I Think Pepper Was Smaller in the Olden Days

salt & pepper1
There are a few things I haven’t made public about myself on this blog.  Things that, although impressive, are also the sort of thing you don’t want to go bragging about because people will think you’re obnoxious with all your braggy bragging.  So I really debated about whether or not to reveal this next fact about myself or not.  After discussing it with my pastor and the weird guy in town who wears jingle bells on his shoes, … I decided I would.

My name is Karen and I ate all of my peas last night.

Now that that’s out of the way, I can continue on with the post.  I have a bit of a thing for antique or … well … just old, salt and pepper shakers.  Mostly of the silver variety, but any old salt and pepper shaker will do.  The problem with them, is I buy them and then promptly stick them in the “old salt and pepper shaker drawer” (which is directly below the “old napkin drawer”).  Because although antique (old) salt and pepper shakers are beautiful … they never really seem to work.

Not to brag again, but I did a bit of detective work and I discovered that the reason they don’t seem to work very well is because the holes are too small for pepper to come out.  Which lead me to believe that pepper must have been smaller in the olden days.  I really could become a very successful pea eating detective if I chose to.

So, into the drawer the beautiful salt and pepper shakers go.  Every once in a while I’ll think to myself … Eh … they can’t be as bad as I’m remember them.  And I drag them out of their drawer for the night, only to discover that yes indeed, they are that bad.

During one night with a particularly stubborn pepper shaker, I shook my arm right out of the socket.   Mind you it was a rather large batch of french fries … but still.  That’s pretty extreme.

Then one day it hit me.  Right in the head.  Like a cartoon coconut.  I could just make the  holes bigger.   All of them!

And I did.

And you can too.
salt & pepper2

Just unscrew the top of your pepper (or salt) shaker …


salt & pepper3

Hold it down, and drill away.  Find a drill bit that fits the hole perfectly and then drill the shaker with one size up from that.


salt & pepper6

Yup.  That’s right.  Just drill right through the original hole to make it bigger.


salt & pepper5

As you can see, the reason you have to remove the top of the shaker is because of the metal bits that the drill grinds out.  If you didn’t remove the top, those silver bits would end up in your salt or pepper and you’d eat them. It could kill you.  At the very least it might turn you crazy and you’d end up wearing jingle bells on your shoes.


salt & pepper7

Maybe the reason they didn’t do this in the olden days is because they didn’t have cordless drills.

Just so you know, the shaker on the right (with the cleaner holes) is the one I drilled out.  The one on the left has the original holes.

Or they didn’t need to because their pepper was smaller.


You could also use a very small finishing nail to do the same thing, (just hammer a nail that’s slightly bigger than the original hole into the hole) but the drill will do a neater, cleaner job.  For those of you worried about wrecking priceless antiques, these are not priceless antiques.  These are old salt and pepper shakers.

I’m a firm believer in using whatever you have.  I do not own any “good dishes”, “good linens” or “good towels”.  I use everything I have.  Otherwise, what’s the point?  So unless your S & P has Tiffany stamped on the underside, don’t worry about drilling them.

When you’re finished drilling your holes, remember to tap out the silver.  Just bang the lid on your work surface.  Then take a paper towel or clean cloth and wipe the inside.  Then to be triple safe, just run a toothpick through the holes to make sure they’re all clear of metal shavings and wipe the top again.

Finally, fry up a massive batch of french fries and give ’em a test run.  Side serving of peas optional.


  1. AnnW says:

    Speaking of pepper on fries, are you ever going to explain what poutine is? And what kind of gravy you use? I feel like I need to get back to my 18th or 19th century roots to try this. Ann

  2. AnnW says:

    Old pepper was really powdery. It is only in the last thirty or forty years that we started cracking our own peppercorns. Did you know that you shouldn’t leave salt in a sterling salt shaker? It corrodes it. I do have a lovely set of Tiffany silver salt and pepper shakers that I received as a wedding present 35 (how did that happen?) years ago. You can always find blackish sterling shakers with dents that no one wants. I had a little bag of them. I think I’ll practice on them. Why does;t someone invent an elegant salt and pepper grinder? I would hate to revert to those salt dishes. Seems twee whatever that is. Why don’t you put all your recipes on Pinterest?

  3. Bob Segraves-Collis says:

    Yes there was smaller pepper back then! It was us, we did it to ourselves1 We decided that gourmet pepper – the kind you grind your self was cool, trendy, and just had to have it. Well, the MCormicks of the world listened to us and started grind pepper with one less step in the process and viola, bigger pepper! Faster and cheaper for them, never mind it didn’t fit through the holes in the shakers!
    It’s a shame I cracked three china shakers though….

    In my precious old shakers I use white pepper. It fits the holes and brings back memories of the days when we were living in England where black pepper is nearly unheard of.

    PS: I enjoy your style and insights, I am a convert.

  4. greenkathleen says:

    You so crack me up! I’m going to start reading your blog every day So I can learn new amazing things and laugh

  5. Nancy Carr says:

    Found how to sign up for your emails. Great. Now I can read your insights and know someone thinks like me in so many ways and tells it like it is.

  6. Nancy Carr says:

    While I was reading about pepper was probably smaller back then the thought came to me to make the holes in the shakers bigger, and then I see you got the idea. I love your blog and your wonderful spirit. I cannot figure out how to sign up for your blogs. Help!

  7. Renque says:

    I also have an unhealthy collection of salt and pepper shakers, old and new! Although I don’t think I could bring myself to drill holes in ma babies…I do however perversely kinda like it when the holes get blocked and then you have to bang them on the counter a few times.

  8. Amy says:

    Any other tips for ceramic shakers with holes to small? I like the idea of jewelry file, but that will drive me crazy because it will take forever…

    As for rice in the salt, it only works to a certain extent. If you live in a very moist climate like I do (San Diego), you need something more. I snagged a desiccant pack from an empty vitamin jar and shoved it in the salt shaker. Mostly works fine now!

    • Karen says:

      Hi Amy – There are small ceramic and porcelain drill bits. I’m not sure what the smallest you could find is. They’re not cheap though if you’re only doing one salt and pepper shaker … they’re about $15 each for the bits. ~ karen

      • Amy says:

        thanks! I’ll have to think about whether it’s worth it at all.
        Also, I realized that my shakers have no removable lids, so if I drill, where will the ceramic bits the drill takes out go? Maybe it’s more worth it to just get new shakers…

  9. Sandy says:

    Pepper on fries is mandatory! that and ketchup. Gayla T, I am not sure how switchig the lids would help. THere are usually two holes in the salt shaker and three holes on the pepper shaker. Seems to me that since the three hole lid is now on the salt shaker even more salt would be dispensed. Karen, I seriously love your writings.

  10. judy says:

    or…put away the drill, hammer and nails. Usually the holes for the salt are larger than the ones for the pepper. wallah! put the salt in the pepper shaker and the pepper in the salt shaker. with your nice ‘antique ones’ it might not confuse others. my family shakes their head in dismay when black flakes shake out of the ‘s’ and salt pours from the ‘p’ on some of mine!

  11. Gayla T says:

    When my M.D. told me to cut down on my salt intake, he told me to switch the salt into the pepper shaker and vice versa. He said that we are not addicted to the amount of salt we put on our food as much as how many times we shake the shaker. He asked me if I taste my food before salting. NO Do you taste it after shaking and have to add more. NO Point taken and he was right. For me at least it was force of habit. Less salt came out of the pepper shaker and I still got to shake it four times. LOL Aren’t people funny? I wanted to ask him if they had a class on that in medical school but thought better of it in case I needed any more surgery.

  12. SK Farm Girl says:

    Thank god you are not an OB/GYN!!!

  13. kelliblue says:

    Fries with pepper? Well…you guys also eat that scary poutine, aka heart attack on a plate, sooo…there ya go.

    But hey, there’s actually a song for FF&P! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2n7yOkeFJMM


    • Karen says:

      kelliblue – Hah! Heart attack on a plate??!!! Poutine is a delicious national treasure! Your country came up with the culinary creation of a hamburger served in between 2 donuts! :) ~ karen

      • Nicole2 says:

        Ode to the Poutine

        Poutine is the best, it sure is a national treasure
        You can say that again, just for good measure
        It is a ooey gooey mess of warm, yumminess
        And it fills your tummy with so much happiness.

