December 29, 2022

Pepper Pot Day: Try “the soup that won the War”

Mary Apel

According to the National Day Calendar, December 29 is Pepper Pot Day!

Pepper pot soup is a highly seasoned soup prepared with peppercorns, small bits of meat, tripe, vegetables, and broth. It is considered like a gumbo, but without okra.

The dish may be more familiar by the name of Philadelphia Pepper Pot because it was brought to the area by people from Africa, the West Indies, and the Caribbean. Colonial Black women served the dish in their homes, the homes where they worked, and in markets. It’s considered an early street food by many historians.

Painting: Scene in the Philadelphia Market (1811) by John Lewis Krimmel. The scene depicts a pepper pot street vendor in Philadelphia serving soup from a pot to customers.

There are many versions and variations of Peppery Pot stew, some of which include dumplings. In some areas, the phrase “pepper pot” has come to describe a hodgepodge or mixed bag of many sorts.

One legendary story credits this soup to George Washington’s chef. The story goes that during the brutal winter of 1777 and 1778, the Continental Army was camped at Valley Forge on December 29th. George Washington asked the army’s chef to prepare a meal that would boost morale and warm the troops. The chef made enough Pepper Pot Soup to rally the troops, and nicknamed it “the soup that won the war.”

Though the story is likely fictionalized, it made the soup popular in Philadelphia and earned the dish its other name, Philadelphia Pepper Pot. It was sold by street vendors, typically black women, and became a tourist favorite in the city. Cheap, hearty, and flavorful, it was perfect for a working class meal.

Campbells even canned it for almost 100 years, memorialized in an Andy Warhol painting before it was discontinued due to “changing consumer tastes”.

Andy Warhol 1968

So if you want to find out what all the fuss is about, and try this war-winning soup in your own kitchen, here is an easier adapted recipe:

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