Meet the Spicy Wife of the South's Classic Hoppin' John Dish
You’ve probably heard of Hoppin’ John (shown above), the one-pot dish of black-eyed peas and rice eaten at New Year’s to bring prosperity. In the South Carolina Lowcountry, Hoppin’ John isn’t just a once-a-year good luck charm. A culinary constant for centuries, it was a daily meal during the 19th century, yet deemed special enough to serve President Taft when he visited Charleston in 1909. A 1933 book describes a hog jowl-laced Hoppin’ John so good “that people almost bite their own fingers.” Now, you’ll find myriad variations, from this smoky variation to a Hoppin’ John casserole, slow cooker and vegetable-forward versions, and even Hoppin’ John Cakes.
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First, why is it called Hoppin’ John?
Some say Hoppin’ John was a real person—a street vendor hawking peas and rice—while others that he was a Georgia landowner’s one-legged cook. Linguists say the name has less to do with folklore and more to do with language blending, with “Hoppin’ John” sounding pretty close to the French word for pigeon peas (pois de pigeon), if your accent is on point.
Hoppin' John bhofack2/Getty Images
Meet Limpin’ Susan
Less remembered but equally delicious is Limpin’ Susan, a dish named for a woman said to be John’s wife, mistress, or even cousin, depending on whom you ask. Susan’s gait may not have been as sprightly as Hoppin’ John’s, but her namesake dish of okra and rice legged its way across the globe. Okra made its way from Ethiopia to South Carolina as a result of the Atlantic slave trade, where it met with Caribbean food traditions to become a part of the rice-based pilaus or perloos of Gullah cuisine.
Limpin’ Susan can be as simple as bacon grease, okra, and rice, but variations are as numerous as the theories about her name. Lowcountry cooking thrives on the seasons and the sea, so blackened fish or a few plump shrimp are common additions. Make it a meal with a hunk of hot cornbread or a pile of hushpuppies.
Get the recipe: Limpin’ Susan
Meet the rest of the family!
As is often the case in historic foodways, new names arrive with variations. Historic cookbooks tell us that a bowl of Limpin’ Susan served over grits is known as Limpin’ Kate, and if you serve Hoppin’ John as leftovers, it becomes known as Skippin’ Jenny. You can also reunite the original couple with a recipe that combines both Hoppin’ John and Limpin’ Susan into one novel dish.