all over Sarvonia, where it is neither too
wet nor too cold, the Pfepper Grass (Tharian), "efér'echár" (Styrash)
or „Emesz'Batuk“ (Ashz-Oc) is an
unspectacular grass, but well loved, because its seeds provide cooks with an
easily accessible, moderate hot to hot spice. It is similar to the more
expensive, imported peppercorn, which borrowed its name from the indigenous
pfepper seeds. Though it is common, it is not cultivated like wheat or
bredden grain. For reasons unknown the tilth of this
plant is never very successful, despite the relatively simple needs of it
concerning soil or weather conditions.
Common and widely used as it is, the Pfeffer Grass has not only slightly different names in Tharian ("Pfeffer Grass", "Pepper Grass", see Lore), but nearly every Sarvonian language has its own term. So the Santharian elves called it "efér'echár", meaning "Fire-grass", the Thergerim have adapted the Tharian word to "Vevvergraz" or "Peprrkraz", depending on the tribe, the hobbits call it sometimes "Bellywarmer", the gnomes "Fire-tongue Grass‘" not to forget the unpronounceable "ihuh-aooh-LLooahuh" the Brownies use, meaning "Closed Vessel" for the imprisoned "Evil Spirit". Many human tribes have their own term, besides "Pfepp", the Eyelians e.g. "Gnus'o'yts" (Grass of Fire).
"Emesz'Batuk" or "Fireweed" is one of the many Northern Sarvonian descriptive denotations, like the "Juk'yalth" (lit. "mouth burning plant") of the Kuglimz Torik or the "Nose-Blower" of the Black Gnomes residing near the Vindel Mountains.
The denotation of the spice won out of the seeds is most often a derivate of the name for the plant, though the Tharian "Pfepp" is widely used as a synonym. More variations can be found below.
Appearance. The height of the Pfepper Grass depends on the available soil and water. In arid areas like the Steppe of Kruswik with hot summers seasonally and only little water at times it may be only two handspans tall, whereas when it grows on a fertile pasture the tips of the flowers or seeds may reach up to two fores or even more. In spring, when the snow has melted or the winter rains have ceased, fresh, light green stalks emerge from the soil, single tiny spears where a seed has germinated. The more visible ones are those which belong to an already settled rhizome, a tuft which might be already several years old. The grass now grows in the optimum conditions to about a fore in height, the colour gets a darker green with a sognasthene hue when spring ends. The leaves, grouped around a strong stalk of about three grains thickness are long and slender, rolled in at the base and about five grains broad before they get smaller again, finally ending in a needle sharp tip. Initially they grow up towards the sky, but as summer progresses, they bend slightly over. When the days get warmer and summer approaches, depending on the area they grow in, the stipes stretch skywards, leaving the tuft of blades behind. Near the top, they split up in several "twigs". A dozen tiny, white-green blooms appear on these "twigs", each sitting in an axilla, protected by a little hard leaf three nailsbreadth in length. The flowers last about two weeks, then they dry out and vanish. When summer turns to autumn, the grass gets a greyish hue, the little bloom-protecting leaves turn to a glittering silver. And where there once were unimpressive flowers shiny brown, dark grey or dark red seeds have emerged, their hue often approaching black. They are about one to three grains long and shaped like any other grass seed. The colour of the seeds depends on the region, the size of them on the growing conditions. In Southern Sarvonia the seeds of a brown to black hue prevail, where the dark grey to black seeds are mostly found in Northern Sarvonia. On the Kanapan peninsula however the prized red variety is found abundantly.
A traveller may not have noticed this unspectacular grass, though the silvery topped tufts please the eye when one crosses an open grassland: However, a significant number of towns people may have spotted it, though not recognised as such, when visiting the pastures around the big cites. There, where the Rimmilch cow, the baneg or any other cattle is held in a fenced area for grazing, often tufts of grass spread evenly throughout the meadows can be observed, which are obviously avoided by the animals. These tufts are Pfepper Grass, on which the cattle doesn‘t feed, because it grows more bitter the older it is. For this reason farmers don't like it very much, despite its other benefits, and try to root it up. However, this is a hard task due to its growing habits (see Reproduction).
Territory. The Pfepper Grass is a very arduous plant, taking whatever soil it gets, but of course, the rich pasture of a meadowland lets it thrive better and influences its height and the size of the seeds considerably.
