More on pepperoni

This is in effect a guest posting, reproducing (with minor editing) a long posting from Victor Steinbok on ADS-L following up on my pepperoni etc. posting a while back. The formatting of his ADS-L posting made it hard to read, and, although it’s not tightly structured, it has a number of valuable points, which I’m happy to pass on here.

From here on it’s Victor speaking, not me.

From: Victor Steinbok
Subject: Re: Olive Garden Repents!
Date: July 15, 2011 2:12:10 AM PDT

There are some complications here. First, the article cites “peperoni” as “large peppers” or “bell peppers”. That doesn’t seem quite right, but I’ll accept it as a working hypothesis — the meaning may well have evolved over the years. There are several kinds of large hot peppers, including poblanos — mostly limited to US and Central America — and the traditional Hungarian peppers, the latter undoubtedly available in 19th century Italy. But, overall, I have no problem with “peperoni” referring to either hot or non-hot peppers. A bit of investigation of 19th century usage also points out that the size is almost irrelevant, as all sorts of red, yellow and green peppers were referred to as “peperoni” both in Italian and in English.

“Peperoncini” is different. Until recently, marketing small sweet peppers seemed silly, so nearly all the smaller peppers were hot — to various degrees. What passes for peperoncini today are vinegar-pickled waxy green or “white” peppers with a rounded end — the distinction will be addressed below.

The more interesting Calabrian red chilis and several kinds of other “peperoncini” are both smaller and hotter, which makes them better suited for drying and pickling (but the fresh ones are also “peperoncini”). Calabrian (Calabrese) and several other kinds of dry Italian sausage are made with dried hot chilis and have been made such for several hundred years (as also mentioned in that NYT atrticle).

Why 19th century? As AZ posted earlier, the OED has two 19th century citations under “pepperoni”, but both with the “peperoni” variant, and it is obvious that neither actually refers to sausage:

1888    Times 21 Sept. 4/6   There were peperoni, sometimes called diavolini, and poponi.

1893    Scribner’s Mag. Jan. 54/1   Where the oyster-mongers and their wives, the sulphur-water vendors, fryers of polipi and peperoni, congregate.

Diavolini appears with some variation in Italian cooking, referring to everything from small very spicy rice cakes to a kind of pasta. Neither is likely to be the source for that 1888 citation. What is important, however, is that “diavolini” refers to shape as much as spiciness – i.e., resembling the horns of a little devil. This can be a reference to small peppers with a sharp, pointy tip — and, in fact, a quick search of images confirms this.

Here is a picture of what it most likely was in the 1888 piece: (link). AZ’s post has a different picture, but, the important thing is the shape of the stuffed pepper. In particular, note that the page I linked to is for Calabrian chilis in olive oil.

But what of “poponi” that is listed in the same sentence. AZ mentions that “poponi” normally stands for “melons”. However, Italian culinary terms are rarely limited to a single purpose, and the same is true here — once again, the issue is the shape, not the actual product. Just so that there would be no doubt, here’s a picture of “poponi” in a state similar to the above mentioned diavolini: (link). Simply put, these are stuffed cherry peppers. Here’s another similar image (link). And just so that there would be no doubt, here’s a page for the recipe for rice-stuffed peperoni poponi (link)

“Friers of polipi and peperoni” seems to refer to vendors who sold fried octopus (polipo) with green pepper–a fairly standard combination in some parts of Italy (e.g., a typical pair of ingredients in making of Brodetto). A combination of octopus and sausage would make absolutely no sense. And, once again, to avoid confusion, here’s a recipe for polipi con peperoni (link).

So the earliest OED citation for pepperoni as sausage is from 1938 — a full 19 years later than the allegation in the NYT article (the article simply claims that the usage appeared in print around 1919, without a citation). I have a candidate for the 1919 source, but it’s not particularly interesting.

