” and if tomatoes are added to Hoppin’ John it symbolizes “health”.

The first written recipe for Hoppin John appeared in The Carolina Housewife in 1847.  Most food historians generally agree that Hoppin John is an American dish with African/French/Caribbean roots.  There are many tales or legends that explain how Hoppin’ John got its name:

It was the custom for children to gather in the dining room as the dish was brought forth and hop around the table before sitting down to eat.

A man named John came “a-hoppin” when his wife took the dish from the stove.

An obscure South Carolina custom was inviting a guest to eat by saying, “Hop in, John”

The dish goes back at least as far as 1841, when, according to tradition, it was hawked in the streets of Charleston, South Carolina by a crippled black man who was known as Hoppin’ John.

Southern Superstitions about Hoppin’ John:

This African-American dish is traditionally a high point of New Year’s Day when a shiny dime is often buried among the black-eyed peas before serving.

Whoever gets the coin in his or her portion is assured good luck throughout the year.  For maximum good luck in the new year, the first thing that should be eaten on New Year’s Day is Hoppin’ John.  At the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve, many southern families toast each other with Champagne and a bowl of Hoppin’ John.  If it is served with collard greens you might, or might not get rich during the coming year.

If you eat leftover Hoppin’ John the day after New Year’s Day, then the name changes to Skippin’ Jenny since one is demonstrating their determination of frugality.  Eating a bowl of Skippin’ Jenny is believed to even better your chances for a prosperous New Year!  – Source: Beyond Black-Eyed Pease: New Year’s good-luck foods, by Mick Bann, Dec. 26,2008, Austin Chronicle.

There is also another tradition in some parts of the South that you should count the number of peas in your serving to predict the amount of luck or wealth you will have for the coming year.  If you leave three (3) peas on your plate when you are finished eating, then your New Year ahead will be filled with luck, good fortune, and romance.  – Source: Wikipedia – Hoppin’ John.


Hoppin' John - Black-Eyed Peas and Rice Recipe:
Bean soak time: 1 to 2 hours 

Stove top cook time: 3 hours

Slow Cooker cook time: 8 hours on low heat

Course: Lunch
Cuisine: Southern
Keyword: Black-Eyed Peas and Rice Recipe, Hoppin' John History and Recipe
Servings: 8 servings
  • 2 cups black-eyed peas, dried
  • 1 pound lean slab bacon or 1 pound meaty ham hocks
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 3 to 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper, ground
  • 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 4 cups chicken stock or broth*
  • 2 cups long-grain white rice, uncooked
  • 1 bunch collard greens, washed, stems removed, and leaves torn**
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons cider vinegar
  • Salt and black pepper to taste
  1. Black-eyed peas have a characteristic black spot, or "eye," on their cream-colored skin and are among the most recognizable legumes.  Soaking is not essential for black-eyed peas, but cooking time can be shortened if they get a quick soak in hot water (as opposed to a longer one in cold water, like other beans).  You can prepare black eyed peas many different ways, but they are best when cooked with a pork product.

  2. Before preparing the black-eyed peas, sort through them thoroughly for tiny pebbles or other debris.  Soak, rinse, and drain dried black-eyed peas.  Place black-eyed peas in a large soup pot over medium-high heat and cover with cold water; bring just to a boil.  Remove from heat; cover and let stand 1 to 2 hours.  Drain and rinse beans.

  3. If using bacon meat, heat bacon in skillet over medium-high heat for 3 to 4 minutes until partially cooked; remove bacon from skillet and set aside.  Drain most of the bacon fat and leave some in skillet to coat the bottom.  Add onions and garlic and saute for a couple minutes until onions appear translucent.  If you are using ham hocks, then use olive oil in the skillet to saute onions.

  4. Stove Top Preparation:

  5. Using the same large soup pot, over medium-high heat, add soaked black-eyed peas, partially cooked bacon or ham hock, onion, garlic, salt, pepper, and red pepper.  Add chicken broth; bring just to a boil.  Reduce heat to medium-low and cook for 1 1/2 to 2 hours or until the peas are tender (do not boil as the beans will burst).

  6. Remove bacon or ham hock and cut into bite-size pieces.  Return meat to pot.  Stir in rice and collard greens; cover, and cook 20 to 25 minutes or until rice is tender and liquid is absorbed.

