Anyone of a certain age who grew up in the South — and I mean to include myself, even though I was born in northern Illinois, simply because I got most of my formal education in South Carolina — is familiar with Hoppin’ John. Then again, that familiarity is somewhat dulled by the fact that it almost certainly doesn’t taste the way it used to:
The original ingredients of Hoppin’ John are simple: one pound of bacon, one pint of peas, and one pint of rice. The earliest appearance in print seems to be in Sarah Rutledge’s The Carolina Housewife (1847), and it’s important to note that everything was cooked together in the same pot:
“First put on the peas, and when half boiled, add the bacon. When the peas are well boiled, throw in the rice, which must first be washed and gravelled. When the rice has been boiling half an hour, take the pot off the fire and put it on coals to steam, as in boiling rice alone.”
Which nobody does anymore, and it wouldn’t help if they did:
If you try to cook Sarah Rutledge’s recipe for Hoppin’ John using bacon, rice, and black-eyed peas from the supermarket, you’re probably going to be pretty disappointed. Today’s ingredients have been transformed by a century of hybridization, mechanization, and standardization to meet the demands of an industrialized, cost-minimizing food system.
So variations have erupted, even in places that aren’t all that Southern; the Pioneer Woman hath wrought one herself. But if you’re within a reasonable drive of old Charleston, you can find reasonable approximations of the original ingredients, just in case you want a taste of 1847 in 2017. (It’s probably too late to do it for this New Year’s.)