On the Transformational Power of a Humble Pot



View inside a  clay cooking pot made in Sonora, Mexico. Hand crafted several years ago, by an elder woman who digs the clay herself; each March.

Aunt Linda here this still, cool morning in the Old Pueblo. Today’s post is inspired by the tiny pots I discovered when removing a birdhouse filled with wasps, instead of  baby birds. Wearing my bee veil I safely peeked inside – immediately mesmerized by the sight of beautifully crafted, tiny mud pots. Potter Wasps I wondered?  And what on earth do they DO with these pots? I began to research these tiny pots.  English naturalist John Crompton  described them as “vases of earthenware that the Greeks might have envied.”


Tiny mud pots

Eric Grissell, in his book BEES, WASPS, and GARDENS writes “unlike many wasps that simply place their egg on the prey or at the bottom of a cell, potter wasps suspend their eggs by a thread from the top of the pot. When it hatches, the wasp larva is hanging directly over it’s supper, and it remains attached safely to it’s line until the first caterpillar or two is consumed, then it is bold enough to drop down and feast among it’s hosts. Apparently, the reason for this odd behavior is that female potter wasps only partially paralyze their hosts, which are still capable of some movement. A tiny wasp larva might be crushed if it had no way to retreat from its twitching dinner plate, so it essentially becomes a trapeze artist.”(p177)

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insect potter in action

Potter Wasps may not cook per se; but they do collect mud, shape pots, and provide meals  in those pots for their larva. Which gets me thinking about pots. And how humans feed – and have fed ourselves – over time. How might such a simple thing as a fired clay pot have transformed our  lives?


Simple Cook pot whose “insides” are shown in the top photo. 

Research offered by Michael Pollan in his book COOKED fascinates me. Before the technology of fired clay cooking pots humans heated stones (found in archaeological sites as ‘burned stones’) and fired clay balls. These “cooking stones” were added to the water held in animal skins or watertight baskets (which were not fire proof; that would come later with firing clay) to boil water. Boiling water – another thing we take for granted – allowed humans to transform previously inedible foods edible. This opened wide up our culinary and nutritional world – and seeds, nuts, grains, sometimes rendering some toxic plants safe to eat.

Pollan writes “the cook pot is a kind of second stomach, and external organ of digestion” … “these auxiliary clay stomachs made it possible for humans to thrive on a diet of stored dry seeds which in turn led to the accumulation of wealth, the division of labor, and the rise of civilization. These developments are usually credited to the rise of agriculture, and rightly so, but they depend as much on the cook pot as on the plow.” (154)


Stew forming with vegetables and, yes you saw right,  some chicken feet; no part goes unused.

Todays Recipe is to add some reverence for the deceptively simple cook pot – (as well as for the act of boiling water) – to your very favorite ingredients. There is no need to use a clay pot; nor to even get complicated. You might add this reverence to making a pot of beans, your grandmothers favorite soup or stew, or even to jam making.




On Fire

A (Controlled) Fire


Happy New Year. Aunt Linda here this January 1st, to celebrate transformational fire.

When do you cook or bake with fire?  Like so much in life we can take fire, and it’s transformative power, for granted.

A recent National Geographic article, A Brief History of Cooking With Fire,  is thought provoking. In it Rebecca Rupp, introduces us to Harvard anthropologist and primatologist Richard Wrangham, whose 2009 book Catching Fire; How cooking Made Us Human, suggests that the control of fire and the discovery of cooking may account for the dramatic changes in our ancestors physiology (reduction of large gut to a smaller one, and an increase in brain size). I encourage you to explore this on your own and come to your own conclusions. My personal  recommendation is Michael Pollan’s 2013 book, COOKED for a thorough and insightful perspective.

It is clear that fire was of critical importance to our ancestors. Rupp, in her article ) link below for full article,  writes:  ” Otzi, the 5000-year-old Iceman discovered in 1991 by hikers in the Italian Alps, cautiously carried his fire along with him, in the form of embers wrapped in maple leaves and stored in a birchbark box. As back-up, he was also equipped with a fire-starting kit, consisting of iron pyrites, flint, and tinder fungus. The Neolithic technique seems to have involved grinding the fungus until it was fine and fluffy, then piling it in a mollusk shell, and striking sparks with the flint and pyrite until the tinder ignited.” SEE: http://theplate.nationalgeographic.com/2015/09/02/a-brief-history-of-cooking-with-fire/

To return from our 5000 year old Otzi,  (who you can meet yourself in a small museum in the Alps; he is not the sole property of science, but available to all of us. I know this because I have seen him),  to January 1st, 2016, I encourage you to see fire with fresh eyes.

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Cooking empanadas with fire/embers above and below


This humble way of cooking requires a very sophisticated understanding of fire , embers, and heat. How cold or warm the ambient temperature around the oven is, affects the baking of the holiday cookies and empanadas.


Baking with fire also requires heat tolerance. The smoke imparts a flavor that I adore. It warms twice, once upon baking, then upon eating.


We cooked/baked into the night. As the temperature drops outside, the embers kept us warm.



We built this simple grill with a grate and some brick in the back yard. Marinated zucchini is steaming in the foil.



This is the same grill as the photo above, you can see that works well for vegetarians, meat eaters, or the general omnivore.


You do not need a hearth or grill like the ones above. You can use a fireplace to roast  marsh mellow for smores, or hot dogs (meat or vegan) or even wrap potatoes in foil and bake in the embers.


If you explore more about the nutrition of cooked food, youmay be surprised at how nutritious it is. One example: 90% of a cooked egg is digested; only 65% of a raw egg is digested. See footnote page 61, of COOKED.


This was sent by T who posted a comment but could not post the fire photo that she was “ignited” by – so here it is. (I could not figure out how to get it larger). Taken January 2nd, 2016. Thanks for your enthusiasm T!


Thank you!



Note: Last night, at New Years Eve dinner, the ceramicists at the table reminded me that clay needs fire to bake, as well. Good point! The making of pots, whether ancient or modern, functional or decorative, requires fires’ transformative quality to go from a raw to fired state.

There is a beautiful 20 minute video of Maria Martinez, of San Ildefonso Pueblo, NM which includes her building a firing mound/kiln. It was shot in 1972, when Maria was in her mid 80’s.  I include it here, though I know most modern folk wont have the patience for it. The reverence it shows, is an inspiration for me personally. Continue reading