Podcast Episode 170: Hoppin’ John with Braised Venison Shanks and Other Lucky Foods from Around the World

Hoppin’ John is an amazing Southern American dish with an interesting history. I was raised believing eating black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day was the only way to solidify a year’s good luck. 

As a kid, I could not end the day without at least a spoonful of black-eyed peas. My family is still very superstitious about this tradition, but no matter, I now enjoy black-eyed peas more than just the yearly spoonfuls.  

Historically, Hoppin’ John is a culmination of the many worlds that contributed to giving the “Old South” its culinary identity. Born in the rice-rich lands of the Carolinas, this dish incorporates rice, cowpeas, black-eyed peas, or other beans and is flavored with bacon or ham. 

The rice, beans, and broth were cooked together following the cookery methods brought to the American South by enslaved Africans. This method is what makes it Hoppin’ John. Most modern methods cook the two separately, which I refused to recognize after tasting the result of the steps below. 

I wanted to add a wild game component to this meal. I do not believe that I am the first to think of this, as much of the historical American South survived on some sort of wild game meat at one point or another. I braised the antelope shanks in the slow cooker overnight and used that braising liquid throughout the remainder of the recipe. 

My preparation of Hoppin’ John follows the traditional preparation as much as I could, except for the addition of the Harvesting Nature Water Fowl Blend

The resulting meal was remarkably balanced and wholesome. I was very happy to share it with my family, who gave the meal two thumbs up as they solidified their good luck for the next year. There is nothing like cooking magical food that also pleases the diners. Good Luck and Enjoy!

Read the written version of this recipe as prepared by Justin Townsend

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About Hoppin’ John

Hoppin’ John seems to have originated in the Lowcountry regions of South Carolina’s coastline, where the Gullah peoples began the tradition. 

They likely used Carolina Gold rice and either Geechee red peas or Sea Island red peas to make the dish. Interest in some of these ingredients lately has been resurgent, with several people working hard to save them from extinction. I’ve had the chance to try them, and they are worth seeking out. 

The inspiration for the dish probably came from similar African dishes like the Senegalese thiebou niebe or other similar pea and rice dishes in west Africa. Africans arriving on American soil would have used what was available to them to make dishes as they would have at home. 

The earliest mention of Hoppin’ John in literature comes from the book Recollections of a Southern Matron, published in 1838. The dish was likely eaten well before that, making this a VERY old food!

Although it has been forgotten exactly how the name for the dish came to be, some historians posit that the name came from a bastardization of the Creole-french word for black-eyed peas – pois pigeon – which means pigeon peas. 

About Adam Berkelmans:

Adam Berkelmans, also known as The Intrepid Eater, is a passionate ambassador for real food and a proponent of nose-to-tail eating. He spends his time between Hull, Quebec and a cozy lake house north of Kingston, Ontario. When not cooking, he can be found hunting, fishing, foraging, gardening, reading, traveling, and discovering new ways to find and eat food.

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Podcast Photo by Backcountry Hunters and Anglers

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