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Pepper: Black in mills and red flakes -Italo-US ?


John Talbott
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I was eating in a regular pizzeria tonight in Florence (regular meaning not fancy, 85% pizza, no Wolfgang Puck frou-frou stuff) and I was once again struck by the fact that there was/were no black pepper mill(s) but there was a rare item in my experience, a bowl of red pepper flakes.

Now, I'm older than your Italian-American mother or grandmother or greatgrandmother and I recall when the only restaurants in America that had black pepper mills were Italian; thus query 1, why did native Italians, opening Italian places in the US, feature black pepper mills when American, French, etc., ones did not?

Second query, for years the primary delivery system for hotness (in my recollection) has been whole red peppers in bottles of olive oil, but tonight I got the real, un-oiled thing as flakes, just as one would, again, in the US, by those same Italian-Americam immigrants.

On the France Forum this sort of ? would start a food fight, but I'm just looking for a calm historico-socio-cultural explantion.

Thanks all (and it's not true that everything is closed in Italy in August, I'll report on my fantastic finds Monday) Ciao,

John

John Talbott

blog John Talbott's Paris

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Two thoughts. Well, three.

One, since the experience was in tourist-ridden Florence, perhaps the owners tired of tourists from, say, Baltimore asking for red pepper flakes! (Or tourists from Philly, like me, askng the same thing!)

Two, red pepper flakes were strongly in evidence throughout Abruzzo when we visited there. My grandparents were from there and they brought the red-pepper-flake culture with them to our turf. As I understand it, those flakes are traditional in Abruzzo.

And third? Just the standard "can't wait for your report of youor finds" thing. In other words, as always, thanks.

Ciao

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I was eating in a regular pizzaria tonight in Florence (regular meaning not fancy, 85% pizza, no Wolfgang Puck frou-frou stuff) and I was once again struck by the fact that there was/were no black pepper mill(s) but there was a rare item in my experience, a bowl of red pepper flakes....

Second query, for years the primary delivery system for hotness (in my recollection) has been whole red peppers in bottles of olive oil, but tonight I got the real, un-oiled thing as flakes, just as one would, again, in the US, by those same Italian-Americam immigrants.

Point of clarification - do you mean red pepper flakes literally - e.g., no seeds? Because in the US you always seem to get that flake-&-seed mixture, and I get tired of picking out those damn seeds all the time. :laugh:

Thank God for tea! What would the world do without tea? How did it exist? I am glad I was not born before tea!

- Sydney Smith, English clergyman & essayist, 1771-1845

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Red pepper flakes are a commonly seen item. You just lucked out at a place that was feeling a bit more 'snob'. (any deviation from plain-old can be construed to be 'snob'....I'm just the reporter...I don't have a good answer about why). We used them a lot in the Marches, and yes, you will find them in Abruzzo.

Black pepper mills are a bit...'snob'. At least in my neck of the woods. They are there for stranieri...not many locals ever ask for pepper.

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I appreciate all the feedback, but I return to my observation:

I recall when the only restaurants in America that had black pepper mills were Italian
but now
there was/were no black pepper mill(s)
in Italy.

Why?

I think we need a first or second generation person's input.

John Talbott

blog John Talbott's Paris

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My husband is Florentine.He has always told me that black pepper gives you kidney stones.

they use chili pepper often, and the only time I am asked to add black pepper is on Fresh tuscan stewed beans and the stew Peposa.

I have been here 24 years.. and almost never even seen pepper!

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The Italians that opened those restaurants we not Florentine!

Pepper is used on almost all the other regions!

I left San Francisco in 1984... there were some restaurant owners from Lucca, but most Italian food was from Sicily... or Naples.

Still today recipes do not travel much

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Many place now have adapted to tourism, I have even found grocery store balsmic vinegar replacing the classic red wine vinegar, and then bringing you a plate and a basket of bread for dipping.

Globilization

Edited by divina (log)
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Many place now have adapted to tourism, I have even found grocery store balsmic vinegar replacing the classic red wine vinegar, and then bringing you a plate and a basket of bread for dipping.

Globilization

Reminds me of my most embarrassing story:

About 10 years ago, we were in Bella Donna in Florence for lunch -- total rookies. Well, they brought us bread, there was oil on the table. So, we poured the oil in those quait little colorful bowls on the table and began dipping our bread.

The kind waiter showed, picked up the bowl and quietly removed it, very subtley and seemingly non-judgmentally pointing to the next table at which two gentlemen were depositing the ashes from their cigarettes into an exact replica of our dipping bowl. We had been using the ash tray to dip bread! We ordered another bottle of wine.

