Schinus molle (Peruvian pepper) is an evergreen tree in the family Anacardiaceae, native to northern South America Peruvian Andes. It is also known as American pepper, peppercorn tree, Californian pepper tree, Peruvian peppertree. The epithet ‘molle’ comes from the Quechua word for tree, ‘molli’. This dioeciously tree belongs to the cashew family. It was collected by Spanish (Franciscans) colonials who distributed the trees by seed into North America. Trees proved particularly well suited to California and the desert Southwest where they became prominent during colonial times. The Inca used the sweet outer part of ripe fruit to make a drink. Berries were rubbed carefully to avoid mixing with the bitter inner parts, the mix strained and then left for a few days to produce a refreshing and wholesome drink. It was also boiled down for syrup or mixed with maize to make nourishing gruel.
There is also significant archaeological evidence that the fruits of S. molle were used extensively in the Central Andes around 550-1000 AD for producing Chicha, a fermented alcoholic beverage. The fruits are pulverized and used in cooling drinks called ‘horchatas’ in Central and South America.
Dried fruits are similar to pepper and can be used as a spice. Children and youngsters also mix fresh fruits with water to make a spicy drink that is liked. Adults do neither drink the latter mixture nor do they consume fresh fruits in normal times. When it comes to food shortage, adults may also consume the fruits. The ripe berries are sold as pink peppercorns, and are often blended with commercial pepper. The fruits and leaves are potentially poisonous to poultry, pigs and calves. Schinus molle is a fast growing evergreen tree that grows to 15 meters tall and 5-10 meters wide. It is the largest of all Schinus species and potentially the longest lived. The upper branches of the tree tend to droop. The tree’s pinnately compound leaves measure 8-25 cm long x 4-9 cm wide and are made up of 19-41 alternate leaflets. Male and female flowers occur on separate plants. Floers are small, white and borne profusely in panicles at the ends of the drooping branches. The fruits are 5-7 mm diameter round drupes with woody seeds that turn from green to red, pink or purplish, carried in dense clusters of hundreds of berries that can be present year-round. The rough grayish bark is twisted and drips sap. The bark, leaves and berries are aromatic when crushed.
The bright red fruit, shiny green leaves, and ease of cultivation led to widespread use of Brazilian pepper as an ornamental plant as far back as the mid-19th century. The plant was listed in seed catalogs as early as 1832 and was imported to Florida as a cultivated ornamental sometime in the 1840s. Since then it has spread throughout much of the peninsula. It has invaded mangrove swamps, pine forests, abandoned farm land, hardwood hammocks and canal banks to form dense thickets that completely shade out other plants. Some populations of endangered plants have been depleted by Brazilian pepper. Possession and cultivation of Brazilian pepper is illegal in Florida where the species is listed on the state’s official Noxious Weeds List.
8 ounces of Wildflower Honey
1 teaspoon of Pink Peppercorn
1 teaspoon of Fennel pollen
Grind the peppercorns in a spice grinder prior to adding them to the honey. You could also add them whole if you wish. Pink peppercorns and fennel pollen can be located at any reputable spice or gourmet food shop. Serve with baked bread and salted Amish butter.
2 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups light corn syrup
1 cup salted butter, cut into pieces
2 cups heavy cream, divided
1 teaspoon crushed pink peppercorns
1 teaspoon French Celtic sea salt
Prepare a rectangular baking pan by lining it with aluminum foil and spraying with oil or greasing with butter. Set aside. Combine sugar, corn syrup, butter and 1 cup cream in a large, heavy-bottomed sauce pan over medium heat. Stir until sugar is dissolved, about 5 minutes, then wash down sides of the pan with a pastry brush dipped in warm water. Place a warmed candy thermometer in the pan and cook the mixture over medium heat, stirring constantly, until it comes to a boil. Wash down any crystals that form on the sides.
Continue to cook until the mixture reaches 244F, or Firm Ball stage. Remove the pan from the heat and with a clean wooden spoon, gradually stir in the 2nd cup of cream. Return to the heat, bring back to Firm Ball stage, or at least 245F. Remove from the heat and pour into your prepared baking pan. Allow to cool for 10 minutes. Sprinkle crushed peppercorns and salt evenly over the surface. Allow to cool completely – you may want to put it in the fridge to speed this process.
Once cool, remove the caramel from the pan by lifting the foil liner. Peel off the foil, and cut into pieces. Wrap with waxed paper. Yields: 60 pieces.