  7. Remove from heat, stir in vinegar and season to taste with salt and pepper.

  8. Slow Cooker Preparation:

  9. Preheat Slow Cooker.

  10. To the slow cooker, add soaked black-eyed peas, partially cooked bacon or ham hock, onion, garlic, salt, pepper, and red pepper.  Add chicken broth and stir everything together.  Cover with lid and cook on low heat for 8 hours or high heat for 4 to 5 hours until the peas are tender.

  11. Lift the lid and remove the bacon or ham hock and cut into bite-size pieces.  Return meat to pot.

  12. Stir in rice and collard greens; cover, and cook 20 to 25 minutes or until rice is tender and liquid is absorbed.

  13. Remove from heat, stir in vinegar and season to taste with salt and pepper.

  14. Happy New Year!

  15. Makes 8 servings.

Recipe Notes

* Learn how easy it is to make your own homemade Chicken Stock - Basic Chicken Stock.

** Collards:  When buying collards, make sure to choose dark green leaves with no wilting or yellowness.  Fresh collard greens may be stored in a plastic bag in your refrigerator for up to 5 days.  To prepared the greens, tear each leaf from its thick center stems; discard stems.  Remove the stems that run down the center by holding the leaf in your left hand and stripping the leaf down with your right hand.  The tender young leaves in the heart of the collard greens do not need to be stripped.  Discard all stems.  Set collard greens aside until ready to cook.  

Learn about the history of Collard Greens (Mess O' Greens).

Comments and Reviews

8 Responses to “Hoppin’ John Recipe and History”

  1. John F. Zittrauer

    No mention of the garlic in the preparation, and it never said to cover on the stove top until after the rice was added, which I assume is incorrect.

    • Whats Cooking America

      The instructions mention adding the garlic at the same time the onions are sauteed.

  2. Stephen Doiron

    This dish grew out of an English tradition focused on New Year’s Day when a YOUNG man — selected from the neighborhood as the most: handsome, admirable and presenting the most promising prospects for the future — would walk from house to house just after midnight on New Year’s day to knock on each door. He was to be the harbinger of good fortune. At his greeting he would place a foot across the threshold so as to be the First-Foot, (or qualtagh in Gaelic) and offer the home a silver coin. In return, he was offered a drink (usually whisky). The exchange was seen as representing good luck in the new year and was widely practiced as First Footing throughout Northern England and Scotland, The folks from these parts of Britain composed most of the populations in England’s southern colonies in America. Thus the tradition continued there
    As seen from the slave quarters, this man became known as the Hopping John Clearly desirous of any luck at all, and possessing neither coin nor liquor, they copied the act by creating a gift meal from their meager food stocks. Beans and rice represented good fortune throughout Africa and a Ham hock (definitely not bacon) was added for flavor. As the cotton plantations moved out of the Carolina low-country, the slave tradition went with them throughout the South all the way into southeast Texas.

  3. Mike Buschow

    Hoppin John has been served in my home down for as long as I can remember He bar owner Emil
    Wagner also served as the worst thing you would have all year. However, it was preety good. He always served it with your first bottle of beer which he furished so that you couldn’t say he hadn’t bought you a beer all year. The tradition is still carried on. However the reciepe has changed some by the current owners, I however, still bring in a pot of the oringal reciepe . New Years Day is the buyiest day of the year.

  4. Suzanne

    I have used this recipe for the last few New Year’s Day. It’s FANTASTIC the day it’s made and even better the next day. I prefer the slow cooker recipe as I can leave it to work it’s magic. I have cooked it with the lean slab of bacon. I actually use 1.5 lbs and chop it and cook in the frying pan until almost crispy. I also prefer to make the rice by itself and ladle the beans over. I’ve also added chopped green onions to the plated dish for an extra bit of greens.
    This is now a tradition in my household.

    • Nancy

      I am glad that you have found a recipe tradition from What’s Cooking America! It is fun to cook traditional foods on holidays and learn the history of them. Thank you for taking the time to write, and thank you for visiting What’s Cooking America.

  5. Sarah Goeckner

    My mom was from the South and although I grew up in Idaho, my mom made this dish every New Year. I had no idea until I grew up, moved out of the house and started a family of my own, that literally nobody had ever heard of it. I had to do some history research and realized that I ate a lot of different foods than my peers because of where my mom was from. My mom passed away at an early age but I keep her traditions alive. I still cook hoppin john every New Years Day and we never forget to leave 3 peas in the dish.

  6. Bill Miller

    A little late getting to it, but made mine tonight. I used some homemade spicy sausage instead of ham hocks and spinach in place of collards. Not sure collards can be found here in Thailand.😁 A couple of birdseye Chili’s ensure the hopping part.


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