Pick a Pickled Pepper

January 4, 2012

Here’s a recipe for Green Pepper MThe Original White House Cook Book, 1887 Editionangoes from the 1887 edition of The Original White House Cook Book.

“Select firm, sound, green peppers, and add a few red ones, as they are ornamental and look well upon the table. With a sharp knife remove the top, take out the seed, soak overnight in salt water, then fill with chopped cabbage and green tomatoes, seasoned with salt, mustard seed and ground cloves. Sew on the top. Boil vinegar sufficient to cover them, with a cup of brown sugar, and pour over the mangoes. Do this three mornings, then seal.”

Below are Ellen M. Emlen’s recipes for Pickled Mangoes and Pickled Peppers from her handwritten collection of 19th-century recipes published in 2011 by the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.


“Choose the mangoes when green, lay them in salt & water till they are yellow. Then green them with weak vinegar & water. Cut a piece out of the side & take out the seeds. Prepare the following stuffing, which is sufficient for 18 mangoes – A pint of mustard seed, 2 oz. cloves, 2 oz. allspice, 2 oz. whole black pepper (all of them whole/ 4 sticks horseradish chipped, wet all these with vinegar, stuff the mangoes, put a clove of garlic in each, & tie the piece in which you cut out; put them in the jars & cover with boiling vinegar – When you green the mangoes, you must put cabbage leaves all round the kettle.”


“Cut a slit in the peppers, put them in an earthen jar, put cabbage leaves over them & 2 handfuls of salt on the top. Boil vinegar & fill the jar completely. Let them stand 3 days; then boil the same vinegar & put on them again – repeat this every 2 or 3 days, until the peppers are of a fine green color when they will be fit for use.”

Anita Mc Kelvey © 2011-2016 The Philadelphia Pepper Project


The Historical Society of Pennsylvania (HSP) published recently Ellen Markoe Emlen’s collection of 19th-century recipes.

Discovered among a cache of Emlen family documents, the staff at HSP couldn’t resist exploring the handwritten cookbook’s tattered pages — first as conservators, then as cooks, and finally as editors when they decided to publish a facsimile of the cookbook late last year.

The cookbook’s deteriorated condition reveals it was a much-used and useful reference by the Emlens. The home-made cookbook is very organized and even includes a table of contents, writes Tara O’Brien, chief conservator at HSP, who became the cookbook’s editor too.  “It would seem that Mrs. Emlen collected many recipes and made a project of writing them all down, be they for baking or pickling or something as simple as boiled coffee. There are food and wine splatters and other recipes added to the pages. The book was used so much that the spine was broken.”

Noted within the table of contents is a whole section devoted to pickles. In the old days, many vegetables were preserved as pickles. The Emlen cookbook has a recipe for mango pickles. But Mrs. Emlen doesn’t mean mangoes, the fruit grown on trees. Cooks of that era and even in some areas of the country today are referring to green bell peppers!

Culinary historian William Woys Weaver explains away some of this confusion in his book, Heirloom Vegetable Gardening.

“Many Americans call bell peppers “mangoes” in reference to their former use in mango pickles, a recipe that traces ultimately to India. To mango something meant to stuff and pickle it with a mixture of spices and shredded cabbage.”

In his book he refers to 18th-century Bull Nose peppers, forerunners of modern-day bell peppers, but much smaller and possibly packing some heat. There’s a recipe for mangoing Bull Nose peppers in the 1838 edition of  The Virginia Housewife, he says.

It’s not known when or from whom Mrs. Emlen may have acquired her recipe for pickled mangoes, but just a couple of pages later in her cookbook she has posted a similar recipe for pickled peppers. She also has two recipes for Pepper Pot Soup, but more on this another time.

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More clarification about mangoes from Houghton Mifflin’s International Word Origins:
… Prepared Indian style, a mango is not just an ordinary pickle but an experience. Saroj’s Cookbook from present-day India has a recipe for Spicy Mango Pickle that starts with three mangoes chopped into chunks and adds mustard, fenugreek, aniseed, turmeric powder, a half cup of salt, and a half cup of red chili powder, topped off with a cup of oil. According to Saroj, “This pickle will not go bad for over a year even at room temperature…

Because mangoes were first known to Americans in this pickled form, mango was sometimes used to mean any pickled fruit, even if not from the mango tree or from India. An American recipe from 1847 noted in the Dictionary of American Regional English calls for “melon mangoes” to be stuffed with horseradish, cucumbers, green beans, nasturtiums, onions, mustard seed, peppercorns, cloves, and all-spice before being pickled. Muskmelon, cucumbers, and green peppers were all made into “mangoes.” Even today, in the middle United States, green peppers are sometimes called mangoes or mango peppers.

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The Emlen family has a long and distinguished history in Philadelphia. The first George Emlen was one of Philadelphia’s earliest settlers, arriving from London around 1682.

Mrs. Emlen was born Ellen Markoe in 1814, married George Emlen in 1840, and had two children. She died in 1900, just a few months after her granddaughter and namesake also died. Husband George died in 1853 at age 38. George Emlen was a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, a leading member of the Philadelphia bar, president of the Law Academy of Philadelphia, president of the Board of Controllers of the Public Schools, and secretary of the Board of Trustees of the University of Pennsylvania.

Anita Mc Kelvey © 2011-2016 The Philadelphia Pepper Project

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