Peppermills: Not All They're Cracked Up to Be

Mortar, meet pestle...
I don’t own a peppermill.  I mean, I did, but then I broke it when I dropped it not once, but twice in my tiny kitchen.  It was a gift from my brother – one of the only thoughtful ones he has produced – from Williams-Sonoma, a clear, glass mill that cracked some wonderful black pepper into every sauce, soup, and pasta that I cooked.  We were pretty good friends.

Once I dropped it, breaking it beyond repair, I was lost.  Shattered bits of glass mixed with half cracked peppercorns and I knew that life would never be the same.  How would I ever crack fresh pepper again?  I tried buying pre-ground stuff.  No good.  I priced out peppermills at the store.  They were way out of my student budget.

I looked around my kitchen, carefully eyeing my options.  There it was: my mortar and pestle.  I took the peppercorns and started to smash, grind, and pummel them into a fine powder fit to coat any chicken breast steak.  Instead of a few quick turns of the peppermill, I now spent around ten minutes working my upper body ragged to obliterate the tiny black grains that shoot all over, falling into every crevice in my kitchen.  It felt wrong, but it felt good.

I told a French café owner one day, admiring her peppermills, that I didn’t own one, that I used a mortar and pestle to grind my pepper.  I said it was fun.  She looked me in the eye and said, “C’est pas vrai.  C’est pas drôle.”  She didn’t agree.  She wrapped one up and told me to take it, handing it to me as if she were giving a starving refugee a loaf of bread.  I was touched and excited until, stupidly, I left the gift in the café.  I’d be a terrible starving refugee.

Adieu, old friend...
So like some sort of ancient dunce, I still use the mortar, but there’s something refreshing about it.  Maybe it’s the stress release of attacking hundreds of tiny black pepper grains.  Maybe it’s the extra care and effort put into every savory dish I cook.  Maybe it’s the Parisian martyrdom that I get to feel because I, unlike everyone else, have to hand-grind my own paper.  Imagine?

Doing things the hard way, well, frankly, it’s not always bad.  Technology has helped me in many ways that I accept.  Sure, I prefer typing to writing on paper.  And of course the wheel is a great invention that I’d sooner not live without.  I sure do love socializing online instead of – Lord knows – actually having to talk to people. 

But peppermills, you know, I think they’re a bit extravagant.  It’s one form of technology that I’m OK living without for the moment.  When I go home and realize that my mother has a peppermill that not only grinds the corns electrically, but that shines light on what is being peppered, I’m left awestruck.  A real cook needs no light shone on that which must be peppered.  It’s irreverent.

No more stress...

Don't you feel bad for me?

I’ll stick with my mortar and pestle and make a fool of myself during dinner parties as guests wait impatiently for freshly ground pepper.  I’m going back to the basics, and if it’s good enough for cavemen and crystal meth makers, well, it’s good enough for me.