Philadelphia Pepper Pot


Philadelphia pepper pot, a spicy stew-like dish comprised of tripe, other inexpensive cuts of meat, vegetables, and an abundance of spices and hot peppers, is related to the pepper pot soup of the Caribbean region. By the early nineteenth century, the dish had developed characteristics making it uniquely Philadelphian. Philadelphia pepper pot became popular throughout the country before declining in the early twenty-first century. Although it disappeared from most store shelves and menus, pepper pot could still be found in select restaurants in the Philadelphia area.

Pepper pot (also known as “pepperpot” or “pepper-pot”) came to the Philadelphia area in the mid-eighteenth century from the West Indies region of the Caribbean, at that time connected with the city through trade. A hybrid of Spanish and West African food traditions, pepper pot originated in two versions, one based in cassareep, a sweet and sour syrup derived from the bitter and poisonous cassava, and the other using callaloo, a dish made from greens that originated in West Africa. Edward “Ned” Ward (1667-1731), an English satirist who visited Jamaica in the late seventeenth century, wrote that after eating just a few spoonfuls, all he wanted was “a drop of water to cool [his] tongue.”

Most likely, enslaved Africans brought an indigenous version of pepper pot based on callaloo to Philadelphia in the mid-eighteenth century. Like many Native American, African, and Europe an dishes, especially among the poorer classes, pepper pot was a communal dish. Dishes of this type had no specific recipe, only general guidelines to follow—meat, vegetables, and other available ingredients slowly cooked in one pot and typically eaten with bread. According to tradition the remnants from one day’s meal became the basis for the next, resulting in a dish that could last for decades or even a century.

“West-India Pepper Pot”

By the late eighteenth century, pepper pot had become well known in the American colonies. A recipe for “A West-India Pepper Pot,” clearly indicating the popular belief about the dish’s origins, appeared in the first cookbook produced in America for an American audience, The New Art of Cookery, published in Philadelphia in 1792. The recipe called for a variety of meat, including veal, mutton, ham, and beef; vegetables including onions, carrots, celery, leeks, turnips, and greens; simple dumplings made of flour and water; and spices including all-spice, cloves, and mace. One of the last steps was to “season it very hot with Cayan pepper and salt,” emphasizing the heat associated with the dish.

Booklet describing the street cries of Philadelphia.
This 1810 booklet describes the street cries of Philadelphia, named after the calls made by street vendors hawking their wares in the city’s market stalls. (Historical Society of Pennsylvania)

Pepper pot became more prominent and characteristic of Philadelphia by the early nineteenth century. The Cries of Philadelphia, published in 1810, included a wood-cut illustration titled “Pepper Pot, smoking hot,” and described the “numerous black women” who sold a “pleasant feast” of pepper pot “made chiefly of tripe, ox-feet, and other cheap animal substances, with a great portion of spice” in markets and on street corners. In 1811, a similar scene titled Pepper-Pot was exhibited at the Philadelphia Academy of the Fine Arts by John Lewis Krimmel (1786-1821), an early American genre painter. The painting shows an African American woman selling pepper pot to a diverse group of customers. Created during a period when Philadelphia had one of the largest free black populations in the country, these images documented black women’s work as entrepreneurial street vendors, an alternative to domestic work when options for employment were limited.

Philadelphia pepper pot became well known throughout the country. By the late nineteenth century, advertisements for restaurants serving “Philadelphia” pepper pot as well as recipes appeared throughout Pennsylvania, the Midwest, New Orleans, and Hawaii.  One recipe noted that the cook could add “any other herb or vegetable your taste demands,” much like earlier versions. An account written in 1894 by a New Yorker visiting Philadelphia described pepper pot as a regional dish unique to Philadelphia, much like scrapple, and commented that anyone asking for it in other cities “would be looked upon as a candidate for an asylum.” In 1901, the Clover Club in Philadelphia advertised that pepper pot would be served on its Thanksgiving menu. A later article in San Francisco poked fun at the menu, noting “surely such a combination would never pass muster outside of Pennsylvania.”

Canned Soup

The first canned version of Philadelphia pepper pot appeared in the early twentieth century as one of the original soup offerings sold for 12 cents a can by Camden-based Campbell Soup Company. By 1927, Campbell’s advertised it as the same version “served at the favorite club of Philadelphia’s early Colonial aristocracy,” despite the dish’s origin as a street food.

Campbell Soup advertisement for their pepper pot cans.
The Campbell Soup Company began selling the first canned version of pepper pot in 1927. This 1934 advertisement draws upon the historical roots of pepper pot within colonial Philadelphia to entice customers. (Internet Archive)

Throughout the early twentieth century, Philadelphia pepper pot remained nationally popular. Restaurants advertised it as a special offering, newspapers published recipes, and cookbooks featured a variety of recipes, many including the traditional tripe. Although the dish dipped in popularity by the mid-twentieth century, it resurged around the United States’ bicentennial celebration in 1976 because of a supposed connection between pepper pot and the Revolutionary War. Legend had it, incorrectly, that pepper pot had been invented to nourish the troops at Valley Forge after their defeat by the British at the Battle of Germantown.

