FOR SALT’S COUSIN
BY URVASHI BAHUGUNA
At first, the availability of pepper in Alexandria depended on Southern India’s monsoon. Ships in 40 AD needed rain-powered winds to push west for Egypt bearing cinnamon, a little oil, dried peppercorns.
The definitive cookbook for professional chefs in Ancient Rome called for pound pepper in every four out of five recipes –
Let the cuttlefish cook with its ink. When cooked, add pepper and caraway to taste. It was currency – a thousand kgs of it offered to an approaching army to save Rome, five extorted from the Germans for the honour of trading in London. When the Arabs took charge, they sheltered the location of the fruit with a story – at the mouth of the groves slither tropical snakes, we have to burn the forest to the ground each year to recover the bounty. It was the fire, they said, that gives the corns darkness, heat. The Portuguese called the monarch whose palaces in Gersoppa, Karnataka overlooked fields of the crop, Queen of the Pepper.
They lost almost half their vessels in pursuit. It’s difficult to imagine, but for salt’s cousin, it happened time after time.
Read more from The Peacock: Issue 6 (2019) here: