Hoppin’ John, Skippin’ Jenny and keepin’ tradition…

“Hoppin’ John” is African-American people’s New Year tradition based on quite simple Southern soul food basics with meat and the vegetarian version is just as delicious: black-eyed peas, rice, usual suspect spices, bacon or pork fat, peppers or celery, onions or scallions. Most people never just make a little beans or a little rice, so the big skillet or pot leftovers convert to “Skippin’ Jenny” by January 2nd; leftovers are small miracles anyone can access, as they always prove to be more than we thought we had. Those who really want to get technical (and blessed) add some greens and cornbread with a fish fry.

I love cast iron skillets, old pots from family or friends and found dishes or silverware to bring the generous spirits of the past cooks and their satisfied diners into my meals, especially one as significant as African-American New Year Hoppin’ John.

The philosophies and theologies behind these munchies we eat off of for days are black eyed peas look like coins, greens represent American money and cornbread goes with the fish to imitate Christ with his loaves and fishes miracle to feed the hungry masses. These humble ingredients were once barely affordable to enslaved or newly freed Blacks and provided a rare feast to hope for change in a new time. These traditions go on to honor those heroic Black Americans and keep their same spirit of drive, ambition and making do until freedom and prosperity. I joined one of the baddest fried perch cooks I’ve ever tasted, along with her cornbread I enjoyed for the first time, with my vegetarian Hoppin’ John substituting veggie sausage for pork fat and just a little greens mixed in to save time on cleaning a pots-worth.

I hope you, too, combine with others and make traditions your own to get the most out of every day this year.

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