Yes, common or garden black pepper is not quite as it seems; believe it or not is known as “the King of Spices” and has been greatly prized. It used to grow wild in Kerala in India, and probably still does, as it’s now cultivated there. India is one of the major exporters of pepper today, as it was in the ancient world.
Peppercorns were very expensive commodities, and rents and dowries were sometimes paid with them. You know that we now use the phrase a ‘peppercorn rent’ to mean that you pay virtually nothing in rent, but it used to mean the exact opposite.In Europe, in the Middle Ages, pepper was used to preserve meat and to cover up its deficiencies, after it had been stored over winter and then cooked. It has been traded for more than 4,000 years, and along with ginger is one of the oldest exported products.
One tidbit of information I gleaned while researching its history is that Attila the Hun wanted 3,000 lbs of this valuable commodity, along with other items, for the ransom of the city of Rome. It didn’t say whether or not he got it, but I guess he didn’t.
It has been used in traditional medicine on the subcontinent for centuries as a cure for problems in the digestive system, and to cure coughs and colds. Scientists of today have reported that it has anti-fungal and anti-oxidant properties, and can assist in the treatment of fevers. It is also reported to be an anti-inflammatory and can kill and repel insects.
Ants hate it, so if you have ants in the house, sprinkle their paths with pepper, and this will deter them from using them. If you mix ½ tsp of freshly ground black pepper in 2 pints of warm water, this will kill ants on your plants in the garden or in pots, and will even kill cockroaches (even the BIG ones).
In 1498, Vasco da Gama reached the coast of India and is accredited for opening up the lucrative spice route to India. Ships could voyage there safely before the monsoon season- which I’m currently impatiently waiting for.
White, black and green peppercorns come from the same plant, but I prefer not to use the white ones as I’ve had a few culinary disasters with white pepper. If your hand slips when you’re putting it into food then start again, as the result will be inedible. Black pepper on the other hand isn’t too bad; if your hand slips you can still eat the food, although you might not like the pungency of the taste. Green peppercorns are good and milder, I think, than their black and white siblings, and they look pretty (see pic).
In the recipe below, you can use a mixture of peppercorns if you wish, but if you’re using white ones go easy. You’ve been warned!
Steaks, beef or pork
2 tbsps peppercorns, crushed, by rolling them with a rolling pin
butter for grilling
Having crushed the peppercorns, rub them into the steaks on both sides, and cover them with aluminium foil. Leave for 30 mins.
Preheat the grill to high and grill the steaks according to your taste, blue, rare, medium etc. Use the butter so that it keeps the meat tender. Put a pat of butter on each side of the steak as you grill it.
Serve with our rocket salad.
These are a Treat and have Taste.