Philadelphia-style Pepperpot Soup

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If you’ve lived in Philadelphia for awhile, you’ve heard of Pepperpot Soup which to be authentic, always contains tripe and not just any hot peppers, but ‘Ole Pepperpot’ hot peppers.

Since our grow-out of Ole Pepperpot  peppers was so successful, I figured we should also make its namesake soup.

As the peppers came from William Woys Weaver, it seemed only fitting that the recipe should, too.

“The Larder Invaded:  Reflections on Three Centuries of Philadelphia Food and Drink” was a joint library/historical society exhibit in Philadelphia presented in 1986 (ancient, pre-Internet history!) but its companion book, also by William Woys Weaver, 35 Receipts from The Larder Invaded, although out of print, can be read on Google Books and represents some of the most dedicated scholarship on historic Philadelphia cuisine.  In other words, the recipes have stood the test of time.

The explanation of Philadelphia-style Pepperpot Soup is here.  The recipe I used with my Ole Pepperpot peppers is here.

18th Century Philadelphians adored tripe.  This recipe takes 4 pounds of tripe and only 1.5 pounds of beef shin meat – and that’s for a recipe that is designed to feed an average family their dinner.

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While the photo shows that I did find a 4 pound block of tripe, it was not easy.  Being in the Philadelphia region, everyone I called knew exactly what I wanted and why I wanted it “You’re making Pepperpot Soup, right?” were the first words people said when they heard my request for tripe, followed by “We don’t carry it.”

I finally found the tripe (and the shin bone) at Foresta’s Market in Phoenixville, an independent butcher shop where they not only have it, but it’s doesn’t have to be special ordered.  I was told to come in whenever I liked because “we always have it.”  Even 4 pounds worth.

Four pounds of tripe is pretty serious stuff and even more so when the recipe tells you that before you can make Pepperpot Soup, you have to poach the tripe.  All day.  And just at a bare simmer so that it doesn’t get tough.  Because it’s difficult enough to get 21st Century Americans to eat tripe, so who wants tough tripe?

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So I let the water just barely tremble and poached the tripe.  Yes, it had a unique smell that the family did not find appealing!
Putting together the soup the next day was easy.  Once I had the ingredients together in the pot, I added fresh thyme from our herb garden and Ole Pepperpot peppers to simmer in the broth and add flavor.

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In less than an hour, the soup was ready to eat.  Since we had so many Ole Pepperpot Peppers, I garnished each bowl with a nice looking one.

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How was it?

If you like offal, especially with hot peppers, you’ll love this soup.  The tripe is tender, chewy and picks up the hot pepper’s fire.  The rest of the ingredients are fairly bland, so it’s all about the tripe and the Ole Pepperpot peppers.

I liked it, my other local friend who buys offal at the Phoenixville Farmer’s Market really liked it and no one else would give me an opinion (and didn’t ask for the extra quart I put in the freezer!).

If you grow the Ole Pepperpot peppers, it’s worth making Philadelphia-style Pepperpot Soup at least once to celebrate why this bountiful hot pepper is still with us.  But if afterwards, you’d rather just sprinkle the peppers on your regular home cuisine – well, we just won’t talk about that!

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‘Ole Pepperpot’ Pepper

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‘Ole Pepperpot’ Pepper (Capsicum annuum var. annuum) is the answer to the Mid-Atlantic grower who wants a bountiful harvest of genuinely hot peppers and wants to be able to save seed so that they can keep growing those peppers into the future.  

Pepper plants are grown as annuals, but in their native lands (which never know frost), they are perennials.  The plant, when grown from seed, feels it has all the time in the world to set fruit and even more time for that fruit to ripen.

In lands where we know frost and the cold of winter, growing peppers from seed to seed can be a frustrating business.  Sweet peppers can take until the day before the first frost to fully ripen and many colorful and fiery hot peppers can’t be grown here in Southeastern Pennsylvania at all.

‘Ole Pepperpot’ first ripens in August and continues prolifically until the first frost.  The ripe red peppers (which look like a cayenne because, as William Woys Weaver related below, it is one) actually produce enough of a harvest that the grower and the grower’s entire extended family can eat all the hot peppers they like in season and still have enough to sell fresh, dried as pods or in cute little jars of dried hot pepper powder.

