He remembers eating the spicy broth stippled with honeycomb tripe and root vegetables as a young teen in the early 1960s. When he couldn’t find the iconic cans of his favorite flavor as a 20-something, stationed with the Navy, he had his dad ship them to him.
By the case.
He enjoyed the piquant winter warmer – his all-time No. 1 comfort food – until a few years ago when the unthinkable happened: Campbell’s discontinued it.
Ron Bart, 64, was incredulous – and crushed.
“It’s good for the soul,” he said of his favorite soup. “It warms you throughout.”
Pepper pot can refer to two regional soups: one from the Caribbean and Creole community in the American South, the other from the American Northeast. Campbell’s version – the one Ron Bart wants in his belly – is known as Philadelphia pepper pot.
Its beginnings are steeped in legend, rooted in American history and the perils of the Revolutionary War. According to one story, during the harsh winter of 1777-78, farmers near Valley Forge, some 25 miles outside of Philadelphia, sold food to the British rather than accept weak continental currency. The Continental Army survived on soup made of the stomach lining of cows and sheep, root vegetables and whatever else they could scrounge.
A longtime military wife, the thought of the soup’s origins makes Patricia Bart emotional, even a little teary-eyed.
“There wasn’t any food. There wasn’t anything. They had nothing,” she said of the soldiers.
Her husband, a network engineer on submarines, was a lieutenant commander when he retired from his 21-year naval career. He still does contract work for the Navy.
When she could no longer locate cans of Campbell’s pepper pot soup on shelves of grocery stores in Post Falls, where they live, and nearby Coeur d’Alene, she called her three sisters in Texas, Massachusetts and Maryland to see if they could find it.
So she decided to make it herself, as a labor of love for her husband of 23 years.
It’s a labor of love because she doesn’t actually eat the stuff. It’s too clear-your-sinuses fiery for her.
Still, she researched the recipe online, learning of its colonial origins and finding other fans lamenting the loss of the Campbell’s variety.
“Google it, and you will find all these people distressed about the fact Campbell’s no longer makes it,” said Patricia Bart, 61, a retired executive assistant.
After several attempts – and with her husband as the official taste-tester – she came up with a variation that doesn’t include the tripe, veal knuckle or marrowbone for which the Philly version is known, but – according to Ron Bart – otherwise captures the flavor of his beloved soup.
“This soup is both wonderfully mellow and spicy, which seems to be a contradiction in terms, but the flavor is scrumptious,” Patricia Bart wrote in her recent In the Kitchen With … submission. “It’s his favorite comfort food, and when I gave him some homemade pepper pot soup for Christmas a couple years ago, I scored pretty high.”
She used chicken breast instead of tripe and bone. And, as she wrote in her submission, “My husband couldn’t tell the difference.”
These days, she makes the soup in large batches three or four times throughout fall and winter, freezing serving sizes in individual containers for her husband to reheat.
Although Ron Bart admits the texture isn’t the same, the flavor is spot on.
To get that flavor, his wife uses a combination of chicken and beef broth. There’s a trick with the chicken breast, too.
“Don’t use boneless,” she said. “It’s the skin and bones that really impart the wonderful chicken flavor.”
After mincing the vegetables and shredding the chicken, “The soup comes together pretty quickly.”
A peppery aroma fills the kitchen. But it won’t reel in Patricia Bart. No matter how satisfying it smells, “It’s too spicy for me,” she said. “But he loves it.”
Philadelphia Pepper Pot Chicken Soup
From Patricia Bart of Post Falls
3 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 stalks celery, finely minced
1/2 yellow pepper, finely minced
1/2 orange pepper, finely minced
1 medium onion, finely minced
1 tablespoon garlic, minced
1 to 2 cups cooked chicken breast, finely shredded
2 bay leaves
1/2 teaspoon thyme
1 can (16 ounces) crushed tomatoes
1 medium potato, finely diced
3 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 cup low-sodium beef broth
4 cups water
1 to 2 teaspoons cayenne pepper, to taste
Fresh ground pepper
1 tablespoon dried parsley
Melt butter and olive oil in stock pot, add ¼ cup water. Add the celery, yellow and orange peppers, and sauté 5 minutes. Add onions, sauté another 1 to 2 minutes until onions are translucent, then add garlic.
While vegetables are sautéing, finely shred 1 to 2 cups chicken. Add chicken and remaining ingredients through cayenne pepper to pot, cover and simmer 20 minutes, until potatoes are tender. Add salt, pepper and parsley to taste.