There are as many different ways to fix this dish as there are explanations for how it got its name. And there's not much agreement on either one. But it doesn't matter which story or recipe you choose; they're all good!
Most food historians generally agree that Hoppin' John is an American dish with African, Creole, and Caribbean roots. The dish goes back at least as far as 1841, when, according to a legend, it was sold in the streets of Charleston, South Carolina by a man who was known as Hoppin' John.
Other explanations of the odd name include an obscure southern custom of inviting guests to eat by saying, "Hop in, John." A spin on this explanation stated that after the Civil War, starving Southern soldiers would stop at houses and ask for food. Southern women would bring a bowl of rice and peas to the door and say, "OK, hop in, John" (Johnny Reb, a name for Southern soldiers).
Or did the name come from an old ritual on New Year's Day in which the children of the house hopped around the table before eating their peas?
We may never know the true origin of the name, but it is generally accepted that Hoppin' John symbolizes good luck and wealth. The peas are symbolic of pennies or coins. Many people serve greens (mustard greens or collard greens) along with this dish; greens are the color of money, thus adding to the wealth. Another traditional food, cornbread, is often served since its gold color is also associated with riches.
There are other stories and symbols, but let's get to the recipes! This is a quick and tasty way to prepare Hoppin' John:
1 tablespoon butter
3/4 cup diced onion
3/4 cup sliced celery
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 lb. smoked sausage, sliced (or bacon or cooked ham)
2 cans of black eyed peas, undrained (I used Bush's)
salt and pepper to taste (I did not add salt- the peas and sausage added enough salt for me)
hot, cooked rice
Over medium heat, melt butter in a large pan or skillet. Saute the onion, celery, and garlic until soft. Stir in the sausage and cook until hot and sizzling. Add in the 2 cans of undrained black eyed peas, and simmer for about 20 minutes until the flavors are well-combined.
Serve over hot, cooked rice, with sides of cornbread and greens.
I thought hush puppies (another southern staple) would go well with the Hoppin' John, but I didn't want to mess with all the oil and frying. I decided to try hush puppy batter in mini muffin tins, and it worked out very well!
Hush Puppy Mini Muffins
Adapted from Southern Living
Makes about 2 and 1/2 dozen hush puppies
1 and 1/2 cups self-rising yellow cornmeal mix
3/4 cup self-rising flour
3/4 cup finely diced sweet yellow onion
1 and 1/2 tablespoons sugar
1 large egg, slightly beaten
1 and 1/4 cups buttermilk
Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Grease mini muffin tins.
In a large bowl, mix cornmeal mix, flour, and sugar. Set aside.
In a small bowl, whisk egg and buttermilk until well combined. Pour milk mixture into cornmeal mixture, and stir just until mixed. Fold in chopped onion. Let the batter sit for 2 minutes. Using a spoon or a small cookie scoop, fill muffin tins about 7/8 full. Bake for 10 minutes (mine took about 14 minutes) or until golden brown. Rotate the pans half way through for even browning. Remove from oven and brush tops of muffins with melted butter. Serve warm.