Here​ is William Woys Weaver’s history of Ole Pepperpot:

“Perhaps it is best to begin with a soup called mondongo, a pepper called chiltepe, and Schell’s Long Red Cayenne. Schell’s pepper was essentially a selection of the large Mexican chiltepe pepper, trained to grow on a low bush for field culture. It was a variety sold to truck farmers in the 1920s by the Walter S. Schell seed company of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, as well as by William Henry Maule in Philadelphia. This pepper was intended to supply the kitchens of the Horn and Hardart cafeteria chain with peppers for its once-famous pepperpot soup, not to mention a number of soup and scrapple companies in the region that needed fresh cayenne for seasoning. Not only is the chiltepe a pepper of great antiquity, a pod of it floating in mondongo (Mexican tripe soup) was considered the only proper finishing touch by Mexican cooks. Philadelphia tripebased pepperpot is a Yankee relative of mondongo demanding a similar marriage of tripe and peppers. Most of the heirloom hot peppers that have survived in the Philadelphia region were connected, in one way or another, with the city’s pepperpot soup culture, especially in the heyday of the nineteenth century, when this spicy soup was sold by vendors in the street.

This background history provides the explanation for the name of the cayenne pepper under discussion. Ole Pepperpot is not nearly as hot as a true chiltepe, which may explain why it was more acceptable in upper-class cookery years ago. The pepper was preserved by two families of black Philadelphia caterers, the Augustins, who were famous nationally in the 1800s, and the de Baptistes, who later married into the Augustin clan. The Augustins did not raise the pepper themselves; someone raised it for them under contract. Yet interestingly enough, Ole Pepperpot contains a “blush” of chiltepe, for it ripens like a chiltepe, with a hint of orange at its extremities while still partially green. However, the pods are much different, being twisted, sometimes even curled, about 4 inches in length and 3/4 of an inch in diameter at the stem end. On the blossom end or tip of the pod there is usually a small hook that is sometimes quite pronounced. The plants are tall, often 3 1/2 feet, and branching. The pods ripen by midsummer and produce heavily until frost.

The Album Vilmorin (1873, 24) illustrated an identical cayenne, but yellow in color. If Ole Pepperpot came to America with the Augustins, then it arrived about 1816 while Peter Augustin served as chef to the Spanish ambassador in Washington. Beyond this, very little else is known about the early history of this pepper, except for two interesting coincidences. The Ram’s Horn pepper, preserved by the Fischer family in North Carolina since the early part of this century and now part of the Heritage Farm seed collection (SSE PEP 13), is similar in shape to Ole Pepperpot and may represent a collateral genetic line. Furthermore, the so-called Penis Pepper now so popular among pepper fanciers is a direct descendant of Ole Pepperpot. The tell-tale hook is still there, but sunken into a heavily wrinkled pod. Having crossed Ole Pepperpot with Elephant’s Trunk pepper to create a little monster called Love Gun, I know how this works.

In any case, it would appear that the nineteenth century ancestors of Ole Pepperpot were widely distributed along the coast of the eastern and southern United States. Because of its close association with black cookery in this country and the fact that seed came to my grandfather from Horace Pippin, history has set this pepper apart as one of the important representative heirlooms from the African-American community.”

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Buried in all that text above is the nugget that Ole Pepperpot is the unique Philadelphia ingredient for pepperpot soup.  Believe it or not, other cuisines have tripe-based soups (as my Google search for the recipe revealed!) and they are liberally sprinkled with hot peppers.  But for true Philadelphia-style Pepperpot Soup, you need the Ole Pepperpot peppers.

Next blog post will be about my adventures with Pepperpot Soup, which was worth the effort.  But if you’re living in the Mid-Atlantic and frustrated about your ability to produce not only a really hot pepper, but the seed needed to produce those plants in your own growing area, add Ole Pepperpot to your rotation.

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‘Large Red’ Tomato

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Also known as ‘Old Large Red’ or ‘Early Large Red’

Called by Hill Creek Farm customers, “The Tomato That Looks Like Flowers”

The Short Form:  Grow this tomato!

The Slightly Longer Form: (adapted from Gary Ibsen’s Tomatofest page):

Large Red tomato seeds produce indeterminate, regular-leaf tomato plants that yield heavily ribbed, flattened, beautiful, red, tomatoes that shout out terrific, complex, well-balanced, sweet flavors with that old-fashioned acidic ‘tang’. A perfect tomato for slicing fresh into sandwiches or salads.

