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Hoppin’ John: The Rice and Peas Dish Symbolizing Good Luck Tastes Good - Just in Time for New Years!

December 20, 2012

Each New Year’s Day, there is a dish that hops onto plates, especially those in the South, as a tasty tradition with a colorful history.

It’s Hoppin’ John.

Made with white rice and peas, it is a customary dish served up on New Year’s Day because it symbolizes good luck and peace. Southerners prepare Hoppin’ John as a centerpiece of a special dinner that also includes collard greens, which represents the hope that an abundance of money will come into their homes and never leave – plenty of green and no lean.

And just like collard greens, Hoppin’ John often reflects the regional tastes of the folks preparing it.

In the South, cooks of Gullah heritage make Hoppin’ John with cowpeas. This version uses a basic recipe that includes the rice, cowpeas (also called field peas), fatback or bacon, cayenne pepper and other seasonings. If you venture outside of the Carolinas and Georgia, you will discover Hoppin’ John recipes made with black-eyed peas, onions, smoked sausage, ham hocks, celery, bell peppers and other ingredients.

This simple but delectable dish has since spread in its popularity and has been embraced by people from various cultures.

Food historians, according to Linda Stradley of what’, typically concur Hoppin’ John has African, Caribbean and French roots. However, Gullah people – descendents of slaves from the west coast of Africa brought to America to cultivate and harvest rice, indigo, cotton and other plantation staples – are often credited with giving Hoppin’ John its culinary legs.

“Cowpeas (cultivated subspecies include black-eyed peas) came with the slaves when they were brought here,” said Vermelle “Bunny” Rodrigues, an oral historian who lives in a Gullah corridor in South Carolina.

This simple but delectable dish has since spread in its popularity and has been embraced by people from various cultures.

Hoppin’ John, however, is shrouded in mystery because no one seems to know how the dish got its name.

According to history recorded in “Rice Recipes,” which was published  by the Georgetown County (S.C.) Historical Commission in 1970, a woman living in Charleston, S.C., said Hoppin’ John got its name from a crippled man who would sell the rice and peas dish, prepared by his wife, to passersby. He would limp because one of his legs was shorter than the other and shout out, “Here come Hoppin’ John,” as he sold the dish on the streets of Charleston.

This account dates the dish back to 1841.

“I’ve heard different stories through the years about how Hoppin’ John got its name,” Rodrigues said. “One involves children. They would be waiting for dinner and they would start hopping around the table before the dish was served.”

The mystery, therefore, remains about  how Hoppin’ John got its name. Yet, there are no secrets about Hoppin’ John’s taste, which is why people around the country and popular food companies, including Glory Foods Inc., have produced versions of this much loved rice and peas dish.

So, get to hopping and cook yourself a pot of Hoppin’ John using Glory Foods Seasoned Southern Style Black-eyed Peas or Glory Foods Sensibly Seasoned Black-eyed Peas. Don’t forget to serve it with Glory Foods Seasoned Southern Style Collard Greens or Glory Foods Sensibly Seasoned Collard Greens. 

Hoppin’ John
1 (14.5-ounce can) Glory Foods Seasoned Southern Style Black-eyed Peas
2 cups water
1 cup white rice
1 tablespoon butter or margarine
Salt and pepper, to taste

Combine all ingredients in a saucepan. Cover and bring to a boil.
Reduce heat, cover and simmer. Stir every 5 minutes until the liquid has been absorbed and rice is tender, about 20 minutes.
Remove from heat; stir gently. Season to taste. Serve immediately.

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