Around the World in 80 Plates, Recipes

Around the World in 80 Plates: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA

Captain Create is on the east coast of the USA, in Philadelphia, for National Pepper Pot Day! While here to learn about stew, there are many other things to see in the city known as the Birthplace of the United States. Some researchers have dedicated their lives to studying the history of “Philly” and the Revolutionary War, and you could too, if that’s what you find interesting; lots of history happened there, and continues to. They have preserved much of the history and historical areas of town, but Philadelphia is still a modern city with a lot of innovation and diversity happening. Captain Create is more interested in the food today though!

Pepper Pot is not unique to Philadelphia, and the recipe was brought to the city from the east coast of Africa and the West Indies due to the slave trade. Lots of foods we think of as “American” are actually memories and adaptations of “food from home” brought and shared by slaves and their descendants. For more than a century, Philadelphia pepper pot was a both a popular street food and a specialty dish at high-end restaurants2. Both slaves and free black citizens in Philadelphia prepared this stew from whatever inexpensive bits of meat, innards, and vegetables they could find, and there are many variations on the recipe2. Some of the people in Philadelphia bought Pepper Pot stew from street vendors, like in the painting below, while others were served the stew in restaurants, or in homes that kept slaves to do the cooking and housework. Not a lot was recorded of US history from the perspective of the slaves, but many recipes were passed down through the generations. Artists did begin to depict daily life in their art, and looking through these paintings is one other way we can get a glimpse of our past. The painting in the center top below was done by a German immigrant, John Lewis Krimmel, of a street market in Philadelphia.

Here is what the Philadelphia Museum of Art has to say about the artist and his oil painting:

John Lewis Krimmel immigrated to the United States only a year before composing this scene of the market stalls of Philadelphia. With its fascinating contrasts of race, social and economic class, age, and character, Pepper-Pot reveals the artist’s delight in his new environment and captures Philadelphia’s unique charms. This is the first oil painted by one of the earliest American genre painters and it is equally exceptional for its depiction of a freed person of color at work in the city. Placed at the center of this composition, the soup vendor, known through many early nineteenth-century accounts of Philadelphia, would bellow to passersby, “Pepper pot, smoking hot!”

Pepper-pot: A scene in the Philadelphia market. Philadelphia Museum of Art.

This famous stew has been called “the stew that won the war” and there is a good chance that soldiers from both sides, and the founding fathers of the United States, all ate this soup while they were in Philadelphia. The Founding Fathers, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, John Jay and James Madison spent a lot of their time in Philadelphia debating, discussing, and writing the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution, which were written in early 1776, and signed on July 4th, 1776 (the Revolutionary War wasn’t over until September 3, 1783 though!)4. Those documents were discussed and drafted in a building you can still visit, Independence Hall, which is run by the US National Park Service in Philadelphia4. You can see the original documents too, nearly 250 years later, in the National Archives in Washington DC4.

To make your own Pepper Pot, Smokin’ Hot, you can choose which ingredients you’d like to add, since there are quite a few variations of this recipe, you can create your new favorite!

Some recipes we’ve seen have noodles added, or dumplings cooked on top, while others include potatoes. There doesn’t seem to be “one right way” so go ahead and create your own version!

Resources:

  1. https://www.visitphilly.com/history-in-philadelphia/
  2. https://philadelphiaencyclopedia.org/essays/philadelphia-pepper-pot/
  3. https://philamuseum.org/collection/object/134441
  4. https://www.nps.gov/inde/index.htm

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