The black-eyed pea was first introduced in the New World by Africans who carried the dried legume here with them from West Africa. The U.S. Library of Congress has records of its arrival as early as 1674. James Beard award-winning chef and cookbook author Edna Lewis, known as the First Lady of Southern Cooking, shares in her timeless cookbook In Pursuit of Flavor that in her home state of Virginia, Southern farmers planted them in abundance to supply nitrogen to the soil between cash crops. Before the plants were tilled in, farmers welcomed anyone to go out and pick the peas. Lewis remembers her family storing the dried pods in cotton sacks until “on a cold winter afternoon when there was nothing better to do, we would shell the peas.” Because of its significance in African foodways, dishes with black-eyed peas are commonly made for feast days and other special occasions among members of the African Diaspora, most notably on New Year’s Day to bring good fortune and prosperity, and during Kwanzaa, a celebration of African heritage which runs from December 26th – January 1st. Because Kwanzaa is a nod to harvest celebrations in Africa, when communities honor crops and laborers, food plays an important role — particularly soul-food staples like Hoppin’ John. You’ll find black-eyed peas and rice featured in our Weekly Sale from December 23rd – 29th, so it’s a great time to give this dish a try!
Soak black eyed peas overnight (or a minimum of 8 hours), drain, and rinse. In a large pot over medium-high heat, brown the bacon until just crisp. Remove bacon and set aside, leaving bacon drippings in the pot. If using a ham hock, skip that step and simply heat 2 T of oil in the pot, then add onion, celery, and bell pepper. Cook for 5 minutes, or until the onion begins to turn clear, stirring occasionally. Add the garlic and cook an additional minute, or so. Add the black eyed peas and enough water or stock to cover the peas in 1″ of liquid. If using the smoked hock, add it now. Add the bay leaf, red pepper flakes, and a generous sprinkle of salt & fresh black pepper. Bring to a boil, the reduce heat to a low simmer. Cover the pot with the lid slightly ajar. Simmer for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add more water or stock as needed to keep the peas just covered. Once the peas are tender, add the cooked rice, chopped cooked ham, coarsely chopped bacon, and a splash of your favorite hot sauce. Stir well to combine and return to a light simmer, then serve.