Lois Leveen

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February 17, 2012

Forget the Cheesesteak

Forget the cheesesteak. In antebellum Philadelphia, it was all about the pepperpot.

Given the popularity of yesterday's rat 'n' squirrel bake-off, I thought it would only be fair to discuss the culinary obsessions of the North. Or at least of Philadelphia, where about half my novel is set.

So if you were feeling peckish in the City of Brotherly Love circa 1851, you just needed to prick up your ears for the cry, "Pepperpot, smoking hot." That meant the pepperpot vendor--always an African American woman, in the depictions I've seen--was plying her signature dish. For Portlanders, think of it as being like a food cart, but without all that bulky cart business. For the rest of you, think drive-through without all that internal combustion engine.
Pepperpot vendor

What was in pepperpot? A lot of meat, usually tripe, oxfeet, whatever else was cheap, and then a lot of spice.

And yes, Mary does try pepperpot when she arrives in Philadelphia. Does she like it? Let's just say regional cuisine can take some getting used to.
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