        Can’t say the same about the donut burger… In fact, there is no rhyme for donut burger.

  14. Valerie says:

    I noticed the smallness of the holes on my pepper shaker and put the salt in the pepper shaker and the pepper in the salt shaker and the problem was solved.

  15. Linzy says:

    Hey Karen-

    Coincidentally, I AM a jeweler, and I just thought I might add, a little bit of oil on the drill bit will make the process of drilling into the metal much safer (especially when drilling with teeny/thin/easy to break drill bits). Safety first!

    • Karen says:

      Linzy – The metal is actually incredibly soft. if they were made of steel it might be a different story, but these (and most old S&Ps) couldn’t even come close to breaking a drill bit. I’m venturing to guess you could actually make the holes bigger by just shoving a round toothpick in them, LOL. Yup. ~ karen

  16. Brenda j says:

    HOLY CRAP! Did you ever think so much trouble could occur from a simple explanation…with step by step directions????
    For the Love of God People!
    Read ALL information and steps before answering the test questions and skipping to the end~ Geez…. I thought everyone knew that.

  17. Gig says:

    I have ceramic shakers that I love, but alas, the holes were also too small for the pepper. I like lots of pepper. So, I used a bead file to open them up. It took a while, but it worked. The file was actually a little small, but I just kept changing the angle.

  18. Mary from Barrie says:

    I don’t use my old silver shakers since they’re made of lead inside. Unless yours are solid silver, those metal shavings might be more harmful than you think. The other reason I don’t use them is I like fresh-ground chunky pepper and chunky sea salt too. Now I’m hungry for fries, thanks, LOL.

  19. Clare says:

    ALWAYS happy to find another use for my cordless drill. Mind you, I will probably never use this idea, because I prefer my pepper freshly ground. The chunkier the better.

    And those of you who are worried about the damage to the antique salt and pepper shakers: clearly you have not been into a thrift store recently. They are full of them.

    Karen has, in fact, done the thrift store industry a huge favor. FINALLY there is a use for all those pepper shakers with the too small holes, one that doesn’t involve powdery pepper.

  20. Janelle says:

    Saw this, thought of you (having witnessed the great tree/shoe/wine fiasco):


  21. Sian says:

    Well I think it’s a fantastic idea. Not a lover of fine ground pepper (prefer it all crushed up in my ugly plastic grinder, waiting for my Georg Jensen set) but certainly a good solution. Maybe you could use all those shakers for finer ground spices? Chinese five spice and the like… although I suppose they probably neeed to be kept sealed.

  22. Evalyn says:

    Somewhere I’ve seen old salt and pepper shakers turned into roller shade pulls or ceiling fan pulls by treading cord through the little holes so the shaker hangs down from the the chain and makes a decorative pull. How exactly, I have lost track of, but it seems like a cute idea. And slightly less dangerous than power tools.

  23. Nancy says:

    They are very pretty but we also prefer fresh ground pepper..and one more thing Karen..PEPPER ON FRIES????

  24. linda says:

    I remember my parents constantly bickering about this very issue. Dad refused to use Mom’s “fancy” shakers as nothing came out. Mom found his shakers unacceptably pedestrian. To this day, I see his shakers at really casual restaurants and smile. So, it could be that fancy shakers just were never that efficient.

  25. Alyson says:

    Sadly, in our town, it’s my mum who wears the jingly shoes with the bells on them. For reals. So I need something a bit stronger than salt or pepper in my fancy old shakers…and that thing is smoked paprika. Mmmm on fries…

  26. Jake says:

    That weird man with bells on his shoes is my long lost son, when you next see him will you tell him to phone home. Thanks. Love the pepper story, and pepper on french fries for sure.

  27. Mary Werner says:

    Pepper on Fries? That is the real question – who knew. Then I also thought the size of the hole was so we could tell the difference. I think the answer to all would be to stick a single daisy into the hole for an individual setting, a tiny salt cellar to hold large grind pepper (which I use and LOVE on anything but fries) and enjoy both with a flower to boot. Speaking of which, what ya got for boot or old Croc usage? Can’t keep planting flowers in mine it looks like a haunted shoe shop.

