Thursday, July 18, 2013

All Sorts of Pepper.

I love to find food stories in strange places, as you know. If you want to know about black pepper, white pepper, long pepper and fake white pepper, The Engineer's and Mechanic's Encyclopaedia, Comprehending Practical Illustrations of the Machinery and Processes Employed in Every Description of Manufacture of the British Empire … (1836) has just the story for you.

PEPPER. A well-known spice, of which there are three kinds,— the black, the while, and the long pepper; to these we may now add a fourth, bleached pepper, a patent process which the black pepper undergoes in this country to render it white.

Black pepper is cultivated with such success at Malacca, Java, and especially at Sumatra, that from these islands pepper is exported to every part of the world where a regular commerce has been established. The ground chosen for a pepper garden is marked out into regular squares of six feet, the intended distance of the plants, of which there are usually a thousand in each garden. The pepper vines are supported by chinkareens, which are cuttings of a tree of that name planted on purpose. Two pepper vines are usually planted to one chinkareen, round which the vines twist for support. After being suffered to grow for three years, they are cut off about three feet from the ground, and, being loosened from the prop, are bent into the earth in such a manner that the upper end is returned to the root. The fruit, which is produced in long spikes, is four or five months in coming to maturity: the berries are at first green, turn to a bright red when ripe and in perfection, and soon fall off if not gathered in proper time. By drying they become black, and more or less shrivelled, according to their degree of maturity.

The common white pepper is the fruit of the same plant, differently prepared. It is steeped in water, and then exposed to the heat of the sun for several days, till the rind or outer bark loosens; it is then taken out, and when it is half dry rubbed till the rind falls off; and the white fruit remaining is dried in the sun. A great deal of the heat of the pepper is taken off by this process, so that the white kind is more fit for many purposes than the black.
The long pepper is a dried fruit, of an inch or an inch and a half in length, and about the thickness of a large goose-quill; it is of a brownish grey colour, cylindrical in figure, and said to be produced on a plant of the same genus. It is a native of the East Indies, especially Java, Malabar, and Bengal. This fruit is hottest to the taste in its immature state, and is therefore gathered while green, and dried by the heat of the sun, when it changes to a blackish or dark grey colour. Dr. Cullen observes, that long pepper has precisely the same qualities with those of black, but in a weaker degree.

The method of preparing the bleached pepper appears to be engrossed by Mr. Fulton, of London, who has taken out two patents, one in 1828, the other in 1830. By the specification of the first we are informed that the common black pepper is steeped in water for a day or two, then laid in heaps, and occasionally turned; fermentation ensues, and in a space of time, varying from a week to a month, the outer or black skin bursts and falls off. The pepper is then bleached by oxymuriate of lime, sulphur, or other well-known means. This done, it is washed, and lastly dried in the air, or in an oven. Black pepper thus metamorphosed, so exactly resembles, it is said, the genuine white pepper as to deceive experienced dealers. In the second patent, Mr. Fulton's claim seems to be in the inverse ratio of his invention; for he has invented, he says, the application of a common groat or barley-mill to the cleansing of pepper from the husks, and he claims the exclusive right to use all sorts of machinery in preparing pepper.

The public should be upon their guard against the quantities of spurious pepper, both whole and ground: the latter is, of course, easily counterfeited; but the manufacture of the former is somewhat ingenious. The pepper dust from the sweepings of warehouses is mixed with oil-cake, and rolled up into little balls resembling pepper.

Perhaps we will explore ‘long pepper’ tomorrow, but in the meanwhile, here is a recipe for Pepper Sauce which would be just as good today as it would have been almost two hundred years ago.

Sauce à la Poivrade.—Pepper Sauce.
Put two ounces of butter into a stewpan, with two or three sliced onions, some carrots and turnips sliced, also a clove of garlic, two shallots, two cloves, a bay leaf, a sprig of thyme, and some basil; keep turning these ingredients over the fire, till they begin to be coloured; then shake in some flour, and moisten the whole with a large glass of red wine, a glass of water, and a spoonful of vinegar; let the sauce boil half an hour, skimming frequently; season with salt and coarse white pepper, making it rather pungent. Serve with all dishes that require a high flavour.

French Domestic Cookery, by an English Physician (1825)


Peter Hertzmann said...

I'm so happy to see French Domestic Cookery referenced. I think I may have one of the few original copies of the book still in existence. Whenever I mention it to food historians, they poo-poo it as a nothing work (and then they admit that they've never seen it). To the contrary, I've found the recipes to be quite good and more representative of the new middle-class cooking than the two preceding English-language French cookbooks. This is certainly the first one written for mere mortals. Even the full title is great: French Domestic Cookery, Combining Economy with Elegance, and Adapted to the Use of Families of Moderate Fortune, by an English Physician, Many Years Resident on the Continent. BTW, I found one review from 1827; they poo-pooed it also.

The Old Foodie said...

Hello Peter.
I had no idea that the book had been poo-pooed. I am with you, I like it. On principle, I am going to use it in some other posts.