Sunday, January 2, 2011

New Years, Hoppin John, Chaos, and Butler's Lecture

A few times this weekend, in the miniscule moments when my brain reached the surface of chaos gasping for air, I found myself thinking about Hoppin' John.

BUTLER (Dressed in his finest professorial robes and holding his instructional pointer, steps forward to the lectern that he had placed behind me, previously unnoticed in the whirlwind of playing with kids, dismantling the Christmas tree that broke my arm, dogs that -- because we were too busy to notice them -- had been pooping in the house -- and begins teaching in a practiced monotone): "Hoppin' John is the traditional New Year's meal consisting of black eyed peas, rice, and collard greens. Now a popular New Years tradition in many places, the earliest mention of Hoppin' John comes from coastal regions of South Carolina, Georgia, and blah blah blah..."

This year, I had forgotten our Hoppin' John tradition until 10:00 p.m. on New Year's Eve when Karen suddenly announced, "Oh no! I never got to the store!! We don't have any black-eyed peas!! Mark! Mark! Can you make a quick run to the supermarket?!!!!"

I was overjoyed to take on the task since I was, at the moment, trying to hold a crying baby with my good arm and picking up dog poop with my bad arm. I handed her the baby, grabbed my car keys and bolted for the door where I heard her calling out, "...And collard greens!!!"

BUTLER (tapping his pointer on the lectern): "...although some gastronomic historians trace the roots of this dish to the Middle Ages where the tradition of eating beans on New Years arose in France and Spain where it was supposed to bring good luck and blah blah..."

Speeding to the supermarket, which I expected to be closed this late on New Years Eve, I was thinking that I don't particularly like collard greens. For that matter, I don't really like black-eyed peas all that much. Why couldn't the traditional New Years meal be pizza and ice cream?"

BUTLER: "...Nobody really knows why Hoppin' John is called Hoppin' John although some scholars think that it is a corruption of the Haitian Creole term for black-eyed peas, pois pigeons."

BAGMAN (Sitting in the back of the class and raising his hand) "How the heck do you get Hoppin' John from 'Post Pigeons?"

BUTLER: "Say it with a French accent! Pwa Pi-je-on. Then say it three times fast"

BAGMAN: "And I thought you said it started in the South! Where did Haiti come into the picture?"

BUTLER: "Because many of the African slaves came from Haiti because of the rice trade which blah blah blah..."

BAGMAN: "Oh yeah. The Civil War and all that crap. But how did the Middle Ages bean-eating thing get from France and Spain to Africa in the first place?"

So, anyhow, I get to the supermarket and it is actually open although the sales clerks are a bit surly having to work on a Holiday. I run around the store making their worse by demanding where the black-eye peas and collard greens are. In the bean section, I find tons of great northerns, snap peas, chick peas, but only a big gap in the shelf where black-eyed peas are suppose to be. The collard green bin that sits between the kale and spinach is also empty.

The manager looks suspiciously at me over the top of his bifocals as if to say, "How can you be such an idiot to wait until two hours before the ball drops in Times Square to start shopping for Hoppin' John -- particularly when you live in South Carolina?!"

"Do you think they have any in your other store?"

"No, sir. They've been sold out since yesterday. Have you tried France or Spain?"

BUTLER: "...One tradition is to always leave three beans on your plate at the end of the meal to ensure luck, fortune, and romance..."

I'm thinking we'll be lucky to have three beans at the beginning of the meal...

So I buy some Great Northern beans, knowing I'll be returning them, and drive home to confess my shopping failure to Karen, suggest pizza, and finish cleaning up after the dogs.

BAGMAN: "Maybe you should walk the dogs instead!"

Too busy, too busy, too busy...

But Karen is not the kind of person who ever gives up on anything. It's a desperate measure, but she pulls one of the decorative mason jars from where it has been gathering dust for decades and says, "We'll just have to see if these are still good."

I blink with dismay. This jar of black-eyed peas was decorating her kitchen when I met her in 1996! They should be petrified by now! It takes a plumber's wrench to open the jar. But we leave them soaking and go to bed. I dream of pizza and ice cream.

BUTLER: "The collard greens that go with the meal are supposed to represent good finances since they are the color of money..."

...and will probably be the color of my face after eating prehistoric beans.

But, believe it or not, the black-eyed peas cooked up pretty well despite the fact that I suggested we plant them instead to see if we could grow a beanstalk, climb it, and find the golden goose. The meal was not bad despite the lack of collards -- or, perhaps, because of the lack of collards.

I forgot to leave three beans on my plate but did remember to walk the dogs. In the middle of the night, I slipped quietly out of bed, snuck into the kitchen, and made myself a bowl of ice cream.

Happy New Years, everybody...even though it is already January 2nd.

