The Real History of Pepper Pot Soup

by Sierra Winters

Happy Pepper Pot Day! If you are like us, this may be a holiday unfamiliar to you. But never fear; we are here to unpack its rich history and controversy!

The Story

Remember when you were in grade school, and you learned about the terrible winter experienced by the Continental Army at Valley Forge in 1777? Imagine for a moment that you were in charge of getting food onto everyone’s plates, with hardly any crops at your disposal. What would you do?

Christopher Ludwick, baker general, gathered tripe (cow stomach), meat, peppercorn, and a few other seasonings and served it to the army. It kept soldiers warm(er) and fed them throughout that harsh winter, and it became known as pepper pot, or “the soup that won the war.”

But wait…is that really what happened?

The Real History

After digging deeper, we found that pepper pot soup is actually a popular dish in Jamaica. Perhaps the Valley Forge myth has somehow stuck because of its past glory as a dish that tourists would try in Philadelphia. It’s now, however, generally agreed upon that it is, indeed, just that: a myth. Unfortunately, this is just one example in a series of many that demonstrates how White people have misappropriated African American culture.

So what is the real history of pepper pot soup?

Its origins are in West Africa and the Caribbean. Still, the slave trade inevitably brought it to North America, where colonial Black women popularized it as street food in the 1800s. It became an iconic culinary staple of Philadelphia, its popularity often compared to that of the modern Philly Cheesesteak. The ingredients are like those described in the Valley Forge myth, with the frequent additions of vegetables, cassava, and leafy vegetables.

If you want to try out a modern version of pepper pot soup, we have found a good vegan version here by Chef Shaquay! Happy eating!

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