The Shape: In this day of Emojis where pictures are as important as words, Large Red tomato is shaped like a child’s drawing of a flower.  It’s a fairly firm tomato, so the shape holds when sliced and makes a pretty pattern on a sandwich or in salads.

Although the name is generic enough to make one wince when typing in a Google search, the ribs are so distinctive that an Image search easily reveals everything the Internet knows about this tomato.

The Size:  This is an almost perfect tomato from the standpoint of growing (not fussy, not overly sprawling plants) and flavor (see Gary Ibsen’s description above and William Woys Weaver’s descriptions below).

Size, however, is where things get dicey – and most of that is because of the name “Large Red”.   Expectations are, that is it will be red (which it is) and large (well, er, um – and the hedging begins!).

First off, Large Red is an 18th century tomato that hasn’t really been fiddled with since.  Tomatoes were a lot smaller in the 18th century than they are today, so expectations of “large” were different.

Second, this is an early tomato and like many early tomatoes, it starts off strong, but peters out over the season.  You may indeed get several large (12 oz!) tomatoes in mid-July (85 days from transplant is the usual notation).  However, those very same plants by September may be producing cherry tomatoes that are just fine for tossing in to a salad or the sauce pot, but when someone asked you what that cute ribbed tomato is that tastes so great and you have to say. . . ‘Large Red’ . . . it gets embarrassing.

Which is too bad because this really is a great tasting and looking tomato.  But it won’t always be large.

The History:

According to William Woys Weaver in Heirloom Vegetable Gardening (check Amazon or your favorite bookseller for the most recent edition – new printing is coming soon):

“When American tomatoes are discussed for the period 1815 to 1865, Early Large Red is most consistently mentioned, even though it was known earlier in France during the eighteenth century. It is not a true commercial variety in the same sense as Earliana just discussed, for it is very close to its wild Mexican counterpart. Yet where large red tomatoes were grown in the country before the universal acceptance of this vegetable, Early Large Red was indeed the most common. In fact, it was recommended for kitchen gardens in several early garden books, including George Lindley’s Guide to Orchard and Kitchen Garden (1831, 555), and appeared repeatedly in horticultural works throughout the nineteenth century. The Album Vilmorin (1869, 12) depicted it under the name tomate rouge grosse, and H. Dwight Smith of Arlington, Virginia crossed it with Feejee to create the Arlington tomato introduced by B. K. Bliss & Sons of New York in 1873. Other heirloom tomatoes may be more exotic, but this one remains a classic in its plain old-fashioned way.

Early Large Red was not grown as a table fruit to be eaten raw; rather, its strength lies in its uses for cooking, in soups, ketchups, and especially in sauces. The fruit is red, the flavor excellent, but the flesh is mealy, as one would expect in a paste-type tomato. The vines are small — no longer than 4 feet — so the tomato is well adapted to small gardens. Most of the fruits are smooth, although some have light ribbing, and are about 2 1/2 inches in diameter. The skins are tough, a feature noted by Fearing Burr in 1865. Perfect fruit will contain 9 seed chambers. In humid weather the fruit is subject to cracking, and mature fruit even in dry weather will have distinct crack scars at regular intervals on the tomato. These white lines are typical on many early prehybrid tomato sorts.”

In personal correspondence, Weaver says, “As for the tomato (or tomata as it was called in the colonial period), George Washington ate this one in spite of wooden teeth, it was grown in colonial Williamsburg and Philadelphia, and Thomas Jefferson used it for sauce.  This is the tomato, along with Plate de Haiti, that formed the cornerstone of late 1700s Philadelphia cuisine. ‘French Sauce’ in those days meant tomata.  The flavor of this heirloom is unique, succulent.”

Before the Civil War, Large Red was one of the most commonly grown and well-documented tomato varieties in the country.  This popularity was most likely because the Shakers were growing it in Hancock, MA in the 1830s and then listed it in their New Lebanon, NY seed catalog in 1843. A listing in the 19th century Shaker seed catalog generated similar excitement to a 20th century listing in the Burpee seed catalog – everyone wanted to grow what the Shakers thought was worth growing.

And, of course, because it’s all over the Internet, here’s the famous Fearing Burr quote on this tomato from his Field and Garden Vegetables of America (published in 1865): “From the time of the introduction of the tomato to its general use in this country, the Large Red was almost the only kind cultivated, or even commonly known.”

There’s a reason this tomato has been popular in the US since the 18th century.  It tastes good and it grows well with little fuss.  If you want an interesting looking tomato that has great tomato flavor and a fascinating history, grow this tomato!

