By now, if you are one of my followers, all sixty of them, you can tell that tradition, continuity, and sameness play a large role in the culture in which I was reared and continue to live by choice.
This includes New Year’s Day.
As that quartet from Ireland sang, nothing changes on New Year’s Day.
We have the same menu, with a few variations, that we had when I was young. We often spent New Year’s Day at the home of Betsey and Bill Robinson with other families. I basically cook the same menu we ate together all those years in Beaufort, at the Robinsons’ home on First Boulevard, then at their home out on Lady’s Island.
When Mary Perrin and I were first married, we had no one to cook the traditional New Year’s Day meal for us; we were going to a house party at Pawley’s Island. Before we left for Pawley’s, I pulled out cookbooks, called my mother for advice, and used the nascent search engine on our home computer to figure out a thing or two before we drove up to Pawley’s. I went to bed at 9:30 p.m., dog sick. The next day, I helped cook the big meal with the Hoppin’ John and cornbread being my contribution. I powered through walking pneumonia and the Y2K scare as there must be Hoppin’ John on New Year’s Day. Nothing changes on New Year’s Day.
I love Hoppin’ John.
Hoppin’ John got me married.
On our first date in law school, I invited Mary Perrin over to my apartment for supper. I had no money to go out, but I did have the old rice steamer from home. I also had some frozen doves in my freezer as it was dove season. I cooked smothered doves with gravy served over Hoppin’ John. The receipt for Hoppin’ John came from Charleston Receipts. I have made that staple for over twenty years. It’s the best version of Hoppin’ John that I’ve ever had. I have been cooking for Mary Perrin ever since. Thanks be to God.
Field peas a/k/a cow peas make all the difference.
Sine qua non.
A little over a year ago, we went to Chapel Hill for a football game and met some college pals. We all decided to go to that venerable Chapel Hill temple of Southern cooking known as Crook’s Corner. I ordered their Hoppin’ John. It made me Hoppin’ mad. Inedible rice with some mushy black eyed peas, green peppers, and onions does not Hoppin’ John make. I won’t darken Crook’s door again if I can help it due to the abomination on my plate in October, 2017.
Every year, I hear strange tales of people eating black eyed peas on New Year’s Day for luck. It’s either field peas, or it ain’t. Full stop.
Every year, we have the same meal on New Year’s Day.
Some years we throw in curried fruit, the kind with the canned pears, peaches, apricots, brown sugar, butter, curry powder.
My mother used to add macaroni and cheese when we ate with the Robinsons and other families.
All that carbohydrate soaking up the prior night’s alcohol.
I don’t love New Year’s Eve. I call it Amateur Night.
For those of us for whom drinking and carousing with friends remains a non-special event, New Year’s Eve chafes. It brings out the hacks. Cute peeps refrain from lampshades as headwear.
I love New Year’s Day due to the menu, the ease, the quiet, the Bloody Mary with pickled okra.
I love the polite cough made by the proper uncorking of Champipple bottles on New Year’s Day.
I love that the menu never changes. Nothing changes on New Year’s Day.
On New Year’s Eve, I will soak my field peas. I will wash and wash and wash and wash and wash my collard greens. I will hope we have had at least one hard freeze to take the bitterness out of the greens.
I will chop the collards and place them in bags to go in the fridge overnight.
On New Year’s Day morning, I will boil the field peas with a little salted pork product: bacon, salt pork, ham hock, side meat.
I will get another pot simmering with more salted pork product and let it roll.
It’s Hayes Star Brand Field Peas or it ain’t.
I will add the collards and cook them until they are bright green but not mushy. The house will stink with the green sulfurous funk of those wealth producing leaves.
I will also fry bacon, chop onion, measure rice for the steamer, season the pork roast, make pepper vinegar, and stir up the cornbread.
I don’t make sweet cornbread. That’s called cake. Jiffy is sweet cornbread. It’s made in Chelsea, MI. Not very Southern. Sweet cornbread may be popular among many of my fellow Sandlappers, but I don’t eat it. Along those same lines, I don’t like sweet tea, banana pudding, or Brunswick stew. Shhhhh. Don’t tell.
By one o’clock everything will be ready for a two o’clock big feed.
Sometimes there’s dessert.
Sometimes there’s not.
When our eldest was three years old, we had another couple come for New Year’s Day dinner. After we ate, our then three year old hung out with Hannah Montana. We four adults, a loose term, sat at table for hours crying laughing and solving the world’s problems.
One year, I cooked the New Year’s Day dinner for eight other couples, all of us being young and childless at the time. A Charleston native whose mother wrote a cookbook about entertaining ate at our table. Her words to me that primal day of 2002, “Ham, this is my mother’s Hoppin’ John.”
I’ve served my parents.
I’ve served my in-laws.
I’ve served other families, including Godfamily.
I’ve served rando’s in town who have come to our table with friends of friends.
Entertaining angels unawares and all as the Good Book tells us to do.
No matter who breaks cornbread with us on New Year’s Day, the menu will be the same.
Nothing changes on New Year’s Day.
.….in the stateliest of Charleston houses and in the humblest cabin…good thing I put that star there….
Here’s the Hoppin’ John from Charleston Receipts with a couple of hints since nothing changes on New Year’s Day.
1 cup raw cow peas (dried field peas)
4 cups water
2 tsp salt
1 cup raw rice
4 slices bacon, fried crips, drippings reserved
1 medium onion, chopped
Boil peas in salted water until tender. Add peas and 1 cup of pea liquid to rice, bacon and grease and onion. Put in top of rice steamer and cook for 1 hour or until rice is thoroughly done.
Mrs. W. H. Barnwell (Mary Royall)
So, here are the tricks. I double this every year. In rice steamers, it’s one to one. One cup of raw rice for one cup of liquid. I have an ancient rice steamer that probably puts aluminum salts directly into our blood stream, leading straight to Alzheimer’s. I always add more liquid and more peas. I always steam at full tilt then cut it way back. The steamer acts as its own warming dish. I also add a few good bops of Tabasco sauce, too. If you know what a bop is, then, you’re my kind of cook.
I always make those changes to Mrs. Barnwell’s original receipt even though nothing changes on New Year’s Day.