The memories might seem distant, but they’re there.

Joan Pacella remembers tasting pepper pot soup — a spicy stew served in umpteen iterations of meat and vegetables — seated beside her mother at the lunch counter in Strawbridge’s and losing her mind over it. That was almost 60 years ago.

Tonya Hopkins almost forgot how her grandmother prized the soup. Her mother reminded her, and it all came back. Hopkins’ late grandmother, Loretta Primas-Hopkins, a from-scratch cook, would make an exception for the canned Campbell’s version, then “doctor it up.”

Hopkins, a culinary historian born in Camden and now lives in Brooklyn, has recorded a podcast episode on pepper pot for the Philadelphia Citizen. She developed her pepper pot recipe as a reimagining of colonial Philadelphia pepper pots, served the way her grandmother would have wanted.

Hopkins is reviving her grandmother’s favorite soup in her own kitchen, she said, “to carry on that tradition that she and I had of me kind of turning a family recipe that I’ve learned from her into my own thing" and "to reclaim it like, yes, this is our soup.”

Last week, she made the soup with her cousin Tamara Davis, in Davis’ kitchen in Voorhees. Hopkins had come to South Jersey following the death of their beloved aunt. Together, the cousins riffed as they cooked — Davis adding more sweet potatoes and peppers, Hopkins pouring in a splash of cabernet sauvignon.

“I saw it as a blessing and an honor to come back home, pay my respects, make a soup in a very communal, collective way with one of my favorite people,” she explained as the soup sat resting on the stove. She was reflecting on her childhood, when she could expect to see generations of her kinfolk together. "That doesn’t happen as much anymore. Time goes on, people move. Soup brings it all together. Soup brings people together.”

Philadelphia pepper pot was, for centuries, more than a dish, but an emblem. It was popular all around town, sold on the streets and in taverns. It was the stew that, according to widely shared myth, helped George Washington and his troops survive a brutal winter’s deep freeze and eventually win the Revolutionary War. It was a dish to try if you were an out-of-towner. It was a hangover cure. Diners treated the soup sort of how we treat cheesesteaks these days.

The soup progressed in the mid-to-late 20th century from classic staple to symbolic rarity.

Campbell Soup sold pepper pot soup from 1899 to 2010, discontinuing the product “due to changing consumer tastes," a representative said. City Tavern continues to serve its brand of the soup, but Philadelphians are hard pressed to find it on restaurant menus elsewhere. In 1991, the Daily News reported that pepper pot was “teeter[ing] on the brink of culinary extinction.” Today, along with elders who voice their nostalgia, there’s a coterie of chefs and culinary historians across the U.S. who are working to to revive the dish.

The concept of simmering a medley of well-spiced proteins and veggies in a stew is cross-cultural, and again, myriad soups, from Poland to the Carolinas are called pepper pot. Many versions include dumplings. One person might say pepper pot has a clear broth. Another might say it’s creamy. Another might say it tastes like beef gravy mixed with collard greens’ potlikker. Experts say the traditional versions that people associate with Philadelphia, a soup that might call for a variety of peppers, spices, root vegetables, beef tripe, herbs, and leafy greens, came from Africans and Caribbeans in the city.

‘Pepper-Pot: A Scene in the Philadelphia Market’ by John Lewis Krimmel. With consideration for the differences in attire among those captured in the scene, this 1811 painting is an example of how Philadelphians across classes enjoyed the soup.
Philadelphia Museum of Art: 125th Anniversary Acquisition. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Edward B. Leisenring, Jr., 2001-196-1
‘Pepper-Pot: A Scene in the Philadelphia Market’ by John Lewis Krimmel. With consideration for the differences in attire among those captured in the scene, this 1811 painting is an example of how Philadelphians across classes enjoyed the soup.

“Food is usually a vehicle or a pathway to learning your history and culture,” said Kurt Evans, a chef who taught a cooking class on the soup last year at the Free Library. Evans, who grew up in Southwest Philadelphia, founded the End Mass Incarceration Dinner Series and cofounded Cooking for the Culture, a pop-up series that features black chefs.

“It followed the path of the slave trade to the West Indies to the Atlantic Coast of North America,” Evans said of the soup.

Some chefs point out that it’s like gumbo, without the okra. Pepper pot and gumbo, explained Jessica B. Harris, a renowned scholar on black diasporic cuisines, likely share the same food "ancestors,” like Senegalese soupe kandia and Beninese sauce feuille.

