Though pepper now nonchalantly graces virtually every dinner
table, it was once so valued that the search for new pepper
trade routes spurred the accidental exploration of the new
world. Native to India's Malabar coast, the once-precious
pepper vine is now cultivated near the equator around the
globe, from Thailand to tropical Africa to Brazil.
Black pepper, our most ubiquitous spice, is the sun-dried
version of the unripe green peppercorns popular in Thai cooking
(white peppercorns are ripened and hulled versions of the
same fruit). Tellicherry and the Lampong are considered the
best varieties of black pepper.
Black pepper's rich, earthy aroma and mild heat make it
at home in virtually any savory dish. Like salt, it has the
added benefit of enhancing other flavors in a dish, making
it especially useful. Black pepper is gaining popularity for
its use in sweets as well, finding its way into fruit desserts,
gingerbread, and the popular black pepper brownie.
Black pepper loses its flavor quickly, so we must insist
you buy whole peppercorns and a pepper
mill and grind them as you go. If you've always used pre-ground
black pepper, you'll be delighted at the flavor riot (and
probably annoyed those spice people have been passing off
that flavorless grit as pepper for so long). You'll also be
singing my favorite line from Alice in Wonderland: "MORE