I am black on the outside, clad in a wrinkled cover,
Yet within I bear a burning marrow.
I season delicacies, the banquets of kings, and the luxuries of the table,
Both the sauces and the tenderized meats of the kitchen.
But you will find in me no quality of any worth,
Unless your bowels have been rattled by my gleaming marrow.
Indigenous to India and Asia, some type or form of peppercorn is used in almost all cuisines and is the most widely traded spice in the world. One of the earliest items used in trading as an exchange medium like money, used as medicine and preservative, presented to the gods as a sacred offering and used as a measure of a man wealth, peppercorns have played an important role throughout history. The quest for it, more than any other spice, has shaped commerce and exploration as well as cuisine. Some of the greatest voyages of discovery were in search of this “King of the Spices.”
A 30 foot evergreen climbing vine with long, glossy heart-shaped leaves and tiny white flowers in spikey clusters produce the berries that ripen to a yellowish and ultimately reddish-pink color and become peppercorns. A single stem will bear 20-30 fruiting spikes. These vines produce fruit in about 3 years and are productive for 15 years, but must be tended regularly including weeding, fertilizer and training onto support posts. The clustered spikes of about 50 berries are hand-picked at just the right time to produce black, white or green peppercorns.
An excellent seasoning for virtually every food, the same fruit produces three types of peppercorns which reflect their varying stages of development and processing. The most common, black peppercorns, are picked when slightly under ripe, left in piles to ferment a few days, then spread onto a mat to sun dry until they are shriveled and black. These are the most pungent and flavorful of all the types and suitable to season a wide variety of foods. Coat steaks with crushed peppercorns, combine with olive oil, lemon juice and salt for a delicious salad dressing, or create a unique flavor depth with a pinch of finely ground black peppercorns in spice cakes, gingerbreads and ginger cookies. Add whole black peppercorns to soups and stews, poaching liquid or simmer in fresh fruit compotes for a delicate, warm spiciness. White peppercorns are produced from fully ripe reddish fruit which is soaked in brine and then its outer shell is rubbed off exposing the dried, grayish-white seed. It has a milder and more delicate flavor than the black, but at the same time is hotter and sharper and stands up better to heat. It is used as an alternative in light-colored dishes like mashed potatoes, cream sauces and poultry dishes where the traditional black peppercorns would produce a speckled appearance. Green peppercorns are picked while still unripe and either pickled in brine or soaked for 15 mins in boiling water. They offer a cleaner, fresher flavor and less pungency than either black or white and are often paired with vegetables or used in mayonnaise, seafood and sauces. Dried peppercorns are available alone or combined in a four-pepper mixture with pink peppercorns which are not real peppercorns but the dried berries of a different plant species, schinus, and are included for their color and slightly sweet taste.
Peppercorns come in an array of "grinds",
but it is best to grind yourself just before using
since it loses its flavor and aroma quickly and
sometimes ground pepper is adulterated with other spices.
To coarsely crack use a chef's knife,
rolling pin or grind in a peppermill.
CONFETTI CRUSTED CHEESE ROUNDS
2 lbs soft goat cheese
2Tbs finely chopped parsley
2Tbs snipped fresh chives
2Tbsfresh thyme leaves
1Tbs cracked black peppercorns
2 tsp paprika
2 tsp curry powder
Form goat cheese into small balls and place on waxed paper lined baking sheet.. Refrigerate for 10 minutes.
Place the parsley, chives, and thyme, on separate plates and roll some balls in each of the herbs to coat and set aside. Put pepper, paprika and curry powder on separate plates and roll remaining balls on the spices to make a thin band around each ball. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
2Tbs orange & lemon rind
1Tbs cracked white peppercorns
4Tbs orange juice
2Tbs lemon juice
2 1/2c flour
4tsp baking powder
Cream together butter, sugar, orange and lemon rind, and cracked pepper. Add eggs, orange and lemon juice and mix well. Combine dry ingredients and add to moist, blend well. Drop by teaspoonfuls onto greased cookie sheet and bake at 350 for 10mins.
“And God said, See I have given you every herb that yields seed
which is on the face of the earth. . . “