Last week, I was watching a rerun of the Barefoot Contessa on Food Network and I heard Ina Garten explain that she grinds her peppercorns in a spice mill and then keeps them in a little bowl next to the salt on her counter. As she spoke, she took pinches of both salt and pepper from cute little white dishes and tossed them into whatever she was cooking.
Switch to last night. I had insomnia and pulled an old Josephine Tey off the shelf. There, toward the end, the detective is thwarted by his captive tossing the contents of an entire pepper pot into Inspector Grant's face, and making his getaway. Pepper pot?
English Pepper Pots
So, this morning I went and searched for pepper pots and discovered an adorable antique pepper pot on sale for $51.00, made of sterling silver, over at Tias.com. I also found antique condiment sets, where salt and pepper were joined by dry mustard on tables of the past.
Of course, today we see grinders everywhere. They're even selling pepper in little throw-away plastic grinders at the grocery store. But is this better than having your pepper ground before you use it?
Grinding Peppercorns versus Buying Ground Pepper
I've done some web surfing on the subject of pepper this morning, and here's what I've learned. First, ground peppercorns are better than buying pepper that's already been ground for you. Freeze a peppercorn, and it'll last almost indefinitely. Ground pepper, just like any other spice, has a shelf life.
However, grinding peppercorns as you need better may not be the best thing, either. A stiff grinder doesn't produce that much pepper - and you may stop grinding before you've obtained all the spice that you need (or that the recipe calls for). Watch for this -- I know this is true for me. Grind onto a white cloth, and see how little is coming out despite all your elbow grease.
So, the Barefoot Contessa does it again.
Grinding peppercorns in a spice mill (me, I use a $20 coffee bean grinder with a handmade "Spices" label on the side) for a couple of weeks worht of ground pepper at a time, keeping the rest of the peppercorns frozen, is the best option.
Plus you get to go find yourself a really cool pepper pot.