The Night Kitchen is open!
My darling Mr Tumnus is sleeping (albeit fitfully) and I'm in the kitchen making a little anchor for our meals for the next few days. And tonight - it's fresh Hoppin' John!
I'm a bit out of season here. Well, not vegetatively, but ceremoniously.
You see, usually, this dish is made for New Year's day down here in the South. Its foundation is black eyed peas and we eat it, like we eat greens (collards or spinach - or Swiss chard if you're feeling up-town) as a kind of sympathetic magic. You see, the peas look like coins (humor me) and the greens are like what older folk here call "folding money" - greenbacks - and thus if you eat them on New Year's Day, you'll attract the actual thing for the rest of the New Year. Money! Please Lord, let this be the year of the box of money arrives at the door!
You can make this with dried black eyed peas, but I really think that fresh peas make a huge difference. Usually dried legumes and pulses are reliable, but if you can find fresh peas - buy them! You can cook them immediately, or you can freeze them if they're packaged well.
How did I come by such things?
Well, my husband and I saw that the local Methodists have begun to host a little Farmer's Market called Seeds of Hope. This is a small market that sells only local produce gathered from local farms that aims to help sustain small farmers in the face of the large institutional farms. So last Saturday, we saddled the baby up in his stroller and blazed through the little trails through our neighbor and found the path to the church.
It was charming. There was a small white truck that had disgorged neat baskets of everything fresh that they had set up in the church's covered picnic area. My husband saw that the maestro needed space to work as I seized up a basket of my own, and he and Tumnus retreated to the opposite side of the shade.
I prowled. Now, this is a small affair so there were no finished foods - no local sausage (or meat at all) and no baked goods - just fresh produce.
First in line were tiny plums, the reddest I'd ever seen. They were hard so I got a handful to see how they would ripen. I skipped over the onions since I have a larderful, but slavered over small and very firm Italian eggplant and white eggplant. I ended up with the white since I couldn't remember the last time I had bought any! Into my basket they went.
Local tomatoes are a thing of pride in our state so I got two big fat ones - one that looked ready to eat and one a bit firmer that could hang out on the kitchen window sill and sweeten up. Small and tender yellow crooknecks went into the basket as well. I let the zucchini pass since I had been roasting them with abandon the week before.
As I waited for the men with the scale and the cashbox, I saw a promising sight - a cooler at the end of the picnic table, near the eggplant. Butterbeans? I thought hopefully. But no - fresh peas! Cheap! Like everything else! Thus, the plan for Hoppin' John was conceived.
We were out early and so I was in line behind several friendly white-haired ladies, buying their handfuls of produce. They harassed the men cheerfully about the exact location of their items - which county did these come from? (A very good question - red soil counties turn out the best, most flavorful tomatoes, so don't fool with those from the sand counties. Naturally, we live on one of the sandhills. Our tomatoes must be bused in.)
I hefted my sacks, got for a mere $13 and found my husband proudly showing off our baby to the kind Methodist ladies who were organizing the market. They were wonderful about adrmiring his beauty and intelligence.
Tumnus wanted to be carried so I strapped the vegetables into the stroller and off home we went.
Now that I have the peas home, they bear a sneaking resemblance to Crowder Peas! I puzzled over this. But you know, whatever. Either of these fresh peas will have that fresh almost metallic taste. They have an edge of iodine, a sharpness in flavor even though they become creamy in texture when cooked.
So now I'm cooking them up. Below is my favorite recipe for Hoppin' John. This is actually half of a recipe for Hoppin' John, because the dish is always served over seasoned rice - usually rice that is toasted in hot butter and bacon drippings. Nuff said! My family traditionally serves it over my mother's red rice - a recipe I will have to ferret out of her and will post later in the summer!
Hoppin' John adapted from The Joy of Cooking
2-3 cups fresh black eyed peas
1 1/2 cups chopped onion
1 large fat clove of garlic, finely chopped
4 oz good bacon (I like uncured)
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1/2 (generous) dried red pepper flakes (I like it spicy, but you can be conservative if you must)
2 large bay leaves
3-4 cups low sodium chicken broth
Put all ingredients in heavy sauce pan and bring to a simmer. Leaving uncovered, simmer gently 30-50 minutes until peas are tender. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
There will be a good amount of what my grandmother called "pot liquor" with the peas - the delicious essence of the peas and other good things. This you want. Ladle peas and liquor generously over rice. This is usually a side dish on New Year's day, but makes a very comforting lunch of supper on its own.