England took some land with oil reserves from the Ottoman Empire following the end of the WWII and just tricked Greece into the political scene with exaggerated promises to buy some time and get settled in the land. These two nations had already been at odds with each other in the early 19th century as a result of interference of Russia and this conflict cost the lives of many innocent Turkish and Greek people.
As the Ministry of Defense at that time, Winston Churchill gave away the secrets of their political games in a speech made from his despatch box. He said: “We are prepared to shed a drop of blood for every drop of oil!”
Although this startling line has almost been the first article accentuated in the declarations of the following wars, history witnessed numerous wars prior to those times.
What would be your reaction if I would say that you bear a treasure on your dinner table that once had enough value to buy a slave?
The Spice Wars
Humanity has always run after what’s exotic, the things they wouldn’t find nearby. These things, of course, involve flavors and smells that can only be found in the far corners of the world. For this reason, several spices were carried across the dangerous overseas and venturesome territories to put the finishing touches on the meals. Having caused a great mess around the world, the spice itself has become a factor effective enough even to change the mercantile system.
One who owned the seas, owned the spices and one who owned the spices, owned the continents. The booties of the spice wars financed the industrial revolution.
There is no doubt that the biggest motivation of Columbus to get convinced to set sail overseas was India, the native land of black pepper.
While “spice” meant “cash” in the 15th century, the black pepper was one of the spices with the highest prices. These most popular black pearls found their buyers with prices equal to annual income of a poor family. They were weighed in by the sensitive scales of the moneychangers. While the wealthy families had always some black pepper on their dinner tables as a social class indicator, even some phrases were inspired by the huge prices of the black pepper like Dutch phrase “pepper expensive”.
A handful of black pepper was enough to buy a slave, people even used it as money to pay their rents and taxes. Thanks to the Great Alexandre’s trips to India, it was the first spice that was introduced to the Europeans and its popularity created its own market in Vienna.
The Black Pepper Culture
I can’t imagine a meal without some spice.
The expression “plain meal” forces me to think about another possibility that I might be missing to taste. I cannot help but wondering if how the meal would taste with some coriander or ginger in it.
My mother used to criticize me a lot saying, “You put black pepper even into salad!?”
While black pepper is still not consumed as drupes in Turkey where the people tend to like hot spices more than any other kind of spice. As a matter of fact, this often-ignored black pepper powder is still a valuable spice.
Overshadowed by the popularity of the flaked red pepper and Urfa red peppers that have become widespread with the South Eastern cuisine and specifically its kebabs, black pepper is very popular in the Western countries and served with a spoon in the company of rock salt in refined restaurants after getting brayed in a mortar.
At Dalyan Restaurant Cevat’ın Yeri in Çeşme where I’ve been frequenting for the past 35 years, the staff would know that this issue had great importance for me, and they would serve me some black pepper brayed in a mortar right before the fish because the pepper mills were not that popular in Turkey yet.
“Pepper mills” were first invented by Peugeot in the 19th century and since then has become a household product that makes life easier. While there are some urban myths about the correlation between one pepper mill’s size and its price, its sector has run against its original intention pointing out the simplicity of its design and turned this into a huge show. Besides that, the fact that the pepper is ground right before your eyes doesn’t mean it is not fresh as much.
Different Types of Black Pepper around the Globe
With its intense flavor, bigger and softer drupes, Tasmania’s native pepper “Tasmania pepperberry” would be the Rolls Royce of the black pepper race where every pepper has a different taste and shape. As its taste echoes with dried plum and blackberry, it has a special mill to grind its drupes.
Here is a long list of black peppers that are sold at the market: “Indonesian long pepper” with its hot flavor and costly price; “Indian long pepper” which is a bit shorter than the Indonesian one; “Bulgarian carrot pepper” which has a nutmeg-like aroma and showed up as hero when the exportation of nut-meg from India to Europe became a difficult process in the 16th century; “Malabar cherry pepper” that grows in India and “Malabar green pepper” –again- grows in the same region; “Para black pepper” from Brasilia or with a softer aroma “Brasilian red pepper” that is also called “Christmas berries”; “Allspice” indigenous to Mexico, although it has a Jamaican background, it was caught in the Columbus’ radar and used in Caribbean cuisine very much while its branches were used for barbecue fire to give some aroma to the meat; “Cameroun Penja Black Peppercorns” which are grown in the volcanic soil close to the equator and has a fruity taste; Chinese “Sichuan pepper” with its fiery colors bears fruit in the month of August and gets dried in 40-60 centigrade and “Albanian pepper” with its lighter colors.
Popular Chinese “Hainan white pepper” is made from unripe pepper drupes which are softened under the constantly running water and then peeled. On account of the reason that it didn’t look bad (!), it was preferred over black pepper by some of the fish restaurants in the past and so it became popular in Turkey following Europe. In a short time, it was understood that white pepper was a weak alternative to black pepper; it lost its popularity and again replaced with black pepper.
As for the black pepper tree that breathes life into these black peppers I just listed more or less is probably the most elegant one among the other spice trees.
Its red drupes hangs around the bough and gives off a pleasant smell to its environment. As it has a picturesque appearance, it also offers a spree for the palate when it accompanies the meal.
But again, don’t be fooled by all these pleasant qualities, it is a hard nut to crack. It just makes you sneeze, when not approached carefully.
If it weren’t for this beautiful brunette hiding at the heart of its drupes, not only salt but also the whole kitchen would be left in despair as a matter of fact.
Bon appétit and enjoy the taste of life!