West Indies Pepperpot Soup

From City Tavern: Recipes from the Birthplace of American Cuisine,
© 2009 by Walter Staib

During the long winter at Valley Forge, George Washington instructed his cook to make this soup to nourish and warm his starving, freezing troops. Though this West Indian dish may seem out of place in colonial American life, it was in fact quite common in and around Philadelphia, the last stop for ships traveling the Southern Trade Route. English ships returning from the islands transported slaves and exotic foodstuffs, so West Indian cookery found its way into the very fabric of Philadelphia life. It is assumed that Washington was familiar with pepperpot soup long before he camped at Valley Forge. During his only trip abroad in 1751, Washington visited his brother Lawrence in Barbados, where he enjoyed Cohobblopot, a version of pepperpot soup made with okra. The recipe below is the grandfather to the more widely recognized Philadelphia Pepperpot Soup, and is made from an authentic West Indian recipe more than 300 years old.

Serves 10

  • 3/4 pound salt-cured pork shoulder, diced (see Chef’s Note)
  • 3/4 pound salt-cured beef shoulder, diced (see Chef’s Note)
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 medium white onion, chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1/4 habañero pepper, seeded and chopped (see Chef’s Note)
  • 1 cup chopped scallions
  • 1 pound taro root, peeled and diced
  • 1 gallon Beef Stock
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
  • 1 tablespoon freshly ground allspice (see Chef’s Note)
  • 1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more
  • 1 pound callaloo or collard greens, rinsed and chopped (see Chef’s Note)
  • Salt

In a large stockpot, sauté the pork and beef in the oil over high heat for 10 minutes, until brown. Add the onion, garlic, and habañero pepper, and sauté for 3 to 5 minutes, until the onion is translucent. Add the scallions and sauté for 3 minutes. Add the taro root and sauté for 3 to 5 minutes more, until translucent. Add the stock, bay leaves, thyme, allspice, and pepper. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium and cook for about 30 minutes, until the meat and taro root are tender.

Stir in the callaloo. Reduce the heat and simmer for about 5 minutes, until the callaloo is wilted. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Serve in a tureen or divide among individual soup bowls. Serve with Sweet Potato Biscuits, if desired.

Chef’s Notes
To salt-cure pork and beef shoulder, choose meat that appears well-marbled, then rub with coarse (kosher) salt and refrigerate for at least three days. Wash the salt off the meat before cooking as directed.

The heat factor of peppers is measured by Scoville heat units. A jalapeño has 80,000 Scoville heat units while habañeros from Jamaica or Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula have been found to have 550,000 Scoville heat units. Always wear rubber gloves when handling this fiery pepper.

The allspice must be freshly ground, or the flavor will be compromised.

The only substitution you can make in this recipe and still achieve the intended flavor is to use collard greens instead of callaloo, the leafy top of the taro root.