Pepper Pot? What the hell is that?
I had to do some research on this one. In pop culture, there is a character in the Marvel Universe called Pepper Potts who is Tony Stark’s (Iron Man) assistant and love interest. The words Pepper Pot seem perfectly suited for comics or cartoon names. It has that alliteration element along with a sense of silliness that makes it fun to say and hear. It could be Tony Stark’s assistant or it could also be someone Bugs Bunny meets on his trip to Albuquerque. In another use, if you put the words together as ‘pepperpots’, you get the collective name of any of the middle-aged, matronly types played by the men of Monty Python. That seems somewhat fitting too as you can almost see their characters in their stout shapes and peppery attitudes. It’s kind of a great little pairing of words that have a nice pop culture tradition, but that’s not what we are celebrating today.
Pepper pot is actually a special food. There’s a kind from Guyana which is one of the country’s national dishes. It is traditionally served at Christmas and other special events and it is made slowly with chicken, curry and rice (perhaps served with some Kool-Aid). It’s essentially a stewed meat dish, strongly flavored with cinnamon, cassareep (a special sauce made from the cassava root) and other basic ingredients, including Caribbean hot peppers. I’d be interested in trying that, although I was not interested in making it. Seemed pretty complicated plus we were fresh out of cassareep. And unless there was a Guyanese restaurant in Newport that I didn’t know about, I was not going to be able to try this version.
Then I read about Philadelphia Pepper Pot which is a thick stew of beef tripe, vegetables, pepper and other seasonings. Tripe, as in cow stomach? That’s the traditional ingredient, but all the recipes I peeked at allowed you to substitute meat for the tripe, so I kept reading. The origins of the stew are steeped in legend which attribute the dish to Christopher Ludwick, baker general of the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War. As the story goes (according to noted historian Lin-Manuel Miranda), General Washington was quite despondent. The troops had resorted to eating their horses and the local farmers had sold their supplies and harvest to the British, so sing a song of sixpence. On Washington’s request, Ludwick created a soup made of tripe, vegetables, and whatever else he could find to help feed the troops. He called it Pepper Pot and it provided the Continental Army with a warming meal which helped boost morale and get them through the harsh winter. It was nicknamed the soup that won the war. This got me interested especially since I have been part of the Hamilton hysteria of the past year and my interest in the Revolutionary War has been piqued. The recipe I found looked doable. It was not the simplest of recipes, but it was not unmanageable. I would be making the soup that won the war.
I found an authentic recipe on Allrecipes.com. Not sure if it really is authentic, but that’s what it was called and it looked easy enough to make. It called for tripe, but I decided to use stew beef instead. That seemed like a reasonable substitution. I got my ingredients from Clements including fresh leeks, parsley, green peppers and potatoes. I also picked up a loaf of crusty bread because I knew this recipe would be better with some on the side. Like any soup, it doesn’t take too long to put together, it just takes time to cook. You cook the meat and the bacon, then add in the vegetables, top it off with the beef broth and then let it cook. Ok, maybe stir it every once and awhile. But that was it.
I ladled out a bowl for myself and cut off a chunk of crusty bread with a slab of butter. I kind of wanted to recreate the Revolutionary War feel. I wish I had started a fire outside and I could eat the soup sitting in the glow of the embers, a ratty old blanket around my shoulders. A pewter cup of ale to wash it all down. I would eat the soup just using my grubby hands to scoop it up with the bread. I’d slurp like a soldier and listen to the sound of the fife being played in the distance. But rather than that, I ate it in our living room, on our couch in the glow of our television screen. So much for my reenactment career.
It was actually really tasty and especially hardy. I can see how this would be a welcome meal for anyone trudging through the battlefields all day. The leeks were a bit overpowering – perhaps I didn’t chop them up enough, but it seemed like they were in every bite. I was right about the crusty bread a being the perfect addition because it just was. It soaked up the broth and brought some crunch to it. A warm and hardy soup that was good to the last drop. I felt like I was giving a nod to General Washington too, acknowledging his fight that brought us the freedom we enjoy today. That’s the kind of memories good food should elicit. There will be more for us today too and with the recent cold weather, this could be the soup that wins our war with winter. Cheers to the Revolution!
Next up: National Bacon Day