  28. Pat says:

    Pepper experts…..I was told that pure pepper does not make you sneeeze and that it is the fillers the factories add that do it to you. I find the courser “better” pepper does not seem to have that same effect as the finer stuff. Or is it just the fact that the other one is so powdery, which makes sense to me. Anyone?

    And yes, my first reaction was, “What is she doing to those poor antiques?”

  29. Melissa says:

    I inherited a set that is nice to look at, but since we like a really chunky grind of pepper, I knew they would never see any real street action… so I was about to throw them out and then I remembered seeing an article or blog about using them as bud vases. And in some kind of throwback to my grade-school days, I sent one of them to my best friend on the other side of the country and told her we had “friendship shakers.” They sit on the window sills above our kitchen sinks, and some day we’ll find our kids have been stashing their unwanted peas in them.

  30. christine hilton says:

    I solved the problem by putting the pepper in the salt shaker and the salt in the pepper.I am not allowed to have power tools.or firearms.

  31. Rebecca says:

    I never thought to put pepper on french fries! I love sea salt & cracked pepper potato chips, but never thought to put pepper on french fries.

  32. Barbie says:

    Love your idea! I have the same problem. I LOVE my antique salt and pepper shakers…however mine aren’t of the silver variety. Also, I have to agree that drilling the holes to make them bigger is much more sensible than grinding your pepper finer….me no likey fine pepper anyway!

  33. gogothrift says:

    Pepper on french fries????? Is that a Canadian thing?

  34. Audrey says:

    That makes me sad, though. Poor pepper shakers. I can’t help but wonder if you could refine the pepper the same way you can refine granulated sugar into super fine sugar in a Cuisinart.

  35. Cassie says:

    I thought the pepper holes were smaller so you could tell the difference between the salt and pepper if they had the same NUMBER of holes.. Or.. because they thought we didn’t like pepper as much?
    Who knows, but glad it worked so well!

  36. Darlene says:

    You could have just purchased some McCormick table grind black pepper – they still make black pepper that will work in pepper shakers

  37. Rebecca P. says:

    Super great idea! Thanks for sharing.

    I do feel sorry for the person that takes these on the Antiques Roadshow, 100 years from now, only to be told they would have been worth one million dollars, if some lady hadn’t drilled the holes bigger. However, after further thought, who cares about that person. I need my pepper!

  38. I’ve gotta tell yah…the reactions to your post are almost as funny as the post itself. Hahahahaha!
    I agree with the larger pepper thing….we even put dried hot red chili peppers in with some of our grinding pepper mills…must be the RUGGED Canadian in us…arrrr. Very clever way to use those old ones though. Doy! xo

  39. Betsy says:

    We’re living in Madrid right now and the ground pepper we buy is more like a powder, so it would have definitely fit in your older shakers. Perhaps that’s what they had in the olden’ days…pepper powder. We don’t like it either. I’ll just say that I completely understand how the old Looney Tunes cartoons would show characters sneezing uncontrollably from pepper. Pepper powder that is…

  40. Violet says:

    EVERYTHING was smaller in the olden days. Except cars.

  41. Del Soden says:

    and yes, pepper shakers did have smaller holes in the 1800s . Pepper was still rather rare then, (like tea) and therefore expensive. Not everyone was lucky enough to have it on their table.

  42. Del Soden says:

    Did you know, a few grains of rice in any salt shaker will keep the salt flowing.
    it amazes me how so many restaurants don’t know this and have ‘gluggy’ salt shakers.
    The bigger the salt shaker, the more rice.

  43. Tricia Rose says:


    • Karen says:

      Tricia – Oh I know, but there’ s a long story behind my pepper grinder. I do like the old shakers, besides. ~ karen

  44. Meadowlark says:

    Pepper on fries?
    I couldn’t even comprehend the hole drilling part because I was still on the “pepper on fries” thing.

  45. Liz says:

    Love the idea… but couldn’t you just chop up your pepper so it would fit through the antique (old) holes?

