In Search of Pepper Pot
by Lynn Kerrigan
Momma should have been a spokesperson for the Campbell Company as she served their products so often. One would think she held its stock or won the latest "Make It with Soup" contest, and as such was the recipient of a case of the colorful red and white cans.
I suspect this one dish meal was her way of saving time. She was a Renaissance woman who disliked kitchen slavery. Opening a soup can and heating its contents is the ultimate fast food method. She admitted as much, stating the can held all the magical ingredients (meat and veggies) necessary for a child's nutritional needs.
Pepper Pot was her choice more often than any other because she liked it. Having no sense or interest about recipe origins, I naturally grew up thinking that Pepper Pot soup was the imaginative creation of Campbell Soup Co.
Alas, Campbell stopped canning the West Indies gumbo, a hot, spicy blend of Spanish and West African influence, probably due to lack of popularity. But I did find a version of Pepper Pot made by "Bookbinders" on my grocer's shelves. Its taste was similar to that of childhood meals. Peppery and succulent. The can's list of ingredients, including beef tripe, wheat flour, vegetable lecithin, molasses, autolyzed yeast extract and oleoresin paprika, numbered 26 not counting the elusive spices, artificial flavors and the somewhat cryptic "spice extraction's on a salt carrier."
My quest for the perfect Pepper Pot soup recipe was a dismal failure. None of my hundreds of cookbooks yielded this gem. An internet search proved barren as well. In a last ditch effort to capture the essence of Pepper Pot, I scooted over to Border's Bookstore and ferreted their shelves. The foray was both a success and a failure.
The Real Taste of Jamaica by Enid Donaldson and Mondongo, The Art of South American Cooking by Myra Waldo, each featured a version of this spicy, gumbo-like treat. The recipes called for corned pig's tail, pig's feet, heart leaves of the eddoe family like dasheen, badoo or coco, coconut milk, veal knuckles, chick peas and callaboo. Recipes too complicated and ingredients too difficult to find, I mused.
I did learn that Pepper Pot is a stew on the islands of Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago prepared with casserup, a condiment made from the bitter cassara. In Antigua, the dish appears as a hearty vegetable soup and in Jamaica what is called "callaboo" is also known as Pepper Pot. Callaboo are greens much like Chinese spinach or Indian kale and sometimes called "bhaji" in Jamaica and Trinidad. An American equivalent might be spinach or collard greens.
Where can I find a simple Pepper Pot recipe? I wailed.
The food Gods or providence heard my plea and appeared in the form of a gift certificate to the Philadelphia eatery, The City Tavern (138 S. Second St.) As I opened the menu, my eyes instantly spotted Pepper Pot Soup. It was yummy. Here's the recipe:
West Indies Pepper Pot Soup
- 3/4 pound salted pork, diced
- 3/4 pound salted beef, diced
- 4 cloves minced garlic
- 1 medium onion
- 6 bunches scallions, chopped
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 pound potatoes, peeled and chopped
- 3 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
- 1 gallon chicken stock
- 1 pound collard greens, cleaned and chopped
- 1 tablespoons allspice
- 1/4 Scotch bonnet pepper (or other hot chile) chopped and seeded
- 1 Tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
- salt to taste
Sauté beef and pork. Add garlic, onion, scallion, bay leaves, potatoes and thyme; continue to sauté. Add chicken stock and cook about 30 minutes on medium until meat and potatoes are done. Add remaining ingredients and simmer 5 to 10 minutes. Makes 1 gallon.
Note: Pork loin or shoulder can be used. Short rib beef is best used in this recipe, but any beef may be substituted. Clean the meats, salt and refrigerate for 48 hours. Rinse before using.
Copyright 1997 Lynn Kerrigan. No portion of this article may be reproduced for publication without express, written permission of the author.
This Archived Page created between 1994 and 2001. Modified August 2007