By the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, Philadelphia pepper pot fell out of favor, although it continued to be made by home cooks. Many institutions that had served it as a staple dish, such as the Four Seasons Hotel and the Union League of Philadelphia, removed it from their menus.  Campbell’s and Old Original Bookbinder’s, a food division created by a restaurant of the same name in Philadelphia to sell packaged versions of their soups, condiments, and sauces, also stopped selling canned pepper pot by 2018.  Although Philadelphia pepper pot sometimes appeared as a special at restaurants, it could be found consistently in just a few locations, such as the colonial-themed, reconstructed City Tavern, which advertised it as West Indies Pepperpot Soup, “a spicy colonial classic,” and the specialty store Rieker’s Prime Meats.

Philadelphia pepper pot originated in the West Indies and migrated to Philadelphia with enslaved Africans, providing them and their free descendants with an inexpensive meal and a ware to sell in markets. For more than a century, Philadelphia pepper pot was a both a popular street food and a specialty dish at high-end restaurants.

Theresa Altieri Taplin earned an M.A. in history from Villanova University. She is a Certified Archivist and museum professional in Philadelphia.

Copyright 2020, Rutgers University


Pepper-Pot: A Scene in the Philadelphia Market

Philadelphia Museum of Art

John Lewis Krimmel (1786–1821) was born in Ebingen, Germany, and spent his early life working as a clerk. He immigrated to Philadelphia in 1809 to support his brother’s business. Under the tutelage of the German artist Alexander Rider, Krimmel learned how to paint miniature portraits and eventually left his brother’s business to pursue portrait painting as a profession. He later branched out into genre scenes, which depict everyday life through the activities of common people. In 1811, Rider exhibited his first oil painting, Pepper-Pot: A Scene in the Philadelphia Market, at the Philadelphia Academy of the Fine Arts. A soup vender served as the centerpiece of this composition, capturing the intersection of race and class that occurred within the market stalls of Philadelphia during the early nineteenth century.

The Cries of Philadelphia

Historical Society of Pennsylvania

Pepper pot became a common sight on the streets and in the market stalls of Philadelphia by the late eighteenth century. This page from a small 1810 booklet titled The Cries of Philadelphia describes the “numerous black women” who sold a “pleasant feast” of pepper pot “made chiefly of tripe, ox-feet, and other cheap animal substances, with a great portion of spice” in markets and on street corners. Pepper pot vendors often cried “Pepper Pot, smoking hot” as they hawked their product, which served as a cheap meal. The booklet also includes numerous wood engravings, including scenes of customers standing around a pepper pot soup, a man selling watermelons, and a woman selling peaches.

Campbell Soup Company Pepper Pot Advertisement

Internet Archive

Fruit merchant Joseph Campbell (1817–1900) and icebox manufacturer Abram Anderson partnered in 1869 to can tomatoes, vegetables, and other products in Camden, New Jersey. The firm changed hands and names several times over the next five decades, eventually reincorporating as the Campbell Soup Company in 1922. The company introduced the first canned version of Philadelphia pepper pot in the early twentieth century as one of their original soup offerings sold for 12 cents a can. This 1934 advertisement draws upon the colonial roots of pepper pot within Philadelphia and tempts customers with “morsels of tender meat; diced potatoes and carrots, wholesome macaroni dumplings.” Campbell’s discontinued the flavor in 2010, although it remains in production in Canada.

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Time Periods



Related Reading

Goucher, Candice. Congotay! Congotay! A Global History of Caribbean Food. New York: Routledge, 2015.

Hines, Mary Anne, Gordon Marshall and William Woys Weaver. The Larder Invaded: Reflections on Three Centuries of Philadelphia Food and Drink. Philadelphia: The Library Company of Philadelphia and the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, 1987.

Rumble, Victoria R. Soup through the Ages: A Culinary History with Period Recipes. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, Inc., 2009.

Seaver, William. Thirty-Five Receipts from “The Larder Invaded.” Philadelphia: The Library Company of Philadelphia, 1986.

Wright, Clifford A. The Best Soups in the World. Hoboken, N.J.: John Wiley & Sons Inc., 2010

Related Places

City Tavern, 138 S. Second Street at Walnut Street, Philadelphia.

New Market and Head House, South Second Street between Pine and Lombard Streets, Philadelphia.

Rieker’s Prime Meats, 7979 Oxford Avenue, Philadelphia.



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