William Woys Weaver, a noted historian of Philadelphia-area foodways, said that early versions were served in the 1600s in Philly, sometimes called “olios” after the Spanish medieval stew olla podrida. Black women would make stock, then cook turtles, fish, veal, collards, cassava, plantains, and spices together, often served with West African fufu or moussa dumplings. Thanks to the presence of black people from Cuba and Hispaniola, Philadelphia pepper pots, Weaver said, began to mimic mondongo turning honeycomb tripe into a key ingredient. The pedestrians that passed through Philadelphia could gather around a one-pot dish that reflected both the cultures that moved through the New World and black sensibilities. Fritz Blank, the late chef and culinary historian, pointed to the pot as a sign that Philadelphia had been a Creole city. That’s a label not often applied to Philly, but, experts say, it fits.

This illustration of "Philadelphia street characters" was published in Harper's Weekly in 1876. "The pepper pot woman" stands at the bottom right.
Harper's Weekly/Google
This illustration of "Philadelphia street characters" was published in Harper's Weekly in 1876. "The pepper pot woman" stands at the bottom right.

“Pepper pot women,” who were among the earliest street vendors in Philadelphia, were figures who largely went unnamed in historical record, yet still were known for the spicy soups they served from cauldrons, and how they served them, using song or “street cries” to entice customers. Harris sees “a direct line” from pepper women to the vendors you might see on the subway today.

Over time, the soup lost its green vegetables, according to Weaver, and a more meat-and-potatoes version became most typical. Some diehards insist that without tripe, it stops being a Philadelphia pepper pot. At the same time, when asked why the soup fell out of popularity, some scholars, chefs and home cooks say the tripe is likely to blame.

David Jansen, chef at Mount Airy’s Jansen Restaurant, prepared pepper pot earlier in his career when he worked at the Four Seasons. He thinks tripe, once an easily accessible cheap cut, just isn’t as familiar to folks these days.

“I think as people got more refined,” he measured, “they lost a lot of the comfort food that was important to people of the day.”

Two of Andy Warhol's Campbell Soup's works, one featuring pepper pot, are displayed along with his 1985 portrait of Britain's Queen Elizabeth II, for auction in London in 2012.
Matt Dunham / AP File
Two of Andy Warhol's Campbell Soup's works, one featuring pepper pot, are displayed along with his 1985 portrait of Britain's Queen Elizabeth II, for auction in London in 2012.

Omar Tate, the chef behind Honeysuckle, a pop-up that focuses on black heritage cooking, started making pepper pot over the last year. Tate, a Germantown native, said that when he’s making it, he has a responsibility.

“I have a little anxiety about it because I just wanted to do right by those who were voiceless in their own agency and claiming it, you know what I mean? And there’s really no one but myself and history books for me to consider the validation of it,” Tate said. “So, it feels good to be producing it, but there’s a bit of an emptiness in that I can’t go back to anyone and say, ‘Hey, taste this, does this taste like soup you used to make?”

When chefs and culinary historians like Tate, Evans, Hopkins and James Hemings Society founder Ashbell McElveen speak about the soup’s legacy or cook a pot for themselves or others, it’s not just trying to keep the dish alive. There’s a recognition of the history of Philadelphia pepper pot as a black Philadelphian tradition that isn’t always told.

“As African Americans, we have to tell our own stories and scratch back what history was, which didn’t include us,” said McElveen.

For Hopkins, the connection is healing.

“Food is so ephemeral. It’s like here and now,” Hopkins said, adding, “There’s a spirituality to food and how it sustains us, and our unique relationship with it in this country. It’s a very important medium through which to re-remind ourselves of who we are in the best ways, in ways that are good for us.”

Philadelphia Pepper Pot Soup With Tripe

Beef tripe is what some culinary historians say makes Philadelphia Pepper Pot distinct.

1 ½ pounds beef neck with bones

2 pounds beef tripe

6 sprigs fresh thyme

½ bunch cilantro, chopped

10 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped

1 bay leaf

½ cup olive oil

4 large Yukon gold potatoes, cut into 1-inch cubes

2 cups pumpkin, cubed

2 cups carrots

3 cups collards, kale or spinach, cut intro ½-inch strips

2 medium onions, chopped

2 sweet yellow peppers

2 quarts hot water or stock

1 tablespoon sea salt

3 hot green peppers or 2 scotch bonnet peppers


In a Dutch oven, cast iron or other heavy 4-quart pot, heat olive oil, then add, onions, garlic, cilantro, paprika, bay leaf and sea salt.

Sauté onions until translucent. Add beef and cut tripe, stirring well. Add 2 quarts of hot water, then cover and cook over medium heat for 2 hours, or until beef and tripe are tender.
Add peppers, cubed potatoes, carrots, pumpkin, bay leaf, and chopped collards or kale. (If using spinach add in the last 1/2 hour of cooking) let simmer on medium high heat for about 2 hours, adding more hot water as needed. Adjust seasonings to taste.
The potatoes should be soft enough to mash a cup full to thicken the soup. Let the soup simmer for another hour and serve with rice, cornbread or hot biscuits.

