Saturday, December 29, 2012

LID: The Soup The Won The American Revolutionary War

Man in period dress at Washington's HQ in Valley Forge National Park
by: Kris Gabbard

December 29

Pepper Pot Day

I have to admit I had never heard of the Philadelphia Pepper Pot until today.  Pepper pot is a thick stew comprised of beef tripe, vegetables, pepper and other seasonings. It was first made on December 29, 1777 by General George Washington's chef, Christopher Ludwick (sometimes his last name is spelled  Ludwig). 

A Harsh Winter 
By the time the winter of 1777 had hit Valley Forge, the American forces moral under General George Washington had already been waning. Under Washington's leadership, the Continental Army had been defeated at Germantown, Paoli and Brandywine. After the army was defeated at Germantown, General Washington lead his demoralized group to Valley Forge to camp for the winter and regroup for battle under warmer conditions. Valley Forge was located on high ground and close to the Schuylkill River. It provided a defensible positions should the British decided to attack. Located approximately 20 miles northwest of Philadelphia it was close to the city that Washington could maintain pressure upon the British.

Washington and his men arrived at Valley Forge on December 19, 1777. Despite the three months of defeats, 12,000 of Washington's men were in good spirits. 

Chevalier de Pontgibaud, a French noble who had been imprisoned and volunteered to serve under General George Washington, had written after arriving at Valley Forge in December of 1777, 

"That celebrated man - an ambassador who amused himself with science, which he adroitly made to assist him in his diplomatic work - said, when some friends came to Passy to condole with him on the fall of Philadelphia: 'You are mistaken; it is not the British army that has taken Philadelphia, but Philadelphia that has taken the British army.' The cunning old diplomatist was right. The capital of Pennsylvania had already done for the British what Capua did in a few months for the soldiers of Hannibal. The Americans the 'insurgents' as they were called - camped at Valley Forge; the British officers, who were in the city, gave themselves up to pleasure; there were continual balls and other amusements; the troops were idle and enervated by inaction, and the generals undertook nothing all the winter.

Soon I came in sight of the camp. My imagination had pictured an army with uniforms, the glitter of arms, standards, etc., in short, military pomp of all sorts; Instead of the imposing spectacle I expected, I saw, grouped together or standing alone, a few militiamen, poorly clad, and for the most part without shoes - many of them badly armed, but all well supplied with provisions, and I noticed that tea and sugar formed part of their rations. I did not then know that this was not unusual, and I laughed, for it made me think of the recruiting sergeants on the Quai de la Ferraille at Paris, who say to the yokels, 'You will want for nothing when you are in the regiment, but if bread should run short you must not mind eating cakes.' Here the soldiers had tea and sugar. In passing through the camp I also noticed soldiers wearing cotton nightcaps under their hats, and some having for cloaks or greatcoats coarse woolen blankets, exactly like those provided for the patients in our French hospitals. I learned afterwards that these were the officers and generals.

Such, in strict truth, was, at the time I came amongst them, the appearance of this armed mob, the leader of whom was the man who has rendered the name of Washington famous; such were the colonists - unskilled warriors who learned in a few years how to conquer the finest troops that England could send against them. Such also, at the beginning of the War of Independence, was the state of want in the insurgent army, and such was the scarcity of money, and the poverty of that government, now so rich, powerful, and prosperous, that its notes, called Continental paper money, were nearly valueless. "
"The Continental Army at Valley Forge, 1777," EyeWitness to History, (2006).

Valley Forge-Washington & Lafayette. Winter 1777-78.
Copy of engraving by H. B. Hall after Alonzo Chappel., 1931 - 1932
US Public Domain

Although the men had worked hard to develop a nice camp for themselves the conditions were horrible. Washington's men had built 2,000 huts to accommodate 12,000 men, women and children. They had been forced to sleep in cramped accommodations with inadequate clothing. Up to a third of which had left bloody prints in the snow on their way to the camp because they didn't have any boots to wear. To make matters worse, food was scarce. Local farmers were selling their goods to the British instead of depending upon the weak Confederacy currency . With little to eat, the soldiers depended on firecake to sustain them. Firecake was a mixture of flour and water cooked together with salt, if the soldiers had any. The Valley Forge Historical Society explains, 

"You mix the ingredients together, form it into a cake, and bake it on a rock in the fire or over the fire, usually in the ashes until blackened. You can make a form of it at home by taking some flour and a little salt and mixing it with water until you make a thick, damp dough. You don't want it to be too sticky. (Ask an adult for help). Form it into a flat cake in the palm of your hand and put it on a greased cookie sheet and bake until brown. You could also just drop "globs" of the dough onto the cookie sheet and let them bake like cookies. The final product will be a very hard, not very tasty "biscuit" that served as food for the soldiers during the Revolutionary War when their regular rations were not available."

The Pepper Pot 

General Washington had written, 

"Unless some great and capital change suddenly takes place," he wrote, "this Army must inevitably ... Starve, dissolve, or disperse, in order to obtain subsistence in the best manner they can."

In an effort to lift moral and sustain his troops, General Washington ordered Christopher Ludwick or Ludwig to create something "that will warm and strengthen the body of a soldier and inspire his flagging spirit." Christopher Ludwick had immigrated the colonies from Germany and was very familiar with dumplings. It may be also have had African American influences as well.

Pepper Pot had been in the New World by the time Christopher Columbus had arrived. It had been a staple meal of the Caribs and Arawak tribes in the Caribbean by the time of Christopher Columbus discovered Trinidad. You can learn more and how to make this traditional dish at 

Another indigenous version of the Pepper Pot is found in West Africa. The pepper pot had entered the United States in the 16th - 17th centuries via the West African-Caribbean-Colonial slave port / trade triangle, which included Philadelphia. In 1775, General Washington had authorized the enlistment of freed slaves to serve in the Continental Army. The freed slaves would have known about Pepper Pot already. It is more believable that these freed slaves taught Christopher Ludwick how to make the stew.  

Here is the recipe via

Philadelphia pepper pot

Serves 6

1.5lb cleaned, precooked honeycomb tripe
3 tbsps butter
2 onions, chopped
2 cloves garlic, sliced
2 carrots, diced
2 sticks celery, diced
Bunch fresh thyme
Bunch fresh rosemary
3 bay leaves
3 cloves
3-5 tbsps black peppercorns, crushed
1 veal knuckle
2 litres beef stock (optional)
Cayenne pepper

Wash the tripe well in cold water. Put it in a large pan, cover with cold water and simmer for 20 minutes. Drain, leave to cool, then chop into smallish cubes. Melt the butter and sauté the vegetables and garlic until soft. And the herbs and spices. Return the tripe to the pan with the veal knuckle and add the stock if using. Cover the ingredients with cold water, bring to a simmer and remove any scum. Simmer gently for 1.5-2 hours.

Remove the veal knuckle and allow to cool, then remove the meat from the bone. Chop this roughly and return it to the pan to warm through. Season to taste.

Ladle the soup into hot bowls, scatter with freshly chopped parsley and serve with crusty bread (and with cayenne pepper for those who like it extra hot.)

The Soup that Won the American Revolution

The Philadelphia Pepper Pot was instrumental in saving the lives the winter of 1777- 1778 at Valley Forge. It has been dubbed "The Soup That Won the American Revolution"

The soup kept many warm and well nourished despite the cold and sufferings. Disease was rampant throughout the camp that winter. Typhoid, dysentery, typhus and pneumonia were common. By the end of the winter 2,000 men, women and children had died. 

Soldier George Ewing wrote about his experience at Valley Forge in his journal. You read his journal online at

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