Text-book of Meat Hygene. 1919. pp. 183-4 (link):

Curing Methods. — Sausage. — Method No. 1. — The sausage meat shall be ground or chopped into pieces not exceeding three-fourths of an inch in diameter. A dry-curing mixture containing not less than 3 1/3 pounds of salt to each hundred weight of the unstuffed sausage shall be thoroughly mixed with the ground or chopped meat. After stuffing, the sausage shall be held in a drying room not less than twenty days at a temperature not lower than 45° F., provided that in the case of sausage of the variety known as pepperoni, if stuffed in hog or sheep casings not exceeding If inches in diameter measured at the time of stuffing, the period of drying may be reduced to fifteen days.

Far more interesting is 1908 Gateway magazine that mentions pepperoni among many other sausages completely matter-of-factly. (link)

Gateway. May 1908. Social History of the Sausage. By Joseph Greusel. p. 6/2:

Or had prandial cognizance of the famed sorts, the mention of whose names brings zestful watering of the mouth to epicures, as for example Gothaer Cervelat, Thuringer, German salami, knackwurst, Milano salami, D’Arles, Swedish, Lombardi, Holsteiner, pepperoni, laudjaeger, lackshinken, metwurst, plockwurst, mortadella, soprassata Napolitani, saucisson de Lyon, koppa, capacola, in favor with existing customers of delicatessen stores?

Two things need to be clarified. First, the issue of “peperoni” vs. “pepperoni”. While the former invariably refers to peppers (and shows up in Italian books throughout), the latter refers to peppers as well, in the early stages (1861-1916), but later becomes the exclusive spelling for the spiced sausage.

Two years in Switzerland and Italy, Volume 2. By Fredrika Bremer. Translated by Mary Howitt. London: 1861 [Naples.] October 1. p. 366  (link):

The city overflows with articles of food, especially vegetables and fruit.

Immense pumpkins with golden-yellow insides, masses of pomi d’oro, bright pepperoni, figs in ornamented pyramids with yellow and red flowers between the rows, oranges, pears, plums, apples, walnuts, and many more, fill the fruitstands, tables, or benches, or are carried about in large baskets upon asses.

[The same spelling occurs in the German original (link)]

Naples. By Sybil Fitzgerald. London: 1904. p. 61 (link):

On the red-hot wires the gorgeous pepperoni are dancing, roasting for winter consumption.

p. 156:

When the red watermelons of summer are over, comes the season for the green and black figs, together with strings of tomatoes, baskets of the sweet fravole-uva, with its double flavour of grape and strawberry, and the gorgeous scarlet peperoni.

The Gourmet’s Guide to Europe. By Nathaniel Newnham-Davis. 3rd Edition. New York: 1911. Italy. Turin. p. 237 (link):

If you, wherever you happen to dine, wish to commence with *hors d’oeuvre,* try the *Pepperoni, *which are large yellow or red chillies preserved in pressed grapes and served with oil and vinegar, salt and pepper.

The Observations of Professor Maturin. Clyde Furst. New York: 1916. p. 117 (link):

There, in the room with the roses on the ceiling, we had for dinner caviare with limes, a thin mushroom soup, duck roasted over spice-wood, Turinese pepperoni of chilies and preserved grapes, Leghorn coffee, and Turkish sweetmeats.

Second, the previously mentioned NYT article suggests that pepperoni is somehow “smoky”:

What, exactly, is pepperoni? It is an air-dried spicy sausage with a few distinctive characteristics: it is fine-grained, lightly smoky, bright red and relatively soft. But one thing it is not: Italian. “Purely an Italian-American creation, like chicken Parmesan, said John Mariani, a food writer and historian who has just published a book with the modest title: “How Italian Food Conquered the World.” Peperoni “is the Italian word for large peppers, as in bell peppers, and there is no Italian salami called by that name, though some salamis from Calabria and Apulia are similarly spicy and flushed red with dried chilies. The first reference to pepperoni in print is from 1919, Mr. Mariani said, the period when pizzerias and Italian butcher shops began to flourish here.

… “There’s nothing quite like that spicy, smoky taste with pizza,” he said. Mr. Bertolli believes that pepperoni’s smokiness, beef content and fine grind are more characteristic of German sausages like Thüringer, suggesting a possible Midwestern connection. “I’ve never seen a smoked sausage anywhere in Italy,” he said.

