“Hoppin-john-bowl” by Srjenkins – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons
The Oxford English Dictionary’s first reference to the dish is from Frederick Law Olmsted‘s 19th century travelogue, A Journey in the Seaboard Slave States(1861). However, a recipe for “Hopping John” in The Carolina Housewife by Sarah Rutledge, which was published in 1847, is also cited as the earliest reference. An even earlier source is Recollections of a Southern Matron,which mentions “Hopping John” (defined, in a note, as “bacon and rice”) as early as 1838.
Hoppin’ John was originally a Low Country food before spreading to the entire population of the South. Hoppin’ John may have evolved from rice and bean mixtures that were the subsistence of enslaved West Africans en route to the Americas. Hoppin’ John has been further traced to similar foods in West Africa, in particular the Senegalese dish,thiebou niebe.
One tradition common in the U.S. is that each person at the meal should leave three peas on their plate to ensure that the New Year will be filled with luck, fortune and romance. Another tradition holds that counting the number of peas in a serving predicts the amount of luck (or wealth) that the diner will have in the coming year. On Sapelo Island in the community of Hog Hammock, Geechee red peas are used instead of black-eyed peas. Sea Island red peas are similar.