Monday, August 16, 2010

What a Crock!

        I've been pickling lately, and have been thinking about the varieties of crocks which have historically been made for pickling and potting foods. Historically, there is not a clear definition for what a "pickling pot,"a "butter pot," or "preserve pot" was. These items show up frequently in probate inventories, and on rare occasions are specified in recipes. For example, as Janine Skerry and Suzanne Hood noted in their book Salt-Glazed Stoneware in Early America, a recipe from a 1753 manual read as follows:
       "Rules to be observed in Pickling. Always use Stone Jars for all Sorts of Pickles that require hot Pickle to them. The first Charge is the least; for these not only last longer, but keep the Pickle better; for Vinegar and Salt will penetrate through all earthen Vessels; Stone and Glass is the only Thing to keep Pickles in. Be sure never to put your Hands in to take Pickles out; it will soon spoil them. The best Way is, to every Pot tie a Wooden Spoon, full of little Holes, to take the Pickles out with...Cover your Pickling Jars with a wet Bladder, and Leather."(page 73)
       I recently came across the probate inventory of Daniel Hornby from 1750 which specified in his dairy 1 blue and white stone butter pot [likely "scratch blue"], 4 brown stone butter pots [likely English brown], and 2 earthen butter pots. It must have been understood as to what type of vessel to use for what was being processed, and it was not necessary to specify since most everyone understood those differences! There must have also been an understanding of shape and size related to what was being processed as can be seen in the photograph from the exhibit which corresponded with the stoneware book at Colonial Williamsburg. These were all roughly made in the same time period (18th century), but the collar, shoulder, belly, and rims are all very different. While this could have something to do with the potters who made them, it is interesting to think of shapes related to what is getting packed inside. Pickles float, so the high round shoulder may have been more appropriate, and potted meats may have been easier to pack in a straight-sided vessel.
       Then again, admittedly, I also understand how the glass industry overcame the pottery industry as I reach for my convenient Ball canning jar, ring, and lid to nicely pack the vegetables and store them in smaller serving sizes.


sjpots said...

I am excited about this blog!
I have been canning also this summer and found myself about pondering past processes.
A friend in her 80's talks about pickle and sour kraut crocks sitting about in her childhood home in rural Missouri.
The crocks in my "modern" home function as wooden utensil holder, trash cans and door stops

Brenda Hornsby Heindl said...

Isn't it amazing how nostalgia often goes with the objects which reflect a more traditional way of living (i.e. canning)? I once visited with a man who has a profound collection of West Virginia pottery, and he used a 20 gallon crock as a trashcan! I have found that historical crocks (pre-20th century) are not well suited for pickling. Twice now, even after sealing the inside with wax, the pots have broken down with the brine. One which was salt-glazed and glazed on the interior actually disintegrated in the bottom and then split open. Perhaps the age? I don't know, but crocks are still being made, and I am planning on making a few myself!