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further calefactory ramblings

There is a large tree that overhangs our patio here at Towfi Towers. Its drooping branches have very attractive pinnate leaves and, in late summer, it bears pendulous clusters of hard pink fruit the size of peppercorns.  It is called a "pepper tree" though it is not related to any of the kinds of pepper we discussed last week.  One need only to crush a leaf, though, to release the pungent scent of black pepper.  Some old books state that all parts of the tree are poisonous but the pink "peppercorns" are beginning to turn up in grocery stores under the name "rose pepper".  Just as  lemon-grass has the flavor of lemon without its tartness, "rose pepper" has all the fragrance  of pepper without the "heat". ["Perfect", says Melanie.]

In 1698, an Englishman returned from Jamaica and wrote that "They make a rare Soop they call Pepper-Pot" and in 1704 another traveler referred to "That most delicate palate-scorching soop called pepper-pot, a kind of devilís broth much eat in the West Indies".  Recipes for this wondrous fluid vary wildly but one of the most curious ingredients is cassareep, cassavaa syrup which is used both as a thickening agent and as a potent antiseptic.  Its name comes from the language spoken by the indigenous Native Americans of the Caribbean, the Carib.  This people (who were also known as Galibi) inspired Shakespeare's Caliban and, by way of some very bad press, their name entered English as cannibal Cassareep is the inspissated (yes, we get to use that word again!) juice of cassava roots after you've boiled all the poison out of them.  Can you picture the very first cook to try this...?

"Dinner won't be long. I think I've boiled all the poison out of the cassava and I'm just inspissating the cassareep,  And by the way, save your leftovers to treat wounds and abrasions."

Well, would you eat it?

The English marsh plant called water-pepper was once an everyday household item but not in the kitchen.  In earlier times, this "pepper" was valued as an insecticide and was placed between the bed sheets to kill fleas and lice.  Unfortunately, the "heat" from this herb may be felt by mere contact with the skin, a property which earned it the alternative names of arse-smart and smart-arse.  This meaning of smart-arse is far older than the modern usage (= American smart-ass) but may have contributed to its formation.  We assume that water-pepper fell into disuse as an insecticide because nobody likes a smart-arse.

Many thanks to Gernot Katzer's Spice Pages.

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