When I was very young, all my mom’s family would gather at my grandparent’s house on New Year’s Eve for a big food-related feast. Each year would feature food from a different country, such as Chinese one year or Mexican the next. (Chinese and Mexican were about as foreign as you could get in western Nebraska in the mid-1970s.) I don’t remember much from those meals, other than gorging on fortune cookies, which I still love today.
The extended Richards clan isn’t alone in instituting some type of New Year’s food tradition. Many of the most popular ones are symbolic of peoples’ hopes for economic growth and progress in the coming year. Some folks eat only pork, because pigs root forward, versus poultry, which scratch backwards. Other foods are featured for their resemblance to money, such as greens and cabbage, or beans which are said to represent coins.
One dish popular on New Year’s Day traditionally combines both pork and beans (in the form of black-eyed peas) – Hoppin’ John. Most recipes for this classic Southern dish call for bacon, fatback or ham hocks to give the beans a salty, smoky flavor, but there’s no reason you couldn’t use smoked venison sausage to add a bit of wild game to your New Year’s Day. Or better yet, wild boar sausage if you have it on hand.
Hoppin’ John with Venison Sausage**
2 cups dried black-eyed peas, soaked overnight and drained*
1 pound smoked venison or boar sausages, sliced 1/2-inch thick
2 qts. venison or game stock (chicken or vegetable stock will do, if you must)
2 tbs. olive oil
1 onion, diced
1 carrot, diced
2 celery stalks, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
Salt and ground black pepper
1 tbs. red pepper flakes, or to taste
Heat oil in a large stockpot or Dutch oven over medium heat.
Cook sliced sausages in oil until brown. Remove and place on paper towel lined plate to drain.
Saute onion, carrot and celery until onion becomes translucent — about 3-5 minutes. Lower heat, add garlic and cook until fragrant — about a minute.
Return sausage to pan, along with black-eyed peas and enough stock to cover everything by about one inch. (If you don’t have enough stock, you can add water.)
Season with salt, pepper and red pepper flakes.
Bring just to the boiling point, then lower heat to a bare a simmer, over and cook 1-2 hours.
Serve over cooked white rice with cornbread on the side.
*You can use a couple cans of prepared black-eye peas here, though if you do, be sure to drain and rinse them well, especially if your New Year’s resolutions include incorporating a low-sodium diet into your life. Canned beans can have up to 700 mg of sodium, where a cup of cooked dried beans comes in at less than 10 mg._