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Large Red tomatoes on the lower right.

 

 

 

Ei von Phuket: A Top-Notch Cooking Tomato

When last we were talking about the Thai tomato, Ei von Phuket, it was Frank’s birthday and I was waiting for him to come home so he could taste this tomato we’re growing out for the Roughwood Seed Collection.

The verdict?  If you’re cooking with tomatoes, especially if you’re using the broiler, you want to use this tomato.

Who thought that a Thai tomato would be so amazing in bruschetta? Or that it transforms our weekday standby, frittata, into a dish we’re now serving to company?

(I’m sure this tomato is amazing in Thai food, but Frank is allergic to rice, so I don’t cook Thai at home.  [Have to make things that everyone can eat!]  If you do cook Thai cuisine at home and are growing this tomato, do try it out at the pale greenish-white unripe stage for curries as is done in Thailand — unlike Italian tomatoes, this tomato lingers in the “just before ripe” unripe stage so that you can easily harvest enough for curries and have ripe tomatoes to broil.)

Fresh, this tomato is okay, but nothing to write a blog post about.   Add heat and you’ll see why we’re so excited about this tomato.  Here’s how we’re eating/cooking with Ei von Phukets right now:

Saute:  It’s August and we have veggies, veggies, veggies.  I usually chop up what isn’t suitable for the farm stand and toss it in to the frying pan with some diced tomatoes so that I don’t need to use as much olive oil to keep the veggies from sticking to the pan.  In the past, I just used whatever tomatoes weren’t right for the farm stand either, but now, the flavor is definately enhanced when I use the Ei von Phukets.

Frittata:  With laying hens and lots of veggies, frittata is our go-to meal when things get busy.  Coat the frying pan with a good layer of spray oil. plop in whatever veggie mix is in the frig, stir in the eggs, turn on the heat to let it set and I was ready to go.  Then, since the Ei von Phukets were so good under the broiler for bruschetta, I thought, “Why not lay them on top of the frittata before it goes into the broiler?”  So, I halfed the Ei von Phukets, took out the seeds, then halfed the halfs and dropped them in a nice pattern in the top of the frittata while it was cooking on the stovetop.  I then grated some cheese (I like Pecorino Romano) over the tomatoes and put the whole thing under the broiler.

When it comes out, it looks like this:

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It looks nice (which is always a struggle for me) and it tastes fabulous!
So for 2015, it’s Zhong Shu #6 for fresh eating, Rei Umberto for sauce and Ei von Phuket for cooking (especially broiling).
Happy Tomato Season and if you’d like to try any of these tomatoes, drop me a line!

 

Seed Production Begins In Earnest!

Now that the tomatoes are ripe, we’re in full Seed Production Mode.  Here’s what the inside of the workshop looks like:

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I’ve tried plastic containers to ferment tomato seed (which needs to be done to dissolve the gelatinous sac around each seed which contains germination inhibitors — when you plant a seed, you want it to germinate promptly!), but I always come back to glass.  It’s just easier to see what’s going on and to clean the containers afterwards.

On the table on the right are Rei Umberto (King Humbert), Ei von Phuket and Zhong Shu #6 tomato seeds fermenting in the jars.  The middle of the table contains Jaune du Poitou Leek seed heads drying on a platter.  On the far left, fermented and washed tomato seeds dry on china platters I purchased at Liberty Thrift because the seeds won’t stick to china or glass plates as they dry.

The paper bags behind the table hold more Jaune du Poitou Leek seed heads that are drying down, along with some Long Yellow Radish seeds that ripened early.

Windows in the Workshop are kept open (with screens) to keep the air moving over the drying seeds.

Only one of the bags contains Long Yellow Radish seeds, but as this photo shows, we should have bags and bags of this seed as summer wears into autumn!

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The leeks and radishes put all their energy into seed production, so we don’t have any of those plants for sale.  The tomatoes produce plenty of fruit — if you’re looking for excellent sauce tomatoes, message me as we can fufill all your tomato sauce dreams!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rei Umberto (King Humbert) Tomatoes Are Ripe

If you adore home-made tomato sauce (or if you grew up with Italians from South Philadelphia and call it “gravy” ), you should grow the Rei Umberto (also known as King Humbert) tomato.

It is just that simple.  When I was given a list of possible tomatoes to grow out in 2015 for the Roughwood Seed Collection and saw this one was on the list, it was the first one I picked.