This grass grows from the Southernmost tip of the Sarvonian continent (e.g. the Yar‘Dangs) to far in the North (e.g. the Imlith Mountains) in places, where it is moderately dry. It tolerates a lot of rain, as long as the water vanishes quickly due to a sandy soilor steep terrain, so that its roots are never exposed to too much moisture. Warm open grasslands as the Elverground, the Steppe of Kruswik and the Aurora Fields are places where it thrives, but as it is not picky concerning the soil it grows on, it can be found at waysides, in sun-drenched crevices and wastelands as well. Steep hillsides, crevices facing south and rock faces often have widespread patches of this plant. The Rimmerins Ring harbours it not only on its rich pastures in the centre, but as well the treeless slopes of the Teeth.
Frost and the aridness which comes with it does not affect the grass, but melting, wet snow should not cover the seeds or older rhizomes too long. Northern Sarvonia has many places where it grows in large patches, e.g. in the wide open and windswept grasslands of the Kanapan Peninsula and the fertile pastures of the Kuglimz Lands, but also as far north as on the Imlith Mountains. The higher slopes of the Southern Prominent Mountains seem to especially favour the Pfepper Grass and lore goes, that some Ashz-Oc orcs deny that they ever fled the Shadow Empire, but that the abundance of the "Emesz'Batuk" was the reason they occupied the Southern Prominent Mountains long ago.
The Pfepper Grass seeds are however not restricted to the regions they grow in. Easy to harvest and to store and therefore affordable not only by rich and noble people, the spice is traded to the northernmost parts of Northern Sarvonia. The Remusians especially set value on having both varieties, the grey-black and the red, available for their cooking, if only to distinguish themselves from the other ice tribes, who use only the common grey seeds.
Usages. As simple a plant as it is, the benefits from it are great. The seeds can be turned into one of the most used spices along next to salt, in an easy way for there is not much preparation needed: The top of the grass where the seeds are are located is cut and brought home. The next step is to remove the seeds from their protection, the short, hard, silvery leaf. This is easy, when the seeds are ripe and of a deep, brown or grey colour. However, if the grass is harvested when the seeds are still green, seed and flower-protecting leaf sit still quite firm on the stalk and as the edges of the leaves are quite sharp, cuts and inflammations of the wounds are common, even if the hands are protected. Basically, after removing stalks and leaves, it is ready for use, but processing them provides cooks and their customers with different sensations of taste - not counting that the area and the different soils produce of course diverse flavours.
The seeds are harvested when still unripe and green. They have a mild, fresh, but already pfeppery taste; it is probably the best way to eat them. Here the seeds are not used as spice, but as a snack or as a grain for a whole meal. Not much is needed with it. It can be used slightly crushed in salads or cautiously cooked as a side dish to the finest meat or fish available.
The green seeds are dried, mashed and eaten as a side dish: This is still a tasty meal, with a hint of pfepper, but far away from the fresh variety. It is not cooked often, for it is not worth the effort needed for preparing it.
The green seeds are dried, ground and sieved: As spice it is used to enhance many meals and gives them more taste, boosting the original flavour, adding something which can not be pinned down.
The ripe, dark grey seeds are slightly dried, used whole or are ground. Now a spice it adds to the meal, along with the pfeppery taste, an agreeable hot dimension. It has just the right sharpness in taste to give a sensation without hurting your tongue or stomach. Is good in any stew (the whole seeds), used for roasting meat and goes well with every hearty meal. When sieved, so that the outer glume is held back, the taste is a bit finer and it can be used for more delicate dishes as well.
Ripe seeds are roasted very slowly in the smoke over an oaken fire: The sensation for those who love it hot! Roasted seeds may only be used scarcely, even when sieved, for it just burns wherever it comes in contact with your internal skin. If one has accidentally swallowed too much, the stomach will burn like fire, as the intestines which follow and even getting rid of it will be a pain. Eyes will water and the poor taster would wish he could drink an entire barrel of stored rainwater. However, if used by a master of his genre, a cook can achieve wonders with it nevertheless. Hubert Greengrove, the mastercook of Lorehold, has described it in his new book "A culinary voyage through Santharia" as follows:
"Yesterday I had roasted black-hog which was seasoned with rosemint, salt and Darkseeds - dark roasted pfepper, which turned out to be a sensation: First, the joint tasted as usual, hearty, mouthwatering, the aroma of the meat came to its fullest. The rosemint gave it that special touch, the pfeppery taste of the dark seeds were agreeably burning in my mouth. But then, a bite and a hot sting run through my body, but it was over as soon as it had started. That was an example of a masterly used roasted dark pfepper."
However, the above description may only apply for elven, human, dwarven or any other civilized races. It is said, that the orcs of Northern Sarvonia use this hot variety in bigger amounts and that it is often the use of the pfepper seed, that makes an orcish meal uneatable by humans (along with Krrahghi), not the maybe questionable other ingredients. As the Ximaxian Losh-Orcs or those few orcs living in our vicinity in the Rimmerins Ring fancy the hot variety very much, this might not be too far fetched.
