Its camping season! It means I can dig out my collection of clay pots and experiment with cooking on a campfire.
Aside from cooking, unglazed pots can be used for cool storage, the outside of the pot will moisten and evaporate creating a mild cooling effect.
“The nature of milk is such that if the milk is drawn (from the cow) and put in a very clean and fair vessel of clay or wood or tin (pewter), and not in brass (bronze) nor copper, and kept in these vessels without moving or changing from one vessel to another, nor transported hither and yon, it will keep well for a day and a half or two days, and will not turn at all when boiled, provided one stirs it when it begins to move as it is boiled; and you should not add salt to it until you take it off the fire, or at least when you add sops to it, and you can add to it sops of leavened bread or otherwise, for it will not turn so long as the milk is treated as I have said.” Le Menagier de Paris (1393)
Unglazed clay pots are my prefered cooking pot. As with any piece of pottery the clay pots can break. They are more likely to break if you introduce high temperature differences. They transfer heat from coals to food faster than my microwave. You need to watch them closely once you start cooking. Stir constantly when is use, and I also like to move the pot around a little if it is on the edge of the fire pit to distribute heat, but this might just be slightly paranoid.
To cook food in the earthenware put in ingredients that are ‘room’ or ambient temperature, the same temperature as the pot itself, or put warm food into a pot that is already warm. Use prepared coals, not a fire to cook. You can use ambient heat from the fire by setting pot near fire, or suspended above but set it up so the clay pot is in the ‘low’ heat range.
Never use them on a modern stove top.
To clean my pots I add water, cooking fire ashes, and a bit of sand to the pot and scrub it clean with a cloth. Rise the pot well.
The pots will ‘season’ as you use them, changing the colour slightly, making them easier to clean. The outside will blacken from the smoke and ash, but if you clean the pot it won’t rub off onto your stuff. I’ve not found that the unglazed pots absorb flavours from cooking.
The pots are very attractive. I have a recipe below for Hippocras that you can make ahead of time and not heat, if you are worried about splitting your pot. This makes use of your pride and joy without risking it over the heat.
I also include a dished that inverts the clay pot to use as an oven or smoker.
To make Hippocras. Take a gallon of white wine, sugar two pound, of cinnamon, ginger, long pepper, mace, galingale, cloues not bruised, you must bruise every kind of spice a litle, & put them in an earthen pot all a day, & then cast them through your bags two times or more as you see cause, and so drinke it. The Good Housewife’s Jewell
Five parts cinnamon, three parts cloves, one part ginger; half of the wine must be white and half of it red, and for one azumbre, six ounces of sugar, mix everything together and cast it in a small glazed earthenware pot and give it a boil, when it comes to a boil, [cook it] no more, strain it through your sieve often enough that it comes out clear. Libre del Coch
* 1 litre wine
*1 cup raw cane sugar
* 1 cup combined of the following dry whole spices: cinnamon, ginger, long pepper, mace, galingale, cloves
1) Combine ingredients in your earthenware pot.
2) Option 1: Let wine mixture set for 24 hours, strain through a cloth and serve.
Option 2: Set wine mixture on the coals, bring to a boil while stirring. Once boiled remove from heat and strain. Serve warm.
Again, pears cooked without coals or water: to instruct the person who will be cooking them, he should get a good new earthenware pot, then get the number of pears he will be wanting to cook and put them into that pot; when they are in it, stop it up with clean little sticks of wood in such a way that when the pot is upside down on the hot coals it does not touch them at all; then turn it upside down on the hot coals and keep it covered over with coals and leave it to cook for an hour or more. Then uncover them and check whether they have cooked enough, and leave them there until they are cooked enough. When they are cooked, put them out into fine silver dishes; then they are borne to the sick person. Chiquart’s “On Cookery” from godecookery.com
* 6 or more pears with stems, washed and any stickers removed
* Sticks from non-poisonous trees, like apple, soaked for a few hours.
- Place pears into pot carefully, stems in the middle of the pot.
- Criss-cross the soaked applewood sticks to form a lattice to keep the pears from falling out.
- Flatten some coals, making a little bowl for the pot to nestle in. Place the pot in the middle of the depression, mouth down. Gather the coals around the pot. Leave it cooking for an hour or so.
- Uncover the pot and very carefully try to lift the pot straight up, off the coals (or you will scoop up the ashes). Poke the nearest pear with a fork to check to see if pears are cooked. Return to coals if not soft.
- Using tongs remove the sticks, and then remove the pears from the pot by grabbing the stem. Serve hot, on a silver platter.