In the South, hoppin' John is traditionally served for good luck on New Year's Day. The name is said to have come from a children's rhyme. This dish can be prepared a day ahead and reheated. Serve with white rice.
Rinse and pick over the black-eyed peas. Put in a pot, cover with cold water and bring to a boil. Then cover and remove from heat. Allow the peas to soak for 1 hour, then drain.
Meanwhile, saute the salt pork (or melt the butter) in a pot large enough to accommodate the peas. Add the onion and garlic, cooking over medium heat until they are softened and almost golden. Don't let the garlic burn.
Add the peas to the garlic mixture with the ham bone and seasonings, then add enough water to cover completely. Simmer gently, uncovered, for 1 to 2 hours or until the peas are tender but not mushy, checking to be sure there's enough liquid in the pot.
Can be prepared a day ahead and reheated. Serve with white rice. Makes 12 to 16 servings.