Philadelphia Pepper Pot Soup

John Lewis Krimmel

The Pepperpot Street Vendor by John LewisKrimmel

This soup has a fascinating history steeping in American mythology. The soup is said to have been invented by a man named Christopher Ludwick in the winter of 1777-1778 during General Washington’s encampment at Valley Forge. It was said to have been created sue to the fact that food was scarce and they had to make do with whatever foodstuffs was available, this claim has also been made about the striped bass and the Chesapeake bluefish as being the saviors of American independence, but reality tells a slightly different tale. Soup made from beef tripe was not an unknown idea in 1777. There are countless variations of the dish in European countries.
The dish has seen a decline in popularity in recent times due to the difficulty in making the dish. The beef tripe takes several hours to cook and does not give off a pleasant smell when cooking. Most home cooks shy away from this sort of dish due to the planning necessary in its preparation. Beef tripe has also become sort of a specialty item in modern grocery stores, the commercial chains do not usually carry it and the loss of butcher shops has relegated beef tripe to a scrap meat used in commercial dog food productions.
Beef tripe is made from the first three chambers of the cow’s stomach, but the reticulum or honeycomb tripe is the one most commonly used in making food for humans. The honeycomb tripe is very difficult to clean and requires a great deal of scrubbing and peeling in order to dress it out, It can be bought already cleaned and is you can find it, it is usually sold this way. The extra cost is minimal and it will reduce the preparation time a great deal, so I highly recommend buying it this way.
Pepperpot soup was always sort of looked upon as a working man’s food and due to the increased affluence in the western world, it has fallen out of favor with the general population except as a novelty historical dish in the Mid-Atlantic region.
I made this dish when I was working in a private club in Washington DC. It was not a popular dish, but it stayed on the menu due to the fact that there were a few members who truly loved the dish.

Philadelphia Pepperpot Soup
Cosmos Club
Bernard Meehan

10 Lb. Cleaned Honeycomb Tripe – Cook tripe 1 Day ahead

2 Lb. (flour = Butter)

1 Pound Garlic (Minced)
1 Container Chicken base
1 Container Beef Base
1 Hotel Pan Onion (diced)
½ Hotel Pan Green Bell peppers (diced)
½ Hotel Pan Red bell Peppers (Diced)
½ Hotel Pan Celery (diced)
1 Hotel Pan Potatoes (peeled & Diced)

10 gallons Chicken stock
6 Quarts Heavy cream


There are several versions of a tripe soup which came to us from Eastern European influence. In Bulgaria there were restaurants called shkembe chorba, which only served a sort of tripe and intestine soup similar to this except seasoned with a great deal of paprika.
In Poland there is a dish known as Flaki, which also contains meatballs, which is a variation which can be found in the Evolution of the dish below.
The biggest difference in the soup regionally is the inclusion of dumplings into the soup. The dish I made does not contain them, but it is common in the Pennsylvania Dutch version of the dish. This could have been a substitution used in place of meatballs which may not have been available to the working classes during colonial times.
This dish is a challenge to make for a modern home cook. It will require a great deal of work and time to prepare, it is not for the novice part-time homemaker, unused to working with unfamiliar cuts of meat and cooking techniques, but it is well worth the ending results. It is also a great “catch-all” soup which you can make depending on the leftover contents of your refrigerator.
There are a few people, who still produce this soup commercially in the Mid-Atlantic region, and you can search the internet for markets where you can by it, but the canned variety will never be as good as the one you make yourself.
There is a movement in the culinary world of cooking “nose to tail,” which means using the entire animal or vegetable product and not discarding anything as waste. It involves composting trim and rendering fat as well as making stock from bones and leather or fur coats from the hides of the animal. It goes well beyond the skills of just the chef, but I think it is a great way not just to maximize the sacrifice that the animal or plants make, but also it makes economical sense. Our affluent society has become far too disposable, but with a little practice and some imagination, you can utilize almost every ounce of food that we grow or buy.
This soup is a delicious way of utilizing one of the great overlooked cuts of meat, which should never have been relegated to poor man’s food since it was once held in Victorian times as a soup fit for a king, due to the difficult process involved in cleaning and cooking it. This is a dish that is well worth searching around for and will challenge the amateur chefs and teach them skills which will definitely make you a better cook.

