They come in a variety of shades, including white, green, pink, red and black. The color depends on the maturity of the berry.

All peppercorns come from the seed of the tropical “Piper nigrum” plant. About 50 berries grow in spiky clusters on long vines supported on posts.

Black peppercorn berries are picked before fully ripening and allowed to ferment for two to three days. Then the berries are spread out in an even layer and sun-dried for two to three days until shriveled and nearly black.

Pepper comes from grinding peppercorns until they are fine. Most peppermills are adjustable to create fine, medium or coarse grinds.

Crushed black peppercorns or freshly ground black pepper combined with ranch dressing makes a spicy, flavorful coating for baked chicken.

Ranch dressing has been one of America’s favorite condiments for more than 40 years. It’s used on everything from salads to pizza to potato chips.

One of the best-known brands of Ranch dressing was created by Steve Henson. Steve and his wife, Gayle, purchased 120 acres of picturesque ranch land outside Santa Barbara, California, in 1954. They named their new property HiddenValley and started a dude ranch.

Every night, they treated their guests to a homemade meal featuring a salad topped with a creamy, herb- and spice-flavored buttermilk dressing that Steve had created in Alaska. Guests loved his ranch dressing and asked for jars to take home.

Soon there was so much demand that the Hensons started a mail-order business, shipping bottles and dry package mixes of their Hidden Valley Ranch Dressing around the United States. The brand was bought by the Clorox company in 1972.

In today’s recipe, the fiery pop of black pepper combined with the cool, herb flavors of ranch dressing elevate baked chicken breasts to a new level.

Angela Shelf Medearis is an award-winning children’s author, culinary historian and the author of seven cookbooks. Her website is www. divapro.com. © 2019 King Features Synd., Inc.

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