Hoppin' John - Brooklyn Style...!!!
[Recipes follow the article...]
December 30, 2009
Brooklyn's Flavor Route to the South
By KIM SEVERSON
"A COOK should always say yes when offered something that will "stink up
your pot real good."
It's a lesson I learned earlier this month, when James Graham handed me a
couple of pieces of seasoning meat from his truck, parked on a stretch of
asphalt in Brooklyn.
Seasoning meat is really just the thick trimmings band-sawed from the top or
bottom of a country ham. Some people call it sweet meat, others just call it
But in the backs of a handful of trucks that park in East New York, Canarsie
and Bedford-Stuyvesant, it's called seasoning meat and it will set you back
about $4 a pound. You don't need very much to make a batch of Hoppin' John
or some greens. Maybe a quarter-pound, especially if the meat is sharing the
job with a ham hock or two.
"Put some of this in your pot and the neighbors will come fast, I promise
you that," said Mr. Graham, who works out of a truck parked near the
intersection of Flatlands and Pennsylvania Avenues in Brooklyn.
Seasoning meat is just one item he sells. He also has compact ham hocks,
giant smoked turkey wings and a kind of white cornmeal that's hard to find
at the local Key Food. He has collard greens and okra, too. And bags of
peanuts and pecans still in the shell.
Most of it had been driven north from Georgia and the Carolinas, following a
trail that began generations earlier with the great migration of black
Southerners to industrial cities like Chicago, Philadelphia and New York
during the Jim Crow era.
Once people arrived, the tastes of home made the transition easier, said
Marci Cohen Ferris, an associate professor of American studies at the
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill who specializes in the meaning
of food in American culture.
"The Southern ham hocks and field peas you see in Brooklyn today are rooted
in that history, especially at holiday time, when the Southern diaspora of
New York really longs for home," she said.
As far as the sellers and their customers can recall, the trucks appeared on
the scene more than 40 years ago. That's when people like George Huston and
George Lee figured there was a market for country food in Brooklyn's growing
It's likely, though, that similar enterprises in both Brooklyn and Harlem go
back much further. Ms. Ferris points out that in Ralph Ellison's "Invisible
Man," the main character buys and eats a baked South Carolina yam on a
Harlem street in the 1930s and is "overcome by an intense feeling of
The trucks were once plentiful on Brooklyn streets. Mr. Huston owned 15
tractor trailers that he and his extended family would use to haul produce
and smoked meat from the South.
The import business was so good for Mr. Lee that he opened the North
Carolina Country Store on Atlantic Avenue in 1973. His daughter, Patricia,
ran it until a year ago, when she sold it.
The store is one of the few places to get seasoning meat in Brooklyn.
"Everybody comes here if they can't go to the trucks," said Gloria Miles, a
truant officer and a member of the Greater Bright Light Missionary Baptist
Church. On a recent December afternoon, she was shopping at the store
instead of at her favorite truck for two reasons. One, it was freezing
outside, and two, she prefers pig tails to seasoning meat for her greens,
and the trucks don't usually have it.
Across the street, Jule Huston, 70, waited for customers. He's in the moving
business, but about 15 years ago he followed in his Uncle George's footsteps
and started selling smoked meats, pungent sage sausages and Southern pantry
staples along the roadside.
He has watermelon and other produce for a short time during the summer, but
relies on the last three months of the year to make serious money. That's
when people seek hams, the last of the fresh black-eyed peas and jars of
chow-chow and honey to offer as Christmas gifts.
And of course, everyone needs supplies for Hoppin' John and greens, two
simple dishes that are required eating each New Year's Day for Southerners
(or anyone else, one imagines) who want to bring luck and prosperity.
Jessica Harris, an African-food scholar who divides her time between New
Orleans and Brooklyn, was once a regular customer of the trucks.
"When I first moved to Brooklyn, there was a guy selling yams in winter,
grapes in fall and watermelon out of the back of his car in the summer," she
said. But that was 20 years ago.
"They're all disappearing," she said.
Mr. Huston can count just two other truck vendors - his relatives who work
the one in Canarsie and another man with a small operation who sometimes
parks near him on Atlantic Avenue.
As recently as November, Michelle V. Agins, a New York Times photographer,
bought fresh black-eyed peas and ham hocks from a man she knows as W. C. Ms.
Agins, who has been buying from him since 1989, said he usually parks near
the corner of Lafayette and Classon Avenues on the border between Clinton
Hill and Bedford-Stuyvesant. But he hasn't been around much for Christmas or
New Year's shoppers.
Mr. Huston wonders how long any of them will keep going. Business at his
truck is just that bad.
"Used to be I'd have a line out the door all day long," he said.
Some of the Southern ingredients once found only on the trucks can now be
bought at places like Costco or Pathmark. Many of his older customers, Mr.
Huston said, have moved back to the South. The younger people are too far
removed from their Southern roots. Most of them, he said, don't cook that
"They're going to McDonald's and Burger King," he said.
