Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Pepper Plantation

Think "tropical island" and you probably conjure up sandy beaches, swaying palm trees and glistening sunsets. Phu Quoc, just off the coast of Cambodia has all of that. It also has fishing villages, fish sauce and pepper plantations. So guess where my breaks from the pool were spent?

Pepper is such a common ingredient it's easy to not give it a second thought. But seeing it grown and fortunately for me, seeing it harvested, is something I'll never forget. The berries are only harvested once a year so I can't believe my luck in being there just in time.

Pepper or piper nigrum grows on a vine that is staked to the ground. The towering plants grow and bear fruit for 18 years. From the same vines and fruit we get the most common black pepper, the less common white pepper and most uncommon green pepper. The green peppercorns are sometimes bottled when fresh and usually you only find them in recipes for steak sauce. They are much more prevalent in Asia where they are grown than they are at home. In fact, I don't think I'd ever seen the fresh stuff before, and certainly not on the vine.

The ripe pepper berries are actually red. The fleshy berry has a pearly white "corn" inside. The green or unripe berries, when picked and dried, wrinkle up and turn black. That's where black pepper comes from. This was all news to me! Even on vacation there is the possiblity to learn something new, everyday...