Last week I kicked off the Food, Culture, Ancestors: The Series, by examining the history and ancestral applications of salt. This week, it’s only fitting to also examine salt’s faithful sidekick: pepper. Last week we went over why salt is a necessary element to the human diet– it makes sense that we would keep a bit on our tables to self-medicate as needed. But what about pepper? It’s hardly a necessity of life to have pepper in your diet.
First, if your ancestors are from the New World, or the Americas (and some of mine are), it’s likely that they never tasted pepper, black or long, until well after Europeans invaded the place. What our New World ancestors had instead was the chile pepper, arguably the third most holy condiment to be found on any table in the Western and Latin world. Chile pepper performs much the same function as black pepper: they providee a little kick and citrus-y enlivening of a dish. Too much of any pepper, however, will ruin a dish to the palate just as fast as too much salt will.
The black pepper gracing most tables in the Western World (and the Latin world by proximity and colonialism) owes it’s popularity to it’s more nuanced, and expensive, cousin Long Pepper. Long Pepper is a bit spicier and overt than black pepper and the ancient Romans were mad for it. Well, the ancient Romans that could afford it. Soon, common black pepper, which grew a little bit further west than long pepper (both from South Asia), was found to be quicker and cheaper to supply and began to replace Long Pepper on the table. Then, suffering from over exposure, pepper went out of vogue for a few hundred years. Then, thanks to the picky palate of Louis XIV, pepper made it’s rip roaring comeback and has had a revered place on millions of tables ever since. Louis XIV had a delicate palate and preferred only very lightly seasoned dishes. Salt, black pepper (because it was more mild than long pepper), and parsley were the only spices his chef’s were allowed to use. Et viola, you’ll now find salt, black pepper and parsley to be the mainstays in French or French lineage cooking, which is the wellspring from which most Western cooking is influenced by, even to this day.
Pepper has had some dubious uses in its ancient past, including use as an eye poultice (ouch!) and as a treatment for sunburn (ouch again!). However, modern research has found that pepper does indeed aid digestion (another good reason to keep it on the table), is an antioxidant and an immune booster– so add some to your hot toddy!
Because of it’s hot and prickly nature, black pepper makes a good addition to protection spells and rituals. Adding a little to a spiritual cleansing solution (such as water, vinegar, salt and pepper) is an option, as is carrying some on your person in a mojo bag or in a mojo bag for your car. You can also sprinkle a little pepper behind someone as they leaving your house to ensure they don’t come back– just keep in mind there are spiritual/karmic consequences to doing things like this! If you’d like to learn more about spiritual cleansing and protection, check out my course here.
If it feels right, you can also offer a little pepper on your ancestral altar (learn how to make one here). Most of your ancestors will probably be familiar with the spice and if they’re not, I’m sure they’d be delighted to try it for the first time!
If pepper played a significant part in your ancestral lineage (either because your ancestors were from the Western world and colonized/traded/traveled far for it, or because your ancestors were from the parts of India were pepper naturally grew and were thus impacted by the trade and colonization spurred by this little black nugget), you might consider searching for a beautiful, if not significant, pepper mill. Of course, you can do this just because you like to have pepper on your table, no matter where your people are from. But the idea is to find a peppermill that invokes beauty and perhaps even a little ancient nostalgia, so that every time you see it or touch it you briefly remember the many many generations the peppercorn has touched. As you use the peppermill, you could even ask for your ancestors to bless the meal and the table, even silently.
In love and sacred darkness,
P.S. Green, Black and White peppercorns? They all come from the same plant! Green peppercorns, are well, green as in unripe. Black you know. White peppercorns are just like black peppercorns but the black shell has been removed. The appeal here is so that if you are making a white sauce and if you use white pepper instead of black, you won’t have any black speckles in your sauce. Personally, I like the black speckles.
Spice: The History of a Temptation, by Jack Turner
Black Pepper, Wikipedia
Three Surprising Medicinal Uses Of Black Pepper, Herbal Academy
Magickal Uses Of Black Pepper, Herbal Riot