Andy Warhol

Pepperpot Soup by Andy Whohol

The Evolution:

Pepper Pot
Mrs. Rorer’s Philadelphia Cookbook: A Manual of Home Economics
 Mrs. Sarah Tyson Rorer
 Applewood Books Bedford, Massachusetts 1886

1 Knuckle of Veal
1 Pound of Plain Tripe
1 Pound of Honey-Comb Tripe
1 Bunch of Pot Herbs
1 Onion
¼ Pound of Suet
2 Medium Sized Potatoes
1 Bay Leaf
3 Quarts of Cold Water
2 Tbsp. of Butter
2 Tbsp. of Flour
Salt and Cayenne to Taste

Wash the tripe in cold water. Put it in a kettle, cover it with cold water and boil for eight hours; this should be cooked the day before you want the soup. Wipe the knuckle with a damp towel, put it in the soup kettle and cover with water, place it on the fire and bring slowly to a simmer, carefully skimming off the scum. Simmer gently for three hours then gently return to the kettle. Wash the pot herbs, chop the parsley, rub off the thyme leaves and cut only half the red pepper (they usually put a whole one in each bunch.) Cut the potatoes into dice; into pieces one inch square. Cut the meat from the knuckle into pieces; add these also to the soup; place it on the fire and, when at the boiling point, season with the salt and cayenne. Rub the butter and flour together and stir into the boiling soup, and then fifty small dumplings made as follows: Chop the suet fine, measure it and take double the quantity of flour, one quarter of a teaspoonful of salt, mix well together, moisten with ice water (about a quarter of a cup.) Form into tiny dumplings about the size of a marble, throw into the soup, simmer for 15 minutes and serve.

Washing the tripe, even if it is purchased clean is important. It may be difficult to find and you may have to special order it from your supermarket, but it can be found in many store in the Mid-Atlantic region. This version contains the dumplings which are found in many versions of the soup if you can find it in a restaurant. The dumplings I make usually do not contain beef suet, but it is a welcome addition, butter can be used in its place.

To Make Pepper Pot
Eat, Drink & Be Merry in Maryland
 Frederick Philip Stieff
The John Hopkins University Press, Baltimore & London, 1932

Take four pounds of tripe and one knuckle of veal and boil them separately until perfectly tender, then cut them into small pieces and put them in the liquor the veal was boiled in. Add a few forcemeat balls, about 10 potatoes, cut small, a handful of sweet marjoram, a little sweet basil, a few cloves and pepper and salt to taste, then let boil for about two hours. – Mrs. J. Alexis Shriver, Olney, Hartford County.

This is more like the Polish version of the dish Flaki which contains meatballs poached in the soup. The version I made was actually puréed, but normally the dish is not served that way. This may be a truer form of the dish to its historical Polish roots.

Philadelphia Pepper Pot Soup
The Pennsylvania Dutch and their Cookery
J. George Frederick
The Business Bourse, Publishers, 1935

1 Veal Joint ½ Pound Beef suet
4 Pounds Tripe 2 Bay Leaves
2 Onions 2 Tsp. Salt
1 Bunch Herbs 1 Tsp. Black Pepper
4 Potatoes ½ Tsp. Cayenne Pepper
2 Tsp. of Minced Parsley 1 Red Pepper
1 Cup Beef Suet 2 Cups Flour

This is a two day job of cookery.
Scrap tripe; wash in three waters, cold. Put in cold water to boil for 7-8 hours, then after tripe is cool cut into ½ inch squares. The next day simmer for 3 hours the veal with bones in 3 quarts of cold water; and skim off the scum. Separate meat from bones and dice. Strain the broth, add bay leaves, chopped onion and simmer for another hour. Add the potatoes, diced, the herbs, parsley and red peppers, cut. Add the meat, salt, cayenne, add also dumplings made of beef suet and flour and salt, mixed and made to a paste consistency with cold water. Roll in flour, the dumplings, only ½ inch in diameter. Drop into soup and simmer five minutes more.

There is a great discrepancy in the recipes for the amount of time to boil the tripe. This one is more accurate by my experience. It does take about 7 – 8 hours to make the tripe tender. The dumplings are here once again and are very common in Pennsylvania Dutch versions of the recipe.