BUTLER: "Don't forget that January 2nd is also an extremely important day. It is National Inspiration and Motivation Day as well as National 55-Miles Per Hour Speed Limit Day. It is Science Fiction Day and National Cream Puff Day. It is the day the drinking straw was invented although some people celebrate this on the 3rd. And finally it is "Run It Up The Flagpole and See if Anyone Salutes" day dedicated to creativity. Furthermore, blah blah blah...

As for me, I'm just counting the hours until tomorrow -- January 3rd -- National Festival of Sleep Day!


  1. happy new year to you and to your family. good post. In texas you also have to eat black eyed peas. but they are delicious. cooked with a touch of hot peper! here we had rosoto with mushroom / medalion of file mignion (eek my spelling) and for good luck lentils.... was very good. all through the year we eat collard greens which are called couve - sauted with galic, salt and olive oil - just til they turn dark green.... oh and have to be cut in very thin strips across the leaf.... is quite good. look forward to sharing your experiences through the new year.

  2. Yet another "I can't believe I lived to be 50 years old and have never heard of this before" episode. Many blogs I am reading are saying that black eyed peas are the custom for New Years. What? For my household (from my Mom) it has always been sauerkraut and pork.

    Southern tradition, maybe? I lived in Virginia for three years but was always home in Ohio for New Years.

  3. Yeah, after being sick for the last 3 days and finding out my sweet sister passed away right before midnight new years eve, I made us a can of blackeyed peas, a can of collaed greens and some instant rice. We also had a piece of pork loin to round off the not so great meal at 8:30 last night. Traditions, what ever, but things around here have to start changing! I did my part for the good luck part of the coming year!

    ☆¸.•°*”˜˜”*°•.¸☆ ★ ☆¸.•°*”˜˜”*°•.¸☆
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    ║╚╝║══║═║═║╚╝║ ☆¸.•°*”˜˜”*°•.¸☆
    ║╔╗║╔╗║╔╣╔╩╗╔╝ ★ NEW YEAR ☆ 2011
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  4. I read about this tradition on a few blogs last year - but I didn't know it had a name. It sounds like something I'd enjoy, but it's not a tradition we have here (I'm not sure we even have collard greens...)

  5. I raise you three chocolate truffles to your black eyed peas.

  6. I am late, so shoot me when I say "Happy New Year!" I thought about you on New Year's Day. Does that count? And I do have an excuse. My main computer died 10 minutes after my son fixed my laptop that had died. Now I am working photos on a laptop while my son tries to find out why my mother ship crashed. Yes, it is the same Dell XPS that crashed 4 times in 3 years, and almost burned my house down. Warning! Warning! Stay away from high-end desk-top XPS gaming machines. Yes, I used to game, but no longer have time.

    Now to the tradition: Coming from Georgia, black-eyed peas, rice, collard greens, and cornbread are must-haves on New Year's day. The black-eyed peas are supposed to bring you luck and the greens bring you money, though I don't think the money part works. I don't know what the cornbread does, and I never knew the history of how the rice got onto the plate. FYI:I always mix collards with kale and mustard greens.

    And that is all the time I have. Looks like I am starting this year out like the last year ended, except I have no mother ship. Is that a portend of things to come?

    Oh, Happy New Year to my other two favorite boys.

  7. :) I always put diced tomatoes in my black eyed peas and forget the collards...

    Happy New Year, Mark

  8. Happy New Year. I've never really cared for black eye peas but my grandparents always made them for the new year. No one in our family carries on that tradition anymore.

  9. I must admit I know neither black eyed peas nor collard green... But I like to learn about such things, and I am glad to hear that nobody came to any harm after consumption of the antique peas!

  10. Happy new year to all of you!

  11. I two grew up eating hoppin johns and collard greens... not sure they bring any luck...just hopin' john should be their name instead LOL Okay I am laughing at my own jokes now...

  12. I dream of pizza and ice cream all the time. I had hoppin' john at a Hillbilly party here once--no offense to southern fans--it was awful. LOL at the whole petrified bean idea. ;-)

  13. A couple of minutes of continued laughing! Thanks!

    I must admit that it's the first time I hear about this Hoppin-John-thing.

    Really, you would never go for pizza and ice cream for a New Year's meal, would you? (I hope not.) :-)

    All the best for 2011!!

  14. We usually do Chinese for a New Year's meal because you get fortune cookies with the food. Black eyed peas and collard greens sound much healthier. Cornbread and rice too? I've never heard of any of this before. It sounds very vegan. Happy New Year to all the people and animals at your house. Love, xoxo

  15. Well, if I ever stop laughing, I will write a comment. LOLOLOLOLOL. We don't care for black-eyed peas and collard greens but know about them. Didn't know the name of Hoppin' John though.
    Looking forward to another year of laughing with you. Blessings