I wish I had as much insight as you Phatch....I had to research.....
What a terrific topic !!!! I read your post and tried to answer it but I simply cannot. I found an article, it is brief, but I thought you might enjoy it (we might all ?). I hope there are more posts on this as I do not know just how far back it really goes, and what pepper can do ....
Throughout history, cooks coveted them, merchants made fortunes on them. Peppercorns were valued as much as gold; and comprised part of the ransom for Rome.
A Pepper Primer for you dear readers, along with two recipes!
For thousands of years this spice held its value both to cooks and to traders. Debts, rent and dowries might be paid with pepper and family fortunes could be turned by a smart marriage to a pepper-wealthy bride. As the value of other currency fluctuated, peppercorns held their own.
Pepper in Past
It’s said that the words “Sprinkle with pepper and serve" are the last step in the first cookbook, at least the oldest surviving cookbook. It dates back to the 1st century Roman gastronome Apicius.
Pepper became part of the spice trade when traders discovered the Malabar Coast in Kerala, India. It quickly replaced the long peppers used in early days. Balinese Long peppers had fallen out of commercial favor, in part due to their finicky resistance to commercial farming techniques.
Malabar peppercorns became synonymous with “pepper.” About 10% of Malabar peppercorns are large enough to be graded as Telicherry.
During the early spice trade, these tiny imports were so valuable, dockside pubs had “no cuffs and no pockets” rules and dock workers would often find their pockets sewn shut to prevent stealing.
One might even say that Yale University was built on peppercorns. America’s first millionaire, Elias Haskett Derby used his peppercorn importing fortune to endow it.
Say "S&P" to any ten people and I'll bet all ten will know you mean salt and pepper, so common is this basic ingredient. We've begun to hear more about artisan salts, but did you know how many pepper varieties there are?
Today we are lucky to be enjoying a resurgence of peppercorn imports. Ubiquitous Telicherry pepper is now exported by Brazil. Other countries are entering the picture. Here are some to look for:
Kampot pepper from Cambodia;
Organic, floral black peppercorns from Ecuador;
Muntok from Indonesia;
Sarawak white pepper from Borneo;
Comet’s Tails Cubeb from Java – known for menthol qualities
Even Balinese Long Peppers are available again through a unique program to encourage farming and exporting of this treasured spice. Top chefs are singing the praises of this exotic spice and I’m excited to support small family farms with my own food obsession! See Big Tree Bali for these gems. Don’t forget to stock up on Divine Sonoran Oregano while you’re checking the pantry. It's another heritage, fair trade product supporting indigenous farmers. And it's superiour oregano to boot.
At the moment, Kampot Pepper from Cambodia reigns supreme in my kitchen. Here is my version of a classic condiment made with it. I invite my Cambodian experts to weigh in.
Cambodian Pepper Sauce – “Lover Sauce”
This version is an adaptation of an adaptation…originally attributed to a book called "Eating with Headhunters."
1 TBSP Chile Paste
2-3 TBSP Lime Juice (fresh only please!)
½ tsp salt
½ - 1 tsp pepper (Kampot pepper if you can get it!)
½ tsp – 1 tsp sugar
2 TBSP fish sauce
12 Thai Basil or Mint leaves, julienned
Heat all ingredients but the fresh basil or mint in a small saucepan. Depending on the type of chili paste you have on hand, you may want to add more or less of other ingredients.
Try combining the basic recipe and then adjust to your taste. I wanted more pepper, lime and sugar. I like the combination of tart, sweet, and peppery spice. This is very good on simple grilled or poached fish or chicken.