Hope Simmers as a New Year Begins

I’ve always been one to create my own traditions, rather than rely on others to dictate what in life I celebrate and how. I’m an individualist that way… Honestly, if I don’t feel a personal connection to a tradition, I’d rather skip it than feel like I’m hypocritically jumping on some random popular bandwagon.

So while I can easily let Valentine’s Day and St Patrick’s Day slide by uncelebrated, celebrating a New Year is something I can truly get behind. The symbolism of reflection on the past and intentional living into the future is very appealing to me. So I mark the New Year in a quiet and low-key way: By cooking and eating a traditional dish I discovered over three decades ago.

It’s a cookbook and craft book in one!

In 1989, my then-mother-in-law gave me a book for Christmas entitled, “Gifts of Good Taste.” Knowing my penchant for whipping up (and often sharing) delightful and surprising creations from my kitchen, it was an extremely appropriate gift for me. It really got my creative juices flowing along with my desire to make meaningful and tasty gifts for those I loved. I delved in right away, landing on the next holiday following the Christmas on which I received the book – New Year’s Day.

The inscription from 1989

The recipe for Hoppin’ John (a Southern dish of black eye peas, bacon and rice) caught my eye not only because it sounded tasty but because of the little story that accompanied it. It told of how each black eyed pea eaten represents a day of good luck/prosperity in the coming year. How quaint, I thought! I’m a sucker for a tradition that makes you think and hope. I made the recipe for myself that first year to get a sense of its flavor before foisting the concoction on others. I found it delicious – a nice little side dish for a New Year’s celebratory meal. And with a sweet story to go with it, surely it would be considered a meaningful gift. Although I have gifted jars of Hoppin’ John on occasion throughout the years, mainly it’s become a traditional dish that I make for us because, even symbolically, who doesn’t wish for some good luck in their own life?

The page itself with lore and recipe

When I make this dish, I never fail to note the amusing (at least to me) fact that, while it is decidedly a Southern dish, I am decidedly NOT a Southern person, having lived only in the “norths” of every state I’ve inhabited: New Jersey, Colorado, Texas and Illinois.

I’m sure there are more sophisticated recipes for Hoppin’ John – and more authentic ones. But I happen to like this one (even though it’s the only version I’ve ever eaten). Over the years, I’ve changed it up to suit our personal tastes: a couple little spicy peppers instead of the Bell pepper, skip the tomatoes altogether, add some thyme and several dashes of Tabasco sauce. I think it’s perfected to our purposes – and isn’t that what any satisfying tradition is anyway?

Our 2021 New Year’s dinner, featuring chicken-fried steak with creamy gravy, Hoppin’ John and homemade cornbread – a Southern feast enjoyed in Northern Illinois.

And so we’re off on a new year, full of hope (and little “peas” that are actually beans) setting an expectation of good fortune and prosperity to come. May we all have enough of everything good to know that we have plenty to share with our fellow humans – because an abundant heart is a loving heart. And love is why we’re here.

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3 Responses to Hope Simmers as a New Year Begins

  1. Maureen Trlak says:

    I love this but am off carbs altogether. They just don’t agree with me. I’ve only had Hoppin’ John once and the person who made it made it so spicy it was inedible. I’d much, much rather have yours.

  2. Sharon Blitstein says:

    I’ve heard of that tradition but never tasted it. You do make it sound delicious so I hope to get the chance one day. Here’s to bringing in the new year with old traditions.

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