Black pepper is underappreciated!

Black pepper is about as ubiquitous as any spice can possibly be.  It would probably be hard to find a kitchen without it.  Sometimes is preground (yuck) and doesn’t really have much except enough heat to make you sneeze.  It’s something many probably pick up in the grocery store without thinking about it.  But, black pepper is black pepper is black pepper is not true.  It is often added as kind of an afterthought amongst other spices and herbs.

Whole Special Extra Bold Indian Black PeppercornsI’ve always been picky about my black pepper–my favorite is from Penzeys.  I’ve been mail-ordering it from there for ages–and have kept on even with the local store since I’ve got my established list of herbs and spices there.

If you peruse the list of black peppers from Penzeys, you’ll find quite a selection:  India Tellicherry, India Malabar (both excellent) and then there’s the Special Extra Bold Indian Black Peppercorns.  True more expensive than either of the others, but worth every penny more.

However, as much as I liked black pepper (over eggs, in mashed potatoes, with strawberries, balsamic, and black pepper), I didn’t really appreciate black pepper as the main seasoning until I made fårikål.  The seasoning is black pepper!  Lots of whole black peppercorns that cook right with the cabbage and the lamb. And should get eaten rather than picked out; after the long cooking they still have some tooth but are soft enough to eat easily and the flavor is just amazing.

Black pepper is worth exploring as something other than an add-on to other herbs and spices.  It should always be bought whole rather than ground or cracked.  While you can spend a small fortune of a pepper mill, you can also get a reasonably inexpensive one.  It will open a whole new world of flavor.  The highly recommended mill from America’s Test Kitchen was from Cole and Mason, and surprisingly, very reasonably priced.

Another tasty dish featuring lots of black pepper that you should make once you have some really good black whole peppercorns to go with you pepper mill is cacio e pepe (cheese and pepper pasta).  But do try it with good ripe strawberries, too.  Or on a lusciously ripe muskmelon or watermelon.

A son gôut!


Spiced Strawberry Sorbet

It’s summer time–I know that you don’t want to hear me complain about heat and humidity, so I won’t.  There are some things that are good about it–and one of them is strawberry season.  I’ve enjoyed some of the local ones that I’ve gotten at Harris Teeter (so happy to see them carrying local produce). When strawberries are perfectly ripe I just want to eat them completely unadorned. But the hot weather makes me think about cool things like sorbet, ices, and ice cream.

bowl of washed strawberriesHere’s a recipe that I’ve had for literally years.  It’s so good that I wanted to share it with you as one more way to enjoy the season’s strawberries. (Thanks to Google, I can tell you that I got this recipe from Just as in making the sour cream strawberry ice cream, you don’t want berries that are just “okay” or “fine for ice cream”, you want them to be absolutely luscious–the kind where they are so fragrant that they make you feel like you’re right in the strawberry field feeling the sun shining down on your back and smelling the ripe, fragrant berries.

I’ve made one slight change to this recipe–I like to toast the black peppercorns in a dry skillet until they start to smell aromatic and peppery, then crush and add to the sorbet. I think it makes a more complex, spicier accent from the pepper.

Spiced Strawberry Sorbet


  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 2/3 cup water
  • 3 tablespoons black peppercorns, coarsely crushed
  • 1 quart strawberries, hulled
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar, or to taste


  • In a saucepan combine sugar and water and bring to a boil, stirring until sugar is dissolved.
  • Stir in peppercorns and remove pan from heat.
  • Cover pan and let syrup stand 1 hour.
  • Strain syrup through a fine sieve into a food processor or blender and discard peppercorns.
  • Puree hulled strawberries with syrup until very smooth and force though sieve into a bowl, discarding seeds and other solids.
  • Stir in vinegar and chill, covered, until cold.
  • Freeze mixture in an ice-cream maker, following manufacturer’s instructions.
  • Serve sorbet with sliced strawberries.

The Epicurious recipe suggests an accompaniment of toasted almond Phylo crisps; that recipe is given at the link above.  The balsamic vinegar does not need to be absolute top of the line–but it should be authentic–not a cheap imitation.  To be frank, I’ve never gotten around to making the phyllo crisps to go with the sorbet, though I can attest that a good traditional pound cake, tuiles, or madeleines are excellent with it.

After tasting strawberry with green peppercorns in a Hachez Cocoa d’Arriba chocolate bar, I want to try this using green peppercorns, probably bloomed with heat before putting them into the sorbet.

Another taste combination that occurred to me was to add cilantro (tiny, newly sprouted plants).  If you’re questioning my sanity on that one, there is a reason it occurred to me.  When I was in San Antonio for the national American Society for Indexing convention, I had dinner at Los Ramblas (Spanish cuisine), and I had a strawberry gazpacho with tiny cilantro “microgreens”–those with just the cotyledons–not even the first true leaves; it was an awesome flavor combination that I think might adapt nicely to sorbet. (The microgreens are not nearly so strongly flavored as fully grown cilantro.)

small alpine strawberry

alpine strawberry