Too often, we have looked at them without realizing how intricately they are connected to our history. In case you are wondering, I am talking about those two little guests on your dining table, the salt and pepper shakers. Did you know that of these, pepper, was not an easily available spice in the past? As Marjorie Shaffer mentions in her eponymously named book Pepper, black pepper was the botanical Helen of Troy. Before we get too deep into the details, I must admit that as a food history buff, I was quite hooked by the book. I never realized that so much could revolve around a simple spice. The book, which is very well researched and written, starts with a simple introduction to pepper and then moves on to the twists and turns in European history linked to the discovery of this spice.
While I thoroughly enjoyed reading the book, at the same time it was very intense. Sometimes I had to stop and re-read a couple of pages to get back in sync with the story. The more I read, the more I was surprised how those history classes I sat through in school almost two decades ago suddenly made more sense now. If you are a casual reader, it might be a bit too much for you but you can still flip through the book and find interesting peppery tidbits of information. I wish the book was written more like a storybook than a serious history, but to be fair that was probably not the author’s intention. The book is deeply engaging, with a simple and comprehensible style that helps the reader to absorb the huge amount of information that flows from its pages.
Overall I would highly recommend this book to anyone with even a passing interest in culinary history. Not only did I get a broader perspective of world affairs relative to pepper and a comprehensive idea about the different types of pepper, their biological and medicinal roles, but I also learnt that Yale University was named after Elihu Yale, a governor of the East India Company who made his huge and illegal fortune in the pepper business. Also, to my surprise, I came to know that paan (Betel leaf, Piper betel) belongs to the pepper family as well. I think I will have to read the book one more time to absorb more knowledge from it.
Now guess what – I am doing a giveaway of the book and will randomly choose a lucky winner who will receive a copy of this book (readers from all over the world) and a bottle of peppers (US readers only). All you have to do is send in the name of a dish, which has pepper in it as an ingredient or condiment. And also you don’t HAVE TO ‘like’ my page on Facebook but it would be nice if you do so. You’ can also read more stories about delectable Indian foods and drool at some pictures, if you are so inclined. The last day to send in your entry is August 2nd, 2013.