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


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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.


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


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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. Pati says:

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

  2. 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!

  3. Pati says:

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

  4. JessieB says:

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

  5. 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?

  6. 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!

  7. Liz says:

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

  8. 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

  9. 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

  10. 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?

  11. Meadowlark says:

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

  12. Tricia Rose says:


  13. 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.

  14. 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.

  15. Violet says:

    EVERYTHING was smaller in the olden days. Except cars.

  16. 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…

  17. 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.

  18. 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

  19. 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!

  20. 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?

  21. Darlene says:

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

  22. 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!

  23. 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.

  24. 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.

  25. gogothrift says:

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

  26. 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!

  27. 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.

  28. 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.

  29. Karen says:

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

  30. Karen says:

    Yep. Salt, pepper and vinegar. And ketchup for dipping. ~ karen!

  31. 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.

  32. 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?”

  33. 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.

  34. 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.

  35. 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.

  36. 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…

  37. 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.

  38. JessieB says:

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

  39. Nancy says:

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

  40. 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.

  41. Karen says:

    My mother loves powdery pepper too. She buys it at Costco. – karen!

  42. 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.

  43. Janelle says:

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


  44. 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.

  45. 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.

  46. 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.

  47. 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.

  48. 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!

  49. 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

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