Cheers

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I appreciate all the feedback, but I return to my observation:
I recall when the only restaurants in America that had black pepper mills were Italian
but now
there was/were no black pepper mill(s)
in Italy.

Why?

I think we need a first or second generation person's input.

I too recall pepper mills in Italian restaurants before they were common elsewhere, but not in pizzerias, and in any case a pizzeria in Florence is hardly the place from which to generalize a trend. I have never seen anyone anywhere add black pepper to a pizza, while red pepper flakes, being a pretty much southern thing, can be expected, pizza, too, being originally a southern thing. Here in Rome, pepper mills are walked around nice restaurants, but the only foods fresh pepper is considered really important on are Tuscan-style soups. Sometimes you are offered the choice of red and black pepper.

Maureen B. Fant
www.maureenbfant.com

www.elifanttours.com

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Funny how this thread is haunting me. Now, I start thinking about how many Italian recipes (in cookbooks written in English) call for salt and no pepper.

The equivalent of Bon Appetit in Italy is a magazine called Sale e Pepe and I always assumed the latter term refers to black peppercorns. The first time I ever noticed little jars of peppercorns w built-in grinders was in Essalunga, a supermarket chain. Then there's the black peppercorn crusts on guanciale, etc.

Nonetheless, I wanted to add something inspired by a book that John Mariani wrote w his wife on Italian-American food. It's been a while since I looked at it, but the pair address the vast number of Italian immigrants to the U.S. who entered the restaurant business and the symbiotic relationship between the food and the tourist trade back in Italy.

While the majority of these new U.S. citizens came from the agrarian south, they often ended up either in the creatively-impoverished restaurants that served Fine Food or in steak houses and not in Italian restaurants. Thus the birth of The Palm whose name was supposed to be "Parma" according to its mythology. Black peppermills at both kinds of establishments, no? At any rate, the Italians involved in these businesses sometimes brought their knowledge back to the homeland to serve the tourist trade, I seem to recall. (I recommend looking for the book to verify.) At any rate, moneyed American tourists were not in search of regional specialties during much of the twentieth century. When in Rome, they ate like New Yorkers do. Generic Continental fare may have called for pepper mills.

In the early years, when newly arrived Italians opened American restaurants of their own, given resources, even the Mom & Pop joints in Italian-American neighborhoods weren't necessarily "authentic", let alone the red-checkered tablecloth place with menus that catered to non-Italians. Perhaps this explains the observation that started the thread. Even in today's "more authentic" Italian restaurant in the U.S., pepper mills are simply part of the dining culture. Maureen Fant and others have commented recently here that Italian restaurants in places like Florence are intimately tied to the tourist trade, and therefore, ones around via Faenza and other heavily touristed areas cannot help but be affected by non-natives.

"Viciousness in the kitchen.

The potatoes hiss." --Sylvia Plath

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The equivalent of Bon Appetit in Italy is a magazine called Sale e Pepe
We have a Zagat's rated place 400 meters from me in the 18th called that and the owner and staff is/was Neapolitan not Sicilian.
Generic Continental fare may have called for pepper mills.... Perhaps this explains the observation that started the thread.
Nope, what started this topic was my puzzlement that Italian restaurants in the US in the 1940-1950's introduced us to black pepper mills, not that they adapted to our traditions.
Florence [is] intimately tied to the tourist trade and therefore, ones around via Faenza and other heavily touristed areas cannot help but be affected by non-natives.
The Scots verdict: not proven.

Much as I love your perspective Pontormo (by the way, that Deposition of yours in the Capponi Chapel at Santa Felicita, was great,) I suspect you're not as old or wizened or decrepit as I; thus to reiterate, I recall no pepper mills in American restos when Italian restaurants opened in the 1940-1950's. Americans didn't know from black pepper except pre-ground from McCormick and that was long since dead. I recall that, at least in my neck of the woods, the Italians were the pioneers in freshly ground pepper. And I bless them for that.

John Talbott

blog John Talbott's Paris

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I suspect you're not as old or wizened or decrepit as I; thus to reiterate, I recall no pepper mills in American restos when Italian restaurants opened in the 1940-1950's...I recall that, at least in my neck of the woods, the Italians were the pioneers in freshly ground pepper.  And I bless them for that.

Well, then, there must be a different explanation for the way my observations veered away from your initial comments to the point of completely inverting your point. However, if you attribute that lovely chapel to me, surely seniority is mine!

"Viciousness in the kitchen.

The potatoes hiss." --Sylvia Plath

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