I’ve got lots of strange habits. And this is probably one of my favourites.
On days when the London sky is grey and I have woken up with absolute no motivation, I go into my kitchen and twist open the lid of an old jam jar where I keep my black peppercorns – and I take deep sniffs. Lots of deep sniffs.
It doesn’t work like spinach for Popeye. I don’t suddenly feel I can take on the world but a whiff of the deep, masculine, woody, no-nonsense scent and I think I’m smelling strength itself. Because surely of all spices, strength would smell of pepper.
Or maybe it’s an emotional association of mine. Whenever I was ill when young, my grandmother and mum would make peppery indian chicken soups. I can still overhear my grandmother telling my mum to pound lots of pepper and put it in to clear the phlegm. I don’t know if this has any scientific backing (most of what my family insists on usually doesn’t) but sipping on the soup sure made me feel better.
Maybe it’s this characteristic of pepper that made it such a sought after spice. Traders were able to charge exorbitant prices for pepper. It was held in higher regard than gold in the 16th century and Europeans sometimes even paid their rent with pepper. Pepper also has the ability to suppress other flavours so apparently if you over salt something or if something is too sweet, adding pepper helps to mask / undermine the other flavours.
Deserving of it’s title the king of spice then.
These days when I want to add pepper to my soup or pasta, I warm up my peppercorns and then give them a quick pounding in my pestle and mortar. I then sprinkle the white, black fragrant powder on my dishes. The smell is heavenly and it packs more of a punch than the ground ones you can find in the supermarket.
It’s a cold, grey day in London today. So excuse me while I head off to the kitchen to take some whiffs of my peppercorn and let it’s heady aroma mingle and settle in my bones.