Today, December 29 …
Legend has it that on this day in 1777, “Philadelphia Pepper Pot soup” – “the soup that won the war”, was invented by a cook in the American Continental Army. They had failed to repulse the British, who were in Philadelphia, and George Washington decided to set up winter quarters 20 miles away in Valley Forge, which had good natural defences.
It proved to be a harsh, miserable winter for the raggle-taggle band of 10,000 troops and associated women and children. Many were, quite literally, half-naked, and disease was rife. Officially, the basic ration per man per day was a pound of bread, a pound of meat or fish, a quart of beer, and a pint of milk. In reality the army often went days without bread, or meat, or both. In late December, the absence of meat almost caused a mutiny, and – the story goes – Washington instructed his cook to make a soup “that will warm and strengthen the body of a soldier and inspire his flagging spirit.” Supposedly, he came up with one made from tripe, scraps of meat, and a lot of pepper - the soldiers were warmed and made war-ready, and the British were finally routed.
“Pepper pot” is a dish with West Indian roots. In the Caribbean is a very spicy stew (a “Pallat-scorching Devil’s Broath”) which can be made with any available ingredients, but preferably sea turtle. Tripe would have given a similar desirable gelatinous texture to turtle meat. The interesting thing is that two-thirds of the Continental Army were foreign born, and many of these were African Americans - who would not fight in the same regiments alongside white Americans again until Korea. The cook responsible for the soup must surely have had African roots.
Strangely, for a dish with supposed eighteenth century origins, there is no recipe in the “Boston Cooking School Cookbook” before the 1918 edition.
Philadelphia Pepper Pot Soup.
Sliced onion, 1/4 cup each 1/2 lb. honeycomb tripe, cut in cubes, chopped celery, chopped green peppers, 11/2 cups potato cubes, 4 tablespoons butter, 1/2 teaspoon peppercorns, finely pounded, 31/2 tablespoons flour, 5 cups hot White Stock, 3/4 tablespoon salt, 1/2 cup heavy cream.
Cook vegetables in three tablespoons butter fifteen minutes; add flour, and stir until well mixed; then add remaining ingredients except cream. Cover, and let cook one hour. Just before serving, add cream and remaining butter.
Tomorrow: The naming of the cheese.