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National Pepper Pot Day

According to legend, pepper pot soup was created on today's date in 1777, ten days after General George Washington and the Continental Army had set up their winter camp at Valley Forge. The camp was located about twenty miles from Philadelphia, where the British were headquartered. The Winter of 1777-1778 ended up being especially harsh and bitter, and the troops often went without bread or meat. Shortly after arriving, some troops almost mutinied, and about a third of the men didn't even have boots. Farmers in the area sold their produce to the British instead of Continental soldiers because the Continental currency was depreciated and unreliable. It didn't look like the army would be able to hold together with the meager provisions they had.

General Washington sent out foraging groups to look for food supplies. It is believed that Washington told his baker general, Christopher Ludwick, to come up with a soup that "will warm and strengthen the body of a soldier and inspire his flagging spirit." Whatever was found during the foraging was used to make the soup. Legend says that the soup was first made on December 29, 1777, and had tripe, other meat and vegetable scraps, and peppercorn and other spices. Perhaps the biggest part of the legend surrounding pepper pot soup is that it rejuvenated the troops, not only to get them through the winter but to set the foundation for them to win the war. In fact, it earned the nickname "the soup that won the war."

Evidence contradicts the legend. It is believed pepper pot soup first appeared in print in 1698, and it likely is a Caribbean dish. Slaves and freedmen may have brought the idea of it to Philadelphia. Indeed, West Indian spices are to be used in it. The Caribbean version didn't use tripe—this was a food more often used by the French and English. Although those at Valley Forge found tripe when foraging for food, tripe was actually considered a delicacy. Still, although pepper pot soup may not have been invented at Valley Forge, it could have been cooked there on today's date in 1777, or during the surrounding winter.

Because of its connection to Valley Forge, it became known as Philadelphia Pepper Pot soup. The soup was depicted in John Lewis Krimmel's famous painting, Pepper-Pot: A Scene in the Philadelphia Market, in 1811. Pepper pot soup no longer is that popular, even in Philadelphia, although some restaurants still serve it there and elsewhere.

How to Observe National Pepper Pot Day

Celebrate the day by making some pepper pot soup! You could eat it at a restaurant as well, and your best chance to find it is probably in Philadelphia. If you do happen to be in Philadelphia, you could stop at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, where Pepper-Pot: A Scene in the Philadelphia Market may be on display. You could also visit nearby Valley Forge National Historical Park. If you feel like spending the day at home, you could eat your homemade pepper pot soup and read a book about General Washington and his troops' winter at Valley Forge.

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