South Carolina Pepper Pot Soup with Smoked Turkey and Salted Fish

Smoked turkey and seafood are flavorful alternatives to beef and tripe.

Serves 10

1 to 2 pounds of smoked turkey wings, cut into 4-inch pieces

1 ½ pounds salted cod or pollock (salted fish pre soaked for 8 hours, changing water frequently to desalt)

1 quart shucked oysters

1 pound bunch of collards, kale or spinach greens, cut in 1/4 inch strips

2 cups carrots, cut ½-inch cubes

6 sprigs fresh thyme

½ bunch cilantro

10 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped

1 bay leaf

3-4 hot green peppers or 2 scotch bonnet peppers

½ cup olive oil

4 large Yukon gold potatoes, cut into 1 inch cubes

2 cups pumpkin, cubed

2 sweet yellow peppers, diced

2 quarts hot water or stock

1 tablespoon sea salt


Using a large Dutch oven, cast iron, or other heavy pot, heat olive oil. Add the garlic, cilantro, thyme, onions, bay leaf, and paprika. Sauté onions until translucent.

Add smoked turkey, mixing well with sautéed vegetables. Add 2 quarts of hot water and cook over medium heat for about 2 hours.

Add collards or kale and peppers. Continue cooking for about 1 hour.

Adjust the seasonings to taste, then add the desalted fish and the oysters. Reduce heat to a simmer, and cook for another hour.

Serve hot with fried grits, cornbread or hot biscuits.

–Recipes courtesy of Ashbell McElveen

Tamara Davis (left) and Tonya Hopkins (right) prepare pepper pot soup together in Davis's South Jersey home.
Raishad Hardnett / Staff Photographer
Tamara Davis (left) and Tonya Hopkins (right) prepare pepper pot soup together in Davis's South Jersey home.

Philadelphia Pepper Pot Soup

For soup with a thicker, creamier consistency, add two teaspoons of tapioca or cornstarch to the broth.

Makes about 6-8 quarts


1 large cassava (peeled, cored and cut into chunks)

2 small sweet potatoes, diced

5 strips thick-cut bacon, cut in 1 to 2 inch pieces

1½ pounds stewing beef, cut into 1 or 2 inch cubes

3 teaspoons sea salt (or to taste)

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

½ teaspoon allspice

½ teaspoon ground cloves

¼ teaspoon paprika

½ teaspoon smoked paprika

1½ teaspoon onion powder

1½ teaspoon garlic powder

1 tablespoon tapioca cornstarch

1 medium sized onion, diced

1 bunch scallions, greens diced, whites chopped

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 poblano pepper, diced

1 each (small) red, yellow and orange bell peppers, diced

1 habanero* minced (don’t discard seeds to stir into simmering stew if you prefer more heat)

1 small to medium jalapeno minced

½ pound leafy greens, such as collards, kale, callaloo) stemmed and cut into strips

2 or 3 sprigs fresh thyme

Beef Stock (about 32 ounces or more to cover)

¼ cup dry red wine (optional)


In a small bowl, combine salt, pepper, allspice, cloves, paprika, onion and garlic powders. Season beef cubes with half the mixture, and set aside.

Peel and cut cassava, discarding hard, fibrous parts.

Bring a medium size pot of salted water to boil, then add cassava chunks. Simmer until soft, about 15-20 minutes. Drain, coarsely smash to chunky consistency. Set aside.

While the cassava is cooking, brown bacon on both sides until just crisp in a large pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Remove and set aside, leaving the rendered fat.

Lightly dredge seasoned beef in starch, then brown beef on all sides in the bacon fat a single layer in the pot. Brown beef in batches if necessary.

Add sweet potatoes, garlic, onions, peppers to the pot, sprinkling in the seasoning mix on top. Stir. Cover and let simmer until vegetables soften and become aromatic, about 5 minutes. Sprinkle in additional starch (up to 2 teaspoons) for thickener, stir well.

Stir in stock, wine, fresh thyme leaves and cassava mash. Bring to just under a boil, then reduce heat and let simmer for 5 minutes. Add bacon pieces, scallions and seasoned greens and continue simmering until greens are tender. Remove from heat and let the soup rest for a few min before serving.

Remove thyme stems before serving. Adjust with any additional salt, pepper and other seasoning to taste.

NOTE:Turkey bacon can be substituted by adding 1 tablespoon vegetable oil.

–Recipe courtesy of Tonya Hopkins and Tamara Davis