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.