Tag Archives: traditions

Corned Beef and St. Patrick’s Day

It will probably surprise no one that I consider myself a food traditionalist. I like my Chicago Style Pizza to be deep dish, I believe the best Italian restaurants are in Italy, and I think that one should respect the traditions that surround sushi. Pompous? I’ll begrudgingly cop to that.

That said, if you are planning to cook Corned beef on St. Patrick’s day this Thursday, you’ll be participating in an Irish-American tradition, rather than an Irish one. For St. Patty’s day, the big thing in Ireland is apparently Whiskey Cake, and Corned Beef is typically saved for Sunday dinners.

But what is corned beef? Simply beef that is cured or pickled in brine. The term “corn” originally meant grain, as in a small particle of something, and thus the “corn” in “corned beef” refers to the corns of salt.

If you wish to make your own corned beef, I suggest starting here.

IMBB 4.0: Hoppin’ John

For the latest installment of “Is my Blog Burning“, I decided to cook a southern United States version of beans and rice, called “Hoppin’ John”.

Hoppin’ John comes from the American South via the Caribbean islands. Some etymologists believe that “hoppin’ John” is a corruption of “pois à pigeon” (especially if the “à” is elided in the Creole manner to make “pois pigeon” [pwaah-peejon]). Pigeon peas were another bean brought from Africa to the Americas. Although widely prolific in the West Indies, they have not flourished in this country, and cowpeas have more or less supplanted them.

Cut off from the source of its name and gentrified into “Hopping John,’ hoppin’ John became a meaningless phrase, and folk etymologies evolved to supply the necessary “explanations,” as did, for example, Harriet Ross Colquitt in The Savannah Cookbook (1933) –

As children, it was our custom, when word went round we were to have hoppin’ John for dinner, to gather in the dining room and as the dish was brought forth to hop around the table before sitting down to the feast.

– from whence it eventually wended its way into the American Heritage Cookbook, where, bereft of the ingenuousness of young Harriet, it becomes a condescending platitude:

hoppin john

The name (hoppin’ John) may have derived from the custom that children must hop once around the table before the dish is served or may have been the sobriquet of a lively waiter.

others still tell of a certain John who came “a-hoppin’” when his wife took the dish from the stove; still others of an otherwise obscure South Carolina custom of inviting a guest to eat by saying, “Hop in, John.”

Raymond Sokolov states in his book “How to Cook”, states that hoppin’ John is named after a crippled African American who sold it on the streets of Charleston, South Carolina as far back as 1841.

All stories are unlikely, but certainly show the popularity of teh dish that had so many stories surrounding the etymologies of its name.

The famous Southern rice and bean dishes are most closely associated with the rice-growing areas of the Carolinas and Louisiana. Today, however, Hoppin’ John is common across the whole South, and there are as many versions as there are cooks. The one below is one of my own creation.

Hoppin’ John

  • 1 can black-eyed peas
  • 1 lb. Ham hocks
  • 1/4 lb bacon, sliced thick
  • 1/2 yellow onion
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • Olive oil
  • 1 cup brown, long grained rice
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • 2 Tablespoons shortening

Slightly oil the bottom of a Dutch oven with olive oil. Place over medium heat. Blossom red pepper in oil. Slice onion and garlic and place in oven. Allow to turn translucent.

Drain the peas in a colander, and place in oven. Put in ham hocks and bacon. Cover with 8 cups of water. Add salt and pepper to taste and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for an hour.

Remove ham hock, and slice off meat from the bone. Remove bacon from pork broth. Reserve meat for later.

Drain the peas and onions, reserving the pork broth.

Put one cup of peas in a pot with the rice along with 2 1/2 cups broth. Bring to a boil, and reduce the heat to low, cover, and cook until rice is tender. ABout 15-20 minutes.

In a frying pan, heat shortening and fry the reserved ham and bacon until crisp. Drain grease and reserve meat until later.

Plate the rice with the remaining cooked peas. Moisten with the remaining broth. Place ham and bacon on top. Serve.

Serves 8-10