But looking at the early sources gives no indication that pepperoni was initially a smoked sausage. In fact, quite the opposite is true – pepperoni is invariably identified as unsmoked. So the claim that pepperoni is somehow a German-influenced US invention because it is smoked is completely unfounded. But there are other odd claims in the article as well — the initial version claimed that spicy Italian sausages came from Abruzzi and Calabria, but the story was corrected, replacing Abruzzi with Apulia. While a geographic reference to Apulia (Puglia) is sensible, there is no reason to replace Abruzzi with Apulia–thin spicy sausage from Abruzzi (Abruzzese) most closely resembles pepperoni in composition and in appearance (although sausage from Calabria and Apulia may be just as spicy). In fact, Abruzzesse is one Italian dry sausage that is commonly used in cooking (link).

Apulia actually makes less sense in this connection — traditional Apulian sausages are made from goat or lamb (salsiccia Pugliese–often smoked!), rarely from pork or beef, except for a version of soppressata, which is typical of both Apulia and Calabria. But soppressata is a coarse grind sausage, often with an oval or rectangular profile, while pepperoni is invariably fine grind with a narrow circular profile.

Allen’s commercial organic analysis. Volume 8. 4th edition. Philadelphia:1913. American Sausages. p. 361 (link):

In America, especially in the larger establishments, many different kinds of sausage are manufactured corresponding to German, Italian, Dutch and other formulae. The following classification includes the principal kinds:

… II. Summer sausage. Well dried (moisture 30-40%). Perishability reduced to a minimum.

a. Smoked. Cervelats and German Salami, Farmer, Holsteiner, Goteburg, Roma, Mecklenburger, Mortadella, Capicolla.

b. Unsmoked. Italian Salami, Milanese, D’Arles, Genoa, Lyon, Pepperoni.

US Department of Agriculture. Service and Regulatory Announcement. October 1917 [Issued December 20, 1917]. Notices Regarding Meat Inspection. p. 108 (link):

Unsmoked sausage known as pepperoni shall be held in a drying room for a period of not less than 20 days as prescribed in Service and Regulatory Announcements for October, 1916, page 90, paragraph 2, provided that if  the sausage is stuffed in hog or sheep casings, not exceeding 1 3/8 inches in diameter measured at the time of stuffing, the period of drying may be reduced to 15 days.

As a matter of clarification, the earliest occurrence of “peperoni” in English (that I could find–1855) specifically identifies it as “hot pepper”.

Journal of the Royal Horticultural Society. Volume 9. London: 1855. [Review of] Historical Notes On The Introduction Of Various Plants Into The Agriculture And Horticulture Of Tuscany: a summary of a work entitled Cenni storici sulla introduzione di varie piante nell’agricoltura ed orticultura Toscana. By Dr. Antonio Targioni-Tozzetti. Florence, 1850. p. 141 (link):

There is still greater uncertainty as to the real native country of the Capsicum, or Hot-pepper (Capsicum annuum, Peperoni of the Italians, Piment of the French), now so universally spread over all tropical countries.

But at least one document from the early period of pepperoni’s existence identifies it as a sausage “of Italian origin” FWIW.

Sausage–Principal Kinds and Uses. By Edgar Guest. Chicago: 1917. [Promotional booklet for Institute of American Meat Packers. Unambiguous copyright on p. 2]  Types of Dry Sausage. p. 13 (link):

Pepperoni is of Italian origin and is made from trimmings and back fat of pork. In addition to the usual spices, ground red pepper is used in these sausages.

Whatever the case with the origins of pepperoni, the OED definition should certainly cover both the pepper and the sausage version, splitting examples accordingly. The peppers occur with both one and two p in the middle and also in singular (peperone) from 1855 to 1920. The sausage only occurs with pp AFAICT and from 1908. I also suspect the definition should say “dry sausage” rather than “hard sausage”, as the latter is not really a normally recognized category. As for “German inspiration”, that seems to be modern fiction.

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