Marjorie Shaffer’s book “Pepper”…. a review and a giveaway

DSC_0744Too 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.

DSC_0758_blogWhile 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.

DSC_0760_blogOverall 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.

DSC_0766_blogNow 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.




16 comments on “Marjorie Shaffer’s book “Pepper”…. a review and a giveaway

  1. Chitrangada says:

    Hi, Soma, what a great book. Would love to have that. And if you ask me a dish with pepper, there are so many. But for me what comes in mind first when i think about a dish with pepper(black pepper to be precise) is Alu-morich. The humble simple alu-morich. My Ma used make that with ghee, potato and loads of freshly ground black peppers, specially during winter or whenever we were down with fever.

  2. Sutapa Basu says:

    Very nice write up and tempting giveaway. Though I’m not a big fan of pepper but my husband is. He adds pepper almost in every dish ( ‘When” he is cooking obviously !!!) following his favourite chef’s (Robert Irvine) advice (salt and pepper in almost all edible stuff). I prefer to use whole black pepper in chicken soup specially during winter.

  3. Joyita says:

    My name is Joyita and am a big fan of your FB page. I too document my culinary adventures at .
    I am also a big fan of pepper and I throw it in most of my dishes. But one of my favorite dishes where I use it is in my grilled paneer tikka where the peppery kick adds an extra layer of flavor!!

  4. Sonia says:

    My favourite dish with pepper is Chinese Hot and Sour Soup. I love the “heat” that comes from white pepper. Many of my ‘milder’ get frustrated by this dish b/c they request no chillies but still find the soup “hot” only to discover that it is white pepper and not chillies creating the heat!

  5. Ballari Chatterjee says:

    Hi Soma,
    Your blog is great to go through! With peppers- it’s one of my favorite ingredients which I tend to use in many dishes I make. In the chicken stew that I make for my daughter regularly, whole black peppers is a must for me!:)

  6. Bonny says:

    Hi Soma,
    Thanks a lot for the really interesting and tempting giveaway! Winter Veggie Stew is one of my favourtie food which contains black pepper. My ma makes it mainly in winter with Indian winter veggies like beet root, carrot, green beans, green peas, tomato, and potato. Pressure cook all the veggies with turmeric, green chilies, red chili powder (optional), salt, and water. When it’s done enjoy with lots of freshly ground black pepper and butter (preferably Amul butter).

  7. Gouri says:

    Great write up. I recently started following you and must say I am impressed to see the knowledge you share with us. Thank you for this. There are many recipes where we throw some amount of pepper but the dish which comes to my mind is ‘Aaloo Bukhara’ where freshly grinded pepper is must.
    Thanks again and happy cooking
    My site:

  8. That looks like a wonderful book that I would enjoying reading, I do like a good food essay book with useful information in it. Your post as always is wonderful. Pepper recipes, I think one of my favorite recipes to make at home, is the chicken cooked in chinese peppercorn sauce.

  9. masterminion says:

    Food essays are welcome. Anything remotely to do with food is, infact. Now on to pepper, well I’ would like to have a salt-n-pepper crop of hair on my head, when I age. Either that or full snow-white. As for food, a pepper chicken would be a good dish to add zing to an otherwise mundane life. Enough to bring your senses to life but not as much to dart out of the room, screaming “Fire in my mouth”, like a colleague-friend of mine did, some years ago. That was after she ate a spoon of some curry offered to her by a naturalized Gujrati, female colleague. Poor Marie! I still remember how she politely refused to have anything thereafter from the other lady’s box.

  10. Rachel says:

    It’s very simple but I love Lemon and Pepper Chicken. Would love to experiment with more pepper recipes

  11. Payal says:

    My favourite is kali mirch chicken! Tastes awesome!

  12. When I associate pepper with food, the first dish which comes to my mind is Chicken stew. The main reason being the nostalgia that it brings with. Whenever I was down or under the weather, my mother would make this heavenly stew with seasonal vegetables and loads of chicken, laced with strong flavours of pepper and a hint of butter. I try to recreate the warmth that it carries to cure one and all dispositions and depressions. My husband loves it too, which is a proof of the magical properties of pepper, that he doesn’t like otherwise.

  13. Congratulations Joyita!! Please send me your contact details, name, address and a telephone number so that I can send you the book and the bottle of pepper.

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