There is hope. He still has a few loyal customers. And business at the North
Carolina Country Store across the street is nice and steady.
Because to some cooks, buying ham hocks from a supermarket or a warehouse
store isn't the same. At the trucks, somebody will ask you where your people
are from. They will tell you how long to soak the black-eyed peas and when
to start simmering the seasoning meat.
"You don't have those conversations when you go and buy your pecans at
Costco," Ms. Ferris said...."
Brooklyn-Style Hoppin' John
Adapted from Michelle V. Agins
Time: About two hours, plus overnight soaking
1 1/2 pounds black-eyed peas, or about 4 cups
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 medium ham hocks, or 1 ham hock and 1/4 pound country ham trimmings (also
called seasoning meat)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
1/2 cup chopped celery
1/2 cup chopped green pepper
4 medium garlic cloves, crushed
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
3 cups steamed white rice
Prepared vinegar peppers, to taste (optional).
1. In a large bowl, cover peas generously with water, add baking soda and
2. The next day, rinse ham hocks and pat dry. Heat oil in a large
heavy-bottomed pot. Sear ham hocks and ham trimmings, turning so all sides
3. Remove seasoning meat, if using. Add water to ham hocks just to cover,
bring to a boil and then turn heat to a strong simmer. Partly cover pot and
cook hocks until slightly tender, about 45 minutes.
4. If using seasoning meat, return it to pot. Add peas, onion, celery, green
pepper, garlic, bay leaves, salt and red pepper, along with five cups of
water. Bring to a boil, then turn to a simmer and cook until beans are
tender and water begins to look saucy, 30 to 45 minutes. Serve over white
rice with vinegar peppers, if desired.
Yield: 4 to 6 servings.
Brooklyn-Style Collard Greens
Adapted from Michelle V. Agins
Time: About an hour
1 smoked turkey wing or 2 medium ham hocks
3 to 4 bunches collard greens (about four pounds)
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
3 garlic cloves, smashed
1/4 teaspoon sugar
1 medium onion, sliced 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper, more to taste.
1. Place turkey wing or hocks in a very large pot and add just enough water
to cover. Bring to a boil, turn heat to medium and simmer until water is
reduced by about half.
2. Meanwhile, plunge greens into a sink full of lightly salted cold water,
drain and then rinse well with cold fresh water. Trim or remove biggest
stems. Place five or six leaves on top of one another and roll like a cigar,
lengthwise. Cut collards into inch-wide ribbons, then, keeping collards
rolled, cut ribbons in half.
3. Turn heat under pot to high. Add vinegar, one teaspoon salt and the
garlic, then add as many greens as pot will hold. Wait until greens cook
down, then add remaining greens. Turn heat to a simmer, cover and cook until
greens for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
4. Add sugar, onion and crushed red pepper, cover again and continue to
simmer until tender, another 15 to 30 minutes; time will vary depending on
toughness of greens. Serve.
Yield: 4 to 6 servings.
Re: Hoppin' John - Brooklyn Style...!!!
On Dec 30, 11:09*am, "Gregory Morrow" <wah_...@wahwah.dk> wrote:
> December 30, 2009
> Brooklyn's Flavor Route to the South
> By KIM SEVERSON
> "A COOK should always say yes when offered something that will "stink up
> your pot real good."
That just sounds nasty.
> It's a lesson I learned earlier this month, when James Graham handed me a
> couple of pieces of seasoning meat from his truck, parked on a stretch of
> asphalt in Brooklyn.
> Seasoning meat is really just the thick trimmings band-sawed from the topor
> bottom of a country ham. Some people call it sweet meat, others just callit
> smoked ham.
> But in the backs of a handful of trucks that park in East New York, Canarsie
> and Bedford-Stuyvesant, it's called seasoning meat and it will set you back
> about $4 a pound. You don't need very much to make a batch of Hoppin' John
> or some greens. Maybe a quarter-pound, especially if the meat is sharing the
> job with a ham hock or two.
If you have ham hocks you don't need smoked ham to add to the pot.
That's overkill, but what can you expect from a New York magazine/
> Seasoning meat is just one item he sells. He also has compact ham hocks,
> giant smoked turkey wings and a kind of white cornmeal that's hard to find
> at the local Key Food.
A kind of white cornmeal??? Is it cornmeal or is it something
else??? There is no 'kind of white cornmeal.'
> And of course, everyone needs supplies for Hoppin' John and greens, two
> simple dishes that are required eating each New Year's Day for Southerners
> (or anyone else, one imagines) who want to bring luck and prosperity.
Hoppin' John is eaten is the lower part of the South such as Louisiana
or South Carolina where rice is a staple in the kitchen. In other
parts of the South it is either collard or turnip greens and is not
called Hoppin' John as rice is not part of the dish; it depends on the
region a person lives in. So another myth perpetrated by New Yawkers
that _everybody_ in the South eats Hoppin' John.