Black pepper is produced from the still-green unripe drupes of the pepper plant with so many culinary purposes; black pepper has long been a cherished spice. In ancient Greece, pepper was held in such high regard it was not only used as a seasoning, but as a currency and sacred offering to the gods. By the 15th century, pepper became so important that it spurred spice trade and inspired Spanish exploration that led to the discovery of the New World.
Black pepper is available whole, cracked (crushed) or ground. While ground is fine as a quick counter condiment, pepper’s best flavor comes to play when you buy whole peppercorns and crack or grind them yourself just before adding to recipes. Whole peppercorns should be heavy, compact and free of blemishes.
Store in an airtight glass container in a cool, dark, dry place. While whole peppercorns will keep almost indefinitely, ground pepper will only stay fresh for about three months.
This versatile master spice can be added to almost any recipe. Drop whole peppercorns into simmering soups, stews and fruit compotes or add to meat, seafood and poultry when poaching. Use the side of a wide chef’s knife to coarsely crack peppercorns and rub them onto steaks and chops before grilling. A pinch of finely ground pepper can add unique depth to desserts like spice cakes and gingerbread cookies. And when using a peppermill, remember coarser grinds are great when you really want the pepper flavor to be noticed. Think marinades, hearty meats or a thick, rich Caesar salad dressing.
Use as a decongestant
Is your nose stopped up? Are your ears plugged? Do you have a cold? Forget the over-the-counter medications. Nothing gets things flowing again faster than some cayenne pepper. Sprinkle it on your food and grab some tissues.
Keep colors bright
That new cherry-red shirt you just purchased is fantastic, but just think how faded the color will look after the shirt has been washed a few times. Add a teaspoon of pepper to the wash load. Pepper keeps bright colors bright and prevents them from running too.
Get bugs off plants
There’s nothing more frustrating than a swarm of bugs nibbling at your fledgling garden. Just when things are starting to pop up, the bugs are there, chowing down. Mix black pepper with flour. Sprinkle around your plants. Bugs take a hike.
Deter deer from your garden
Your freshly budding garden seems as if it’s ringing the dinner bell for the neighborhood deer. They’ll find another place to dine if you spray your bushes with a cayenne and water mixture.
Keep ants out of the kitchen
Two or three of your annual summer visitors have invaded your kitchen. Those ants are looking for sugar. Give them some pepper instead. Cayenne pepper sprinkled in spots where the ants are looking, such as along the backs of your countertops or on your baseboards, will tell them that no sugar is ahead