Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Black Pepper

In today's world with a plethora of black, white, pink and red peppers it may seem odd to learn that it was once so scarce as to be used as currency. In A.D. 410, a guy called Alaric the Visigoth (catchy, eh?) demanded 1 1/2 tons of pepper as ransom from Rome.

During the Middle Ages in Europe, peppercorns were counted out, one by one. In the 11th century, many towns kept their accounts in pepper ("1 woolen dress - 5 peppercorns") and taxes and rents were paid in them.

As always, crime comes into it (sigh) - at the turn of the century (unspecified) crooked spice dealers would cut their product with ... mouse droppings.

Back in the days of Prohibition, it was common to sprinkle a little black pepper on your martini. The pepper dragged the impurities of the bathtub gin down to the bottom of the glass. I'm led to believe Russians still add pepper to their vodka - for the same reason.

Today? Much more mundane uses. Fill the foot of an old pair of pantyhose with pepper and hang it in the closet to repel moths. You can keep vermin off of your property by laying down a layer of pepper along the boundaries. (Expensive - I'd use red chili peppers; you can buy them by the quart jar at Smart & Final, Iris.)

In the laundry - add a teaspoon of black pepper to the first suds when you're doing cottons - it stops colors from running. (Better idea - only wash in cold water.)

Add a dash to vanilla ice cream or to buttered popcorn.

The reference book says to stop small leaks in your car's radiator, add a teaspoon of pepper. Quote: The pepper sinks to the bottom, finds its way into small holes, and expands, filling them." I've cooked with pepper for years and no matter what the dish (stew, roast) the grains are always the same size when the dish is done. I don't really believe this one...

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