Best Host - Cultural or Historic Series

Congratulations to Chef Walter Staib for receiving his fourth Emmy Award!

Ash Lawn-Highland

Our latest journey brought us to the homestead of James Monroe, the fifth President of the United States!

James Madison's Montpelier

Learn about the feast Chef Staib created during our visit to Montpelier!

A Taste of History

Cooking in historic Pomona Hall!

West Indies Pepperpot Soup

West Indies Pepperpot Soup

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.

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.

21 Responses to West Indies Pepperpot Soup

  1. Donna Easter

    What is taro root? I have great collards. Is it the collard root?

    • Taro root is a vegetable. It is the tuber or root of the “elephant ear” plant that originates in Southeast Asia and grows wild in tropical climates. You can find it in many Latin markets or in some bigger grocery stores. It looks brown and a bit like a waxy, shiny potato on the outside. It is white in the inside. They must be peeled before use.

  2. Donna Easter

    Also, I have natural wild harvested all spice berries. Is that what you are referring to?

  3. jo tussey

    You had a chef on Saturday, Jan. 28 making Sweet Potato Biscuits, it looked so delicious and easy, I did not have pen & paper in hand and I did not want to leave the TV., please can you put it on your website, would much appreciate it. thank you!!

  4. Helen Robison FitzGerald

    Hello Chef Walter,

    I love, love, love your interesting, informative and exciting show.

    I note that Mary Randolph in her 1824 “The Virginia Housewife” cookery book indicates to use tripe and a recent NY Times article suggested the same as the authentic version that George Washington and troops would have had.

    I know there are variations on the meat (lamb, beef, etc.). The unvarying element seems to be the cayenne pepper. Why do you use pork and beef shoulder?

    Many thanks,
    Helen

    • The recipe for West Indies Pepperpot Soup that Chef Walter Staib uses in the show and serves at City Tavern in Philadelphia is one he learned from a cook in the islands. “Miss Betty” as she was known taught him her family recipe, handed down for more than 300 years. We know that Washington served West Indies Pepperpot to his troops, but don’t have the exact recipe documented. Colonial cooks probably would have improvised during the war based on what they had.

  5. Alex Williams

    I Want to buy your cook book

  6. Renata Nandlal

    Hello Chef,

    This recipe is so close to what we Trindadian’s and most of the other West Indian islands call Callaloo. We, very often, cook it with blue crabs. Even though I grew up in the kitchen as my mom main helper, I still get trouble cooking most of our traditional dishes. This looks very tasty and will be trying it out VERY SOON!!! A local Jamaican store sells “dasheen bush”, our name for the callaloo leaves, so I should have no excuse! :-)

  7. Steph

    I had this in City Tavern in Philadelphia and it was DELICIOUS. Can’t wait to try making it on my own!

  8. Albert R. Cumberbatch, Ph. D.

    I am a native of Guyana, in South America, a formere British colony. Guyana is the only country in the Caribbean that makes pepperpot as a native dish. I am curious to know if there is any connection between Philadelphia’s and Guyana’s version of pepperpot.

  9. Diann

    How can it be called pepper pot without casareep?? Pepper pot is often cooked over many days with new meat being continuously added as more friends come over. The casareep gives it a distinct flavour and acts as a preservative.

    • The pepperpot soup recipe is directly from Miss Betty, a local cook in the bush of Jamaica. There are many versions of this soup because it is a family recipe passed down from generation to generation. Thanks for watching and commenting!

  10. open hearth cooking in a dutch kettle is so interesting to me from the historical viewpoint, the Pennsylvania setting, and the personal context. My own mother cooked this way at a Quaker camp in Willow Grove. Staib evoked wonderous memories for me in the food he prepared, and the robust manner in which he prepared it. mlm

  11. Ok….thanks. having viewed Chef Staib last evening and saw a delightful gentleman, Chef/Staib…having jotted down Web/Address to finding it today and now I have another place to checkout Great Cooking…and doing so this very moment… my, what Culinary Pleasures to spur me on to create too…

  12. Hello, just wanted to mention, I enjoyed this blog post. It was practical. Keep on posting!

  13. Emilio Kuckens

    Most cultivated varieties of cayenne, Capsicum annuum, can be grown in a variety of locations and need approximately 100 days to mature. Peppers prefer warm, moist, nutrient-rich soil in a warm climate. ;,”*

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  15. Kelly

    Calalloo is not the taro plant. It is a leafy amaranth plant. Taro is known as dasheen in Jamaica and amaranth greens are calalloo.

  16. George Washington was an innovative farmer, who was an early proponent of crop rotation. He grew corn, wheat, other grains, cotton, hemp, etc. Your wonderful, historically accurate recipe shows the care he took to nourish his troops. Looks delicious, and I may try a vegetarian version of this. Thank you!

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