I’ve grown this tomato before and it’s everything an Italian sauce tomato should be — full-flavored, easy to deseed, enthusiatic grower and did I mention it makes wonderful sauce?

I picked the first tomatoes about a week ago, but was too busy eating to write a blog post.  Ripe Rei Umberto tomatoes look like this:

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On the plant, the green tomatoes look like this.  Italian cuisine is all about the ripe tomato, so these tomatoes don’t linger in the green stage for very long.

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Here’s what William Woys Weaver has to say about this tomato from the Roughwood Seed Collection:

“​Rei Umberto otherwise known as King Humbert, was named in honor of the King of Italy when the tomato was first introduced at the Paris Expo in 1878.  It was developed in Naples by an Austrian-owned seed company and has been considered ever since THE CLASSIC Italian paste tomato.  No one has improved its shape or flavor. The irony of this story is that the King of Italy did not like Italian cooking (he was from Savoy, preferred only French cooking and Barolo wines), so the big question remains, was the tomato created to convert him to Italian-style cooking with tomato sauce, or did he just nod and mutter excellent, and return to his French menus with one eyebrow raised?”

When growing this tomato, give it lots of space and think about how you are going to support its very enthusiatic growth!  This is not one of those “all leaves and a tomato or two” heirlooms — Rei Umberto will produce lots of tomatoes so that you can fill your pantry shelves with high-quality, homemade tomato sauce, but it will do so by producing the leaves and stems needed for such a prodigious output.  Here’s how our Rei Umbertos look in the field:

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You can barely see the Florida Weave on these tomatoes, but that’s only because the plants have grown up around it.  If you stake or cage your tomatoes, reserve your strongest stakes and biggest cages for this tomato — it will repay you handsomely in sauce and is worth making the effort.

 

 

 

 

Ei von Phuket Tomatoes are Ripe

It is miserable hot, but the dogs still need their relief walks.  This afternoon, I took Luke to the back field to check on the irrigation lines.

The switches for the drip tape are bright red — the same shade one expects from a tomato.  I’d been fooled before as I quickly scanned the base of the tomato plants, looking for the first ripe tomato.

Luke, however, was lingering by a smidgeon of pink — and Ei von Phuket tomatoes are pink when ripe.  I pulled back the leaves and found, as William Woys Weaver writes: “it ripens raspberry pink in clusters of 6 fruits.”

Since it’s Frank’s birthday and he loves tomatoes and cheese sandwiches, I quickly picked the ripe tomatoes and arranged them on a plate for his return from the day job.

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While I waited for the tomato to ripen, Will mentioned that in the green stage, this tomato is used extensively in Thai curries and stir fries.  If you enjoy Thai cuisine and want to use it unripe, pick the tomatoes when they are greenish-white, like this:

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Will says the following about the history of this tomato:

“For Americans this is perhaps an awkward mouthful, but the truth of the matter is, this is the German-tourist name for an excellent Thai tomato from the island of Phuket. The Roughwood Seed Collection acquired seed for this tomato in 2000 from a German who had been there. We are not certain what Thais call the tomato but it is one of their best: as the German name implies, it is egg-shaped, greenish-white while unripe, then it ripens raspberry pink in clusters of 6 fruits. Its flavor as a green tomato is mild, thus it is used extensively in Thais curries and stir fries; the ripe fruit is fruity so it is often used in desserts. If you cook Southeast Asian, this tomato ought to be part of your basic vegetable pantry.

One more thing: most of the local growers of Ei von Phuket were wiped out in the tsumami that struck Thailand a few years ago; this island was one of the worst hit and the salt water from the tidal wave destroyed thousands of acres of farmland. In that sense Ei von Phuket remains a fitting memorial to the people who perished and who were never found, not to mention the delicate situation in the world of heirloom foods where a cataclysmic disaster can cut us off from crops we take for granted.”

As a plant, Ei von Phuket has been an enthusiatic grower, but not so much so that the Florida Weave didn’t contain the plants.   We’ve had no disease or pest problems with it and a side-dressing of gypsum has kept blossom end rot away.  If you want green tomatoes for Thai cooking, it has many many fruits that hold on the plant for a decent interval.  We expect a bountiful harvest of ripe tomatoes, also.  I haven’t tried the tomatoes yet as it’s Frank’s birthday and I want him to be able to try them first, but I’m sure a postive review of Ei von Phuket’s flavor and ripe cooking potential will follow soon!