Some time ago a new source for orcish knowledge could be welcomed to New-Santhala: Tharoc Wargrider. From him we know not only the name the Ashz-Oc Orcs have for this plant and spice "Emesz'Batuk" (Fireweed) or "Emesz'uh'Batuk" for the spice, especially the Darkseed, but the knowledge about an, as he said, delicious orcen refreshment, the Yrr'la'h'rok, which is fermented mare‘s milk. In summer Darkpfepp is added to make it a bit spicier. In winter however it is heated, Darkseeds are added (Darkpfeff for women and children), maybe a little foridus added and "Emesz'shan" ("Firewater") warms every orcen heart. Darkpfepp and Darkseeds seem to be used much more abundantly than in Santharia or elsewhere, added to every stew or whatever there boils in the always present cauldrons. Orcs just pick a Darkpfepp or a blade of the plant when out in the fields, just for the pleasure of its spicy taste. Malevolent southerners hint though, that this is their only way to clean their teeth and that they might use it to hide their bad breath.
The use of the seeds is so common, that it is often forgotten, that the first leaves in early spring are delicate as a salad, on its own, or mixed with other early growing leaves as well. They are slightly bitter, like the leaves of the lotann flower, but washing them in warm water takes the bitterness away, if it is not liked.
As with many grasses, the tiny flowers which show in early summer get pollinated
by the wind. The seeds form and when ripe are
eaten by birds, small mammals and are then transported to germinate at a
different place than the mother-plant. However, it spreads as well by growing
long roots which form new tufts of grass a few peds away from the mother tuft.
This is what causes troubles on pastures. The small green leaves of a germinated
seed might be grazed over, so that it is unable to thrive on a pasture, but the
offshoot of an already established mother plant can survive much longer and grow
more rapidly. If farmers are not watchful to eliminate the first seedlings of
the Pfepper Grass, he might not be able to get rid of it later and can only
hope, that a very wet summer helps him to drown the plant.
Only recently the new habit of grazing aka‘taogs goats with the cattle was introduced. This small beast, which stems from the southern desert, the Ráhaz-Dáth and which normally feeds on the spiky branches and leaves of the dar‘ii tree, seems to be very fond of the bitter leaves and even the spicy seeds. It has to be observed though, if not the stress the vivid goat inflicts on the more easeful cattle like the Rimmerins cow is contradictory to what was planned to achieve. As many pastures lack trees, the little goats try to jump on cows instead which the cattle doesn't like much. One farmer claims that the precious milk got sour in the udder. Maybe the tufts of the Pfepper Grass is the lesser evil.
Myth/Lore. Lore spins around the origin of the name. It is not named after the spice which is imported from Nybelmar, the Pepper (which has probably received its name "peppercorn" from the grass), but it is said, that everybody, who happens to get a whole seed in his mouth (it does not need to be the very hot variety), tries to get rid of it before he bites a second time on it and tries therefore to spit it out, thus making noises like "pfff" or "pffhh" or "phh", blowing with the exhaled air the pfepperseed out of the mouth as well. What is very interesting is, that the use of the (slightly) different names can be associated with the social class and education of the person who has accidentally bitten on a pfepper seed. So, basically, the farmer who does not care about table manners might well spit out a pfepper seed with a loud Pfff, and another Ffff, and voilŕ, we have the Pfeffer Grass, while an educated noble lady, still in the need to get rid of that hot feeling on her tongue only moves her lips and produces just a phh and ppph if she is not successful at her first attempt. And this way out of the ordinary Pfeffer Grass the Pepper Grass evolves - and so no one is astonished, that the newly imported spice which is somewhat similar in taste to the Pfepper Seeds were called "peppercorns".
There are rumours about a different use of the Pfepper Grass which is told about the Black Gnomes who live in or near the Vindel Mountains in Northern Sarvonia, but as this is surely lore only, this usage is not listed above. The Black Gnomes are said to have such big noses not only because they suffer under what they call the "plague", but due to the uncommon use of the dark pfepperseed, the Darkpfepp, even the Darkseed: They snuff it, roughly ground - as a rappee. This has led to the saying: "[he has] a nose as a darkseed snuffing black gnome".
Numerous myths involve gods and goddesses like those about Grothar and the Pfeppergrass, varying with the location and the tribe, but they are too many to list here. The probably most known myth about the origin of the Pfepper Grass, or better why it has its ‚hot‘ characteristics, is told by the reknown Brownie specialist and writer for the Compendium Rookie Brownbark. Read and enjoy: "How the Pfepper Plant got so hot" (a Llaoihrr Brownie Myth).