Philadelphia Pepperpot
The Pennsylvania Dutch Cookbook
Ruth Hutchison
Harper & Brothers Publishers, New York & London 1948

2 Pounds Tripe
2 Pounds Honeycomb Tripe
½ Pound Beef Suet
1 Veal Knuckle
2 Cups Flour
½ Tsp. Salt
⅛ Tsp. Cayenne Pepper
4 Potatoes
1 Bunch Pot Herbs
2 Small Onions
1 Red Pepper
1 Bay Leaf
2 Tsp. Parsley

Wash the tripe three times in ice water. Cover and boil slowly for a long, long time. (The old recipes say 6 – 8 hours.) Cool, remove the tripe from the water, and cut into small pieces. Wash the veal, cover with water, and simmer slowly for 3 hours, skimming frequently. Remove the veal from the bone and cut into small pieces. Set aside. Strain the broth and return to the kettle. Add the chopped onion and bay leaf simmer for another hour, and add the diced potatoes. The pot herbs can be whatever herbs you prefer, or can obtain. Nowadays, you may have to make do with dried herbs which can be placed in a small bag and removed later. Add these with the chopped pepper. Add the veal and the tripe, the salt and pepper. Make dumplings by blending the suet with the flour and adding a little salt. Add enough water to make a paste that can be rolled into balls between floured fingers, about the size of a walnut. Handle the dumplings lightly, sprinkle with a little flour, and drop into the bubbling soup. Simmer for about 5 minutes, tightly covered. Sprinkle with the parsley, and serve. Serves 6. This is the way my grandmother used to serve pepperpot.

Beef suet may be difficult to find. It is stored fresh in the refrigerated section of the store if they carry it, but it can also be found in a canned variety. I have only used the fresh version. Beef suet is the hard fat which has been rendered from around the kidneys of the cow. If you are looking for a healthier version of the dish you can use butter or Crisco in your dumplings.

Dutch Pepperpot
The Pennsylvania Dutch Cookbook
Ruth Hutchison
Harper & Brothers Publishers, New York & London 1948

1 ½ Pounds Beef, Cut Into Cubes.
1 Green Pepper
1 Onion
2 Potatoes
Salt And Pepper

Cook the cubed beef in water until nearly tender. Add the chopped pepper, diced onion, and diced raw potatoes. Season. Mix paste for noodles:
3 Eggs
Flour to Make Soft Paste
¼ Tsp. Salt

Beat the eggs, mix with the sifted flour and salt, and mix together. Roll out lightly on a floured board, until very thin. Cut into squares and let dry on a cloth for about an hour. Add the noodles to the soup. Simmer about 15 minutes until noodles are thoroughly cooked.

This version adds noodles to the dish, which is not very common, but since this dish was invented as a sort of “catch all,” it is perfectly in keeping with its tradition. Egg noodles are the common noodle used in the Pennsylvania Dutch region of the Mid-Atlantic and would make a wonderful addition to the soup.

Philadelphia Pepper Pot
Encyclopedia of Cooking Vol. 10
Mary Margaret McBride
Homemaker’s Research Institute, 1958

1 Lb. Fresh Honeycomb Tripe
3 Tbsp. Butter or Drippings
3 Qts. Cold Water
1 Lb. Stewing Lamb or Mutton, Trimmed of Fat
¼ Lb. Lean Salt Pork
1 Small Bay Leaf
1 Clove
1 Sprig Parsley, Thyme, and Marjoram
2 Cups Mixed Vegetables
1 Cup Diced Potatoes

Use a variety of vegetables in season, making up the 2 cups of equal parts of beans, carrots, and celery; peas, onions, an =d beans; tomato, eggplant, and onions, etc.
Wash tripe, drain well, and cut into cubes. Brown in soup kettle or drippings.
Add water, meat (cut into small pieces), salt pork, and seasoning tied together in a piece of cheesecloth. Cover tightly, bring to a boiling point and simmer 2 hours.
Add vegetables and potatoes and cook until tender.
Cool, skim off fat and season to taste with salt and pepper. Thicken with a paste made of 3 – 5 Tbsp. flour blended with 3 – 5 Tbsp. butter. Bring to a boiling point.
 If a rich effect is desired, pour boiling soup over 2 egg yolks, while stirring constantly. Serves 6 to 8.

Most modern cookbooks do not contain recipes for this dish. As I noted earlier, it has fallen out of favor with home cooks who do not have the time to devote to its preparation. The recipe above does not mention pre cooking the tripe, but I would definitely boil it for a good 8 hours to ensure its tenderness. It is a tough cut of meat and should be treated as such. It will also allow time for all the impurities to boil out and be skimmed off.
I highly recommend you make some time to try this dish, it is difficult to make, but that just makes it more rewarding in the end.


About midatlanticcooking

Chef in the Mid-Atlantic region for over 20 years. Painter, writer and traveler.
This entry was posted in Cooking, history, Stories and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Philadelphia Pepper Pot Soup

  1. Pingback: Influential Mid-Atlantic Cookbooks (Part 6) | midatlanticcooking

  2. Pingback: Caribbean Eats! Pepperpot – Grenada | Caribbean Eats!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s