Posts Tagged ‘bean pot’

Mummychung Chowder

July 17, 2011

The Norwich Pottery Works was a popular spot.  Folks in the Bean Hill section of Norwich, CT would remember for years the days spent watching the workmen throwing or helping grind their clay (or in more nefarious activities).  Sidney Risley founded the shop on September 4, 1836.  He was good at promoting his business.  The wagon he sent around the district to peddle his wares always had two big Newfoundland dogs hitched ahead of the horses.  (He also generally paid his workers in shoes, shirts, molasses, potatoes, etc. like many pottery owners at the time – but that’s another story.)

The shop was particularly crowded during firings.  Local lads came around at night to play cards or ‘hustle coppers.’  By day hordes of bean pot wielding neighbors came seeking free heat…

The bean pot was an absolute necessity for the style of cooking then coming into vogue.   A deluge of cook books detailed the many new ways to prepare food as open hearths gave way to Franklin stovesLydia Maria Child’s 1829 “The American Frugal Housewife” was a top seller (until Fanny Farmer’sBoston Cooking-School Cook Book” swept the field in 1896).  Lydia Maria Child was also known for her abolitionism, women’s rights advocacy and anti-expansionist views.  Her book included not just recipes but remedies, advice, and tips for housekeepers.   Bean Pots and Kiln

Nothing tasted the same if not baked in a bean pot.  Potters happily promoted the notion, for obvious reasons.  And many, like the Risley’s, encouraged neighbors to bake their beans near the kiln fire mouth.  Notices to that effect were common in local newspapers.  From a Norwich Packet ad of November 21, 1788: “Baking done as usual and the smallest favors gratefully acknowledged.”  A popular Norwich recipe was Mummychung chowder, made with fish caught in the Yantic River that ran next to the Pottery Works.

…But everything changed on the morning of December 24, 1881.  George Risely, Sydney’s son who had taken over the shop in 1856, came in to turn up the boiler.

The boiler exploded.  All that was left was a crater where the shop used to be.

The Art of the Potter.  Diana and J. Garrison Stradling,.  Main Street-Universe Books/New York.  1977.

Early New England Potters and Their Wares.  Lura Woodside Watkins.  Harvard Univ Press/Cambridge MA.  1968.

The Reshaping of Everyday Life, 1790 – 1840.  Jack Larkin.  Harper and Row/NY.  1989.

Lard Pot

May 1, 2011

The lard pot.  In relation to today’s efforts to explore clay’s vast plastic  potential, a momentary glance at this form says it all.  A somewhat curvy cylinder.  Big deal.  But nothing is a big deal if you only take a moment to consider it.

First, some history.  The “pot” in question is differentiated from it’s primordial sibling the “pan” by being taller than it is wide.  “Lard pot” is simply a reference to a specific function; storing festering, fly-covered animal fat for use in baking and cooking.  The form served a wide variety of uses both in the U.S. and its original home in Europe and the British Isles.  Several branches of the ceramic family trace their lineage to this original shape; handles led to pitchers; constricted rims became jugs; lids led to bean pots and ultimately casseroles…  But the ‘lard pot’ as a distinct form continued throughout.

Actually this is one of the oldest items in the Anglo-American potting tradition.   It was among the first forms to be made in England’s North American Colonies.  It’s production lasted two millennia until it’s extinction a mere hundred years or so ago.  So ubiquitous was this form that it’s difficult, by sight alone, to ascribe surviving examples to a particular period, place or maker.

The staying power of such a shape – passing through so many generations of hands, so many clays, so many wheels, so many kilns, so many decorative fads, across so many war-torn country sides, buffeted by so many economic and technological storms – is something remarkable.

The lard pot could be placed in a pantheon of archetypal pottery forms, along with other ‘long-distance runners’ like the Spanish/Muslim ánfora, the African beer pot, the Central American comal, and the Asian rice bowl.

Unfortunately, the lard pot epitomizes the clumsy, pedestrian nature of popular contemporary conceptions of early Redware.  But when executed in the hands of a master, it was a study in control.  With no handles, spouts, lids – or even glaze – to hide behind, proportions were critical.  The relation between base, belly and rim had to swell out enough for storage and ease of content removal, without being squat or dumpy.

To make a “lard pot” today is to converse with all those potters who laid out the path before us.  Feeling the old potters presence is a rare thing.  But when it happens, you’re in good company.

Early New England Potters and Their Wares.  Lura Woodside Watkins.  Harvard Univ Press/Cambridge MA.  1968.

The Art of the Potter.  Diana and J. Garrison Stradling.  Main Street-Universe Books/New York.  1977.

Domestic Pottery of the Northeastern United States, 1625-1850. Sarah Peabody Turnbaugh, Ed.  Academic Press/New York.  1985.

If These Pots Could Talk.  Ivor Noël Hume.  University Press of New England/Hanover, NH.  2001.

A Descriptive Dictionary for 500 Years of Spanish-Tradition Ceramics [13th through 18th Centuries].  Florence and Robert Lister.  Special Publication Series, Number 1/The Society for Historical Archeology.  1980.

Ceramics in America.  Ian Quimby, Ed.  University Press of Virginia/Charlottesville.  1972.