    • Karen says:

      Liz – Well. Yes, I suppose I could But it took 10 seconds to fix the pepper shakers. Which seems easier than pre-rolling/crushing all my pepper every time I have to fill the shaker. Yes? ~ karen

      • Junebug says:

        I, like you Karen; love my pepper. Especially on my fries! And big bits too not powder. Every time we go out to eat I have to unscrew the lid on the pepper shaker, or nothing comes out. (Well. except that a fore mentioned powder) Not very many places will put a mill on the table.
        Quite often I get those looks like “You better put that lid back on you trouble maker!” When all I want is a decent amount of pepper on my food.
        Kudos to you, yours looks way better!

        • Karen says:

          Thanks Junebug! I mostly use my grinder now, but I love the look of my antique silver ones so I can’t give them up quite yet. ;) ~ karen

  46. Marti says:

    I like the idea but the carry-out, um, appears to result in rather “rugged” (that’s a kind word) looking holes on the shaker.

    When you go to the jeweler after messing up your fine gold ring (be smart: remove the ring before starting to take out entryway tile with a chisel, yes?) they simply put your ring on a narrow cone shaped tool with straightens it into a perfectly round circle. Did we try that or were we taking a Tim-the-Toolman approach to these innocent shakers?

    • Karen says:

      Marti – Why are you using the royal we? What’s funny, is the holes that you think look “rugged” are actually the “original” holes. If you look at the last picture, the shaker on the right is the pepper … the one I drilled larger holes into. The one on the left, has the original holes, which are far less clean looking than my drilled out holes. So there. “We” have no need to take our pepper shaker to the jeweller. (Canadian sp.) Weirdo. And if you needed your ring fixed why didn’t you just send it to me? I could have found a drill bit big enough to straighten it right out. ~ karen

      • Marti says:

        Thanks for the clarification. Keeping all my jewels to myself; We thank you very much. They do look better. I’ll send you S&P shakers, except I’m sure you’d give me notice about silver polishing.

        Yes, I am a weirdo.
        Are you really just noticing?

      • Bonnie says:

        I could be wrong, but I thought she was asking if you’d tried using a taper to stretch the holes before busting out the power tools.

        And I see where the confusion lies. I, like Marni, thought the rough edges were on the worked shaker top. I see the holes are larger on the right shaker in the last photo now that you point it out, but they look rough in the fourth and fifth pics that are showing how the work is done.

      • Nicole2 says:

        The one on the left being, logically, the salt shaker, the holes probably look that way because they have been corroded by the salt. Does that make sense?

      • Langela says:

        Thanks for straightening us out on that. I, too, thought the holes were “rugged”. Maybe you should also drill out the salt and make it look better.

  47. JessieB says:

    Gorgeous S&P set…but honest question: why not just use a finer grind of pepper?

    • Karen says:

      JessieB – I buy my pepper in bulk, whether it’s peppercorns or preground. I’ve never found a pepper that’s fine enough to easily come out of the holes in antique shakers. Plus, I don’t like my pepper to be powdery fine, so I’d rather go with the bigger holes. ~ karen!

      • kate says:

        Look for “Fine Ground Black Pepper” – got mine at Trader Joe’s – a chain of stores here in California (and maybe elsewhere) and a friend buys it at the warehouse store called Costco. you can find it if you google it, I bet.

      • JessieB says:

        Got it! I, on the other hand, prefer powdery pepper, so there you go. :)

  48. Pati says:

    She DOES rock !! Her blog is the ONLY one I follow with any semblance of regularity…LOVE IT !

  49. Debbie A says:

    Don’t I just feel dumb… Seriously Karen – after I read so many of your posts i shake my head saying “why didn’t I think of that”

    Putting that on my list of things “to-do” that will improve my life tremendously… I can put my pretty SS S&P shakers out of the cupboard (not drawer) and admire and use them…. instead of putting them on the table telling guests “they are the show S&P shakers let me pass you the cardboard ones from the grocer store” I can now use my newly bigger hole drilled pepper shaker.

    Has anyone told you that you totally rock!

  50. Pati says:

    AWESOME idea,Karen ! Now I can sleep at nite…;o)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  • Seed Starting Calculator

  • About Karen