Bring on New Year’s Luck with Hoppin’ John
The dawn of a brand new year means the return of food traditions around the world meant to bestow good luck:
- In Spain, Mexico, and other Hispanic countries, they eat 12 grapes, one by one, as the clock chimes out 12 o’clock on New Year’s Eve. If you get all the grapes “down the hatch” by midnight, it’s believed you’ll have good fortune in the New Year.
- In Sweden and Norway, they make rice pudding for New Year’s Day with a whole almond hidden inside. If you’re the lucky one who gets the almond, you’ll be lucky in the New Year as well (or so the story goes).
- In many countries, it’s traditional to eat cooked greens on New Year’s Day. That’s because green is the color of money. They say the more greens you eat, the larger your fortune. And besides, cooking some kale, cabbage, or collards is a lot easier than winning the Lottery!
Lucky Black-Eyed Peas
Along with collard greens, a popular New Year’s tradition in the southern U.S. is eating a dish called Hoppin’ John. It’s black-eyed peas cooked with vegetables, spices and pork, served over rice.
Why is this considered a lucky dish? Legend has it that during the Civil War, Vicksburg, Mississippi was surrounded by Union soldiers and ran out of food. Then someone found a stash of black-eyed peas, and the people were saved from starvation. Another explanation is that black-eyed peas resemble coins, signifying good fortune—and some cooks even slip a coin into the dish to confer an extra bit of luck on the person who finds it.
For a good recipe, try one from southern-style celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse (contains ham) or Paula Deen (vegetarian version). And for an excellent Hoppin’ John primer, follow the friendly Louisiana drawl of Beryl Stokes on Cajun Cooking TV.