Happy New Year! Being from Alabama, and a cook, I tend to focus my holidays around food. I decided to pass one of my Southern traditions to you. Every year on New Year's Day, (always before noon) My family gathers around a traditional plate of "Hoppin John" and collard greens to ring in the New Year and bring good luck. Here is a little Hoppin' John History I dug up along with the recipe I use. Hoppin' John is found in most states of the South, but it is mainly associated with the Carolinas. Gullah or Low Country cuisine reflects the cooking of the Carolinas, especially the Sea islands (a cluster of islands stretching along the coats of south Carolina and northern Georgia). Black-eyed peas, also called cow peas, are thought to have been introduced to America by African slaves who worked the rice plantations. Hoppin' John is a rich bean dish made of black-eyed peas simmered with spicy sausages, ham hocks, or fat pork, rice, and tomato sauce. This African-American dish is traditionally a high point of New Year's Day, when a shiny dime is often buried among the black-eyed peas before serving. whoever get the coin in his or her portion is assured good luck throughout the year. For maximum good luck in the new year, the first thing that should be eaten on New year's Day is Hoppin' John. At the stroke of midnight on New Year's Eve, many southern families toast each other with Champagne and a bowl of Hoppin' John. If it is served with collard greens you might, or might not, get rich during the coming year. There are many variations to traditional Hoppin' John. Some cook the peas and rice in one pot, while others insist on simmering them separately. Most food historians generally agree that "Hopping John" is an American dish with African/French/Caribbean roots. There are many tales or legends that explain how Hoppin' John got its name: * It was the custom for children to gather in the dining room as the dish was brought forth and h op around the table before sitting down to eat. * A man named John came "a-hoppin" when his wife took the dish from the stove. * An obscure South Carolina custom was inviting a guest to eat by saying, "Hop in, John" * The dish goes back at least as far as 1841, when, according to tradition, it was hawked in the streets of Charleston, South Carolina by a crippled black man who was know as Hoppin' John. Makes 8 servings. * 4 strips bacon, diced (use ham hocks, suasages, etc ) * 1/2 cup chopped onion * 2 cups cooked black-eyed peas, or 2 packages (10 ounces each) frozen * 1/2 cup uncooked rice * 2 cups water * 1/4 teaspoon dried red-pepper flakes * 1/4 teaspoon salt * 1/8 teaspoon black pepper Partially cook bacon in a Dutch oven, add onion, and cook until bacon is crisp and onion is soft. Add black-eyed peas, rice, water, and pepper flakes. Cover and simmer over low heat until rice is done, about 20 to 25 minutes. Toss with salt and pepper and serve immediately.