I'm thoroughly enjoying the surprising, light tingling sensation going on in my mouth right now- the result of Tasmanian pepper berries.
These small, shriveled, dried black berries are also referred to as Mountain Pepper. They grow in Tasmania on a native shrub that can reach five meters in height. It's leaves are dark green with distinctive crimson stems, and it thrives in cool, wet habitats from sea level to the high altitude regions throughout the island. Hand harvested during their fall season, March through May, they're used locally to flavor everything from meat to breads, pastas, mustards and cheeses. I was surprised by the purplish color that they produced when I ground them in my mortar, and that the center part of the berry contained a small hard seed that would not break down. They start sweet, then gradually increase in intensity. The heat doesn't last very long, but the slight tingling sensation- similar to szechwan peppercorns- pleasantly remains and lingers in your mouth.
I ground them with toasted coriander, cumin, cardamom, mustard seeds and salt- a version of garam masala, I suppose. It's fitting that spices were the first product to become truely globalized; fitting that my particular blend combined spices from 4 different continents. When all said and done, it tasted pretty good on my local carrots, celery, potato and cherry tomatoes when roasted in a hot oven. The piece de resistance was an egg cracked in the center of the hot pan and cooked until over easy- as always, a fresh yolk is the only sauce required.