A few months ago, while wandering through the Pike Place Market in downtown Seattle, I came upon a new treasure in the spice shop. I had asked the shopkeeper what she thought the most interesting spice in the place was. She answered that she was particularly into Tasmanian pepperberries these days, and gave me one to taste. They were much like black pepper, but crackly-crunchy…kind of like piquante Kix with a hint of fruitiness, and a tiny bit of hay. Intriguing! I bought a bagful, brought them home here in Princeton, then promptly forgot about them…until a few days ago.
I came upon them again in my spice closet when preparing for a cooking class dinner party last week. We were making Pork Chops Au Poivre (pork dredged in cracked peppercorns, then seared and served with a sherry cream pan sauce) and I decided it would be fun to use those berries in the recipe instead of the traditional black peppercorns.
Everyone in the cooking class tasted one. The team that was making the pork chops decided to create a mixture of crushed black peppercorns and pepperberries on most of the chops, but one chop was done solely with the pepperberries. One brave student went for that one, and compared his to the others.
When I tasted it, I thought it was awesome. While the black peppercorns pack a punch on those chops, the Tasmanian pepperberries kick in ten layers of subtler flavor. I made it the next day for my husband, who loved the original recipe but went nuts for the Tasmanian pepperberry version. He described it as “a kaleidoscopic explosion of flavors!”
I stopped by that wonderful spice shop here in Princeton called Savory Spice, and asked the owner Jon Hauge if he had ever heard of Tasmanian pepperberries. It so happened that he was just getting them in, and was curious as to how I would use them! (It makes me wonder if that Tasmanian pepper is going to be the new black!) Anyway, now I’ll have a ready supply and I plan to change that recipe in my classes for good. The conversation with Jon, by the way, turned into a long one about food, business, mothers, life goals, and ended in ‘let’s all get together and cook!’ Now I’ve got a new friend, and so do you! This month if you go in there and mention Ezekiel’s Table, you’ll get $1 off!
This becomes a lesson about keeping an eye out for life’s little delightful oddities–the unique, and tucking them into the everyday. I’m sure that if I had read ‘Tasmanian pepperberries’ in a recipe, I would not have given it a second look. Who wants to mess with obscure ingredients when there are so many other more accessible recipes to be had?
But I have a lot of good simple recipes, ones that can handle a little variety; and that’s a great way to run a kitchen. Have some trusty basics that can incorporate the little exotics that you find along your way. Making a place for such odd little treasures can turn an ordinary recipe… and an ordinary life, into something that wakes you up, and gives you a story to tell at dinner.
Happy New Year. I hope you’ll join me this year in looking to the odd little treasures along our way.