Wednesday, 25 February 2009
Pepper by Christine McFadden
“A whole book on Pepper! Are you mad?” you might think wondering the mileage of that all purpose seasoning sitting in your mill.
Well, at times I may be a bit mad but I found this book fascinating. Of course, it’s not just about that stuff in your mill, though. The part of the book which I found most enlightening was Christine’s listing and explaining of the many different types of pepper. Black, white, pink, red and green peppercorns are literally the tip of the iceberg. Long, Cubec, Szechwan and Sansyo are all included along with numerous others which, though I was mostly familiar with (I’m a bit of a spice junkie), I would never have categorized as pepper. Admittedly, many are completely unrelated and so a little bit of a cheat on Christine’s part, but still the botanical family is extensive.
The confusion of terms was another point of interest. I now know, for example, that whilst proper green peppercorns are a totally separate, though related, variety to the black we are so familiar with; others labeled as ‘green’ may be the under-ripe versions of the black.
Christine also goes into great depth about the history of pepper, the sheer quantity of this detail is initially slightly daunting but once you start reading it, I guarantee you’ll be fascinated to learn the huge impact the spice has had on the world, playing a considerable part in deciding which countries are rich and which are poor, even to this day.
There’s so much knowledge in the book, that you could almost forget there are also 100 recipes. Though some are fairly standard, others are extremely interesting. Paradise Cake, for example, which uses ‘grains of paradise’ in a syrupy sponge-cake, or peppered figs, which are made by pressing layers of dried figs and black peppercorns together and leaving to mature.
All in all, it’s a fascinating book for both reference and recipes, and is well worth a place on your bookcase – though it’s unlikely to be one that just sits there.