New Year’s day hosts the most important meal of the entire year for Southerners. Deeply rooted in tradition, superstition, and hope for the future, we have definite must have dishes which even those of us who might not be as superstitious as others dare not shirk on this day.
I’ve told this story before, but it certainly bears repeating in reference to this meal. Back in the days of civil war, Union troops swept through the south, confiscating crops and livestock to use as provisions for their troops. Southerners who weren’t off fighting were left with precious little, save for peas and greens. You see, Union soldiers considered “field peas” and greens to be fit only for animal fodder. These dishes became cherished and appreciated as what saved many a family from starvation during those times and the tradition of celebrating these dishes on the new year was born.
There are three things every southerner must eat on New Years day, Black eyed peas, greens, and hog jowl or fatback.Black Eyed peas are said to bring luck in the coming year, with many traditions holding that you must eat at least 365 of them. We never had a number, but the more you ate, the more luck you were supposed to have so Mama always makes plenty!
Hog Jowl is very tough and extremely salty, it looks just like a thick slice of bacon but is more difficult to chew. As one of the cheapest cuts of meat, it rose rapidly in popularity during the depression era of the South. Eating this is said to ensure good health in the coming year and I must say, it is delicious.
Greens can be either turnip, collard, or a mix of greens or a “mess” as we call them. They are said to bring wealth in the new year and as with black eyed peas, the amount of wealth you have is directly proportionate to how much of them you eat! Tomorrow, I’m bringing you a greens tutorial.
Just as I did with my pinto beans, you need to sort through your beans. Sometimes there are little stones in there so you want to just pour them into your hand before you put them in the bowl and check a handful at a time.
After they are all in a bowl, cover them with water and then about two inches. These will need to soak overnight. There are quick soak methods as well but I find the greatest success when I soak mine overnight. If I ever forget to soak my beans, I’d rather wait until the next day instead of doing the quick soak method.
This is how they look the next morning. Drain off this water and discard it, then place peas in a large pot.
Add an ample amount of water so that they don’t cook down.
We’re going to cook these for a few hours at least. You can let them simmer all day if you like.
Now we need to season our peas. Normally, I would put in a ham hock or a large piece of country ham, maybe even a ham bone with a little meat left on it. For this tutorial, though, I am leaving that out in order to make this a vegetarian dish for my friend, Jennifer ~waves at Jennifer~.
So instead, we are going to add one tablespoon of sugar….
About a tablespoon and a half of salt..
I prefer two tablespoons but I am giving you this measurement as a rule of thumb. When salting beans, it really needs to be to your taste. Start with a tablespoon and a half and taste them when they are close to being done, adding more if you prefer.
Add about a tablespoon of pepper.
Add two tablespoons of vegetable oil.
Stir that up and turn on the stove eye. Bring it to a boil. Then reduce heat and simmer for two to three hours (or more if you like).When the peas are tender, they are done! You can now serve them as is, straining out your peas into a serving bowl. If you are going to serve them like this, i really suggest you putting a piece of ham in them at the start and then shredding it up into them before serving (unless you are vegetarian. In that case, I really recommend you don’t do that!).
Now, how about we make us some Hoppin’ John? Hoppin’ john has been around for ages in the south as well. Classic soul food, it was yet another way to piece meager rations together and make a filling and nutritious meal. It is believed to have originated in African cuisine and carried over to the states, where it was eventually adopted as a southern staple.
You’ll need: White rice, chicken broth (Vegetarians will want to use Vegetable broth here), onion, garlic powder, and crushed red pepper. There are oodles of variations on this dish and you can feel free to add or take away as you will. I have seen bell pepper, garlic cloves, tomatoes, and even Ro-tel added. The southern way of cooking allows for making do with what you have and so I am making a more classic Hoppin’ John which happens to utilize what I have on hand.
You’ll also need some hot sauce, which I will show at the end of this tutorial.
Place two cups of chicken broth in a sauce pot, add rice.
I seldom keep chicken broth on hand but happened to have it this time. Normally, I keep bouillon cubes in my pantry and just make my own broth using one cube per cup of water. Alright, I usually add an additional cube to make it richer, there I fessed up! You happy?
Add 1/2 tsp of garlic powder.
Add 1/2 tsp salt
Bring this to a boil, then reduce heat and cover, simmering until Rice is tender and all brother is absorbed.
This is your finished rice
(say “hello, rice”!)
Now chop up your onion and saute it in about 2 T of margarine until tender.
Now strain off your peas and put them in a large bowl, add your onions…
and your rice.
Stir all of that up…ooh look at the steam!
And add about two tablespoons of hot sauce, such as Texas Pete’s or…
Wal Mart’s generic version ~grins~. Personally, I add more to mine but I do it once I have my serving on my plate so it won’t be too hot for the kids. Two tablespoons doesn’t really add heat so much as it adds flavor.
I love this, its a great side dish, but it really does need ham (I tried, Jennifer! I did make it vegetarian and my son ate two bowls of it by itself!). If you cooked your peas with ham, this is going to be awesome.