Hoppin’ John, a New Year’s dinner tradition in the South, is mainly associated with the Carolinas. Gullah or Low Country cuisine reflects the cooking of the Carolinas, especially the Sea islands (a cluster of islands stretching along the coasts of South Carolina and northern Georgia). It’s a revered rich bean dish made of black-eyed peas simmered with spicy sausages, ham hocks, smoked turkey or fat pork, and rice.
There are many variations. Some cook the black-eyed peas and rice in one pot, while others insist on simmering them separately. My 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. 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.
Then, there’s a fabled Southern dessert. More than 100 years ago, Emma Rylander Lane of Clayton, Alabama entered the annual baking competition at the county fair in Columbus, Georgia. She took first prize. The cake came to be known as The Lane Cake, and gained literary fame in 1960 when it was featured in Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird.
Bean soak time: 1 to 2 hours
Stove top cook time: 3 hours
2 cups dried black-eyed peas
1 pound bacon or 1 pound meaty ham hocks
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large onion chopped
3 to 4 cloves garlic minced
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper ground
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
4 cups chicken 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
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.
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.
If using bacon, 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.
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).
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.
Remove from heat, stir in vinegar and season to taste with salt and pepper
2 1/4 cups sugar
1 1/4 cups butter, softened
8 large egg whites, at room temperature
3 cups all-purpose soft-wheat flour (such as White Lily)
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
8 ounces dried peach halves
1/2 cup butter, melted
1 cup sugar
8 large egg yolks
3/4 cup sweetened flaked coconut
3/4 cup chopped toasted pecans
1/2 cup bourbon
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Peach Schnapps Filling:
2 large egg whites
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup peach schnapps
2 teaspoons light corn syrup
1/8 teaspoon sea salt
Step 1 Prepare Cake Layers: Preheat oven to 350°. Beat first 2 ingredients at medium speed with an electric mixer until fluffy. Gradually add 8 egg whites, 2 at a time, beating well after each addition.
Step 2 Sift together flour and baking powder; gradually add to butter mixture alternately with 1 cup water, beginning and ending with flour mixture. Stir in 1 Tbsp. vanilla extract. Spoon batter into 4 greased (with shortening) and floured 9-inch round shiny cake pans (about 1 3/4 cups batter in each pan).
Step 3 Bake at 350° for 14 to 16 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pans on wire racks 10 minutes; remove from pans to wire racks, and cool completely (about 30 minutes).
Step 4 Prepare Filling: Pour boiling water to cover over dried peach halves in a medium bowl; let stand 30 minutes. Drain well, and cut into 1/4-inch pieces. (After plumping and dicing, you should have about 2 cups peaches.)
Step 5 Whisk together melted butter and next 2 ingredients in a heavy saucepan. Cook over medium-low heat, whisking constantly, 10 to 12 minutes or until thickened. Remove from heat, and stir in diced peaches, coconut, and next 3 ingredients. Cool completely (about 30 minutes).
Step 6 Spread filling between cake layers (a little over 1 cup per layer). Cover cake with plastic wrap, and chill 12 hours.
Step 7 Prepare Frosting: Pour water to a depth of 1 1/2 inches into a small saucepan; bring to a boil over medium heat. Whisk together 2 egg whites, 1 1/2 cups sugar, and next 3 ingredients in a heatproof bowl; place bowl over boiling water. Beat egg white mixture at medium-high speed with a handheld electric mixer 12 to 15 minutes or until stiff glossy peaks form and frosting is spreading consistency. Remove from heat, and spread immediately over top and sides of cake.
Sir Verde’s Wine Suggestion: Let’s celebrate 2021 with new hopes and bright optimism. Nothing less than Dom Perignon (on my tab!)
Happy New Year!