Thursday, June 3, 2010

Crackpot! Well, a cracked pot...

One of my rare photos of food service/preparation in Morocco
This fellow had some delicious food in clay pots and lucky for me,
was happy to demonstrate for me (and my camera).

Does anyone with ceramics-smarts read my blog?

I brought back a lot of ceramics from Morocco (if I can't bring back food, I'm bringing back things to cook with!). Unfortunately, one of the pieces I brought home cracked. It isn't terrible, a couple hairline cracks at the base of the pot but I'm concerned about the pot's functionality now (I doubt it is water tight). I want to use this pot and I'm wondering if anyone has any ideas for repairing it?

Clay pots filled with food at Chez Lamine Hadj Mustapha
At least, I think that was its name
There may have been two restaurants in this little building, one upstairs and one down

We ate downstairs

The pot looks like the above. It is partially glazed (the inside and the top) and appears to be a heavy stoneware.

These pots are a bit of a mystery to me, so if you happen to know what they're called or how they're used, please fill me in! I'd really appreciate it.


  1. All I know is that if it is raku fired do not cook in it!! Also sometimes glazes are lead based so I would be careful.

  2. if the pot is cracked, it's structurally unstable and won't be water-tight. the crack will only get bigger... if it was just a chip off the rim, then you'd still be able to use it.

    you can sometimes find art restoration/conservation companies who can repair broken ceramic sculptures (very expensive!!), but a cooking pot will not be the same. i suggest using it for decoration only now.

  3. I'm pretty sure it isn't raku, since the bare ceramic isn't smokey. The pots in the photos are a bit smokey, but that's because of the cooking process. I'm not too worried about the glaze as it is made for cooking and the finish doesn't look typical of lead based glazes (or at least what I'm used to seeing).

    Naturally restoration for a 70 dirham pot is a bit silly, but I'm still bummed. Up on a shelf it may have to go.

    Though, I do wonder if it would be possible to re-fire it briefly, tossing some glass marbles inside to melt and seal the tiny fissure? Though, this isn't my area of expertise and I doubt anyone would put my mystery material clay pot in their precious kiln...

  4. Do you have a local art school? Maybe you could call them for ideas.

  5. I took a few ceramics classes over a decade ago and could contact my old professor...

    He will probably remember me, but only because I was an eccentric eighteen year-old pain in the arse (now I am a more mature pain in the arse).

    I'm trying to avoid the "Hey Thom, it is Ms. Humble! Yes, that annoying girl..." email and hoping one of my kind readers might know what to do. :)

  6. I will send the link to your blog to my friend who is a potter apprenticed to her mom, a professional potter. We'll see what happens!

  7. I have a bit of experience with pottery, and with the low-fire cookware too. Generally, the ware is almost considered disposable. Once it has a crack, there isn't much to do but display it as art or grind it down to use as grog in the next batch.

    I don't think re-firing it would be useful. The heat stresses will enlarge the crack and any glaze or fritted glass added to the ware won't have anything to grab onto before the melting temperature is reached, so it'll either flow out or do nasty things like flow into the downhill side of the pot and puddle.

    Matching clay bodies and glazes is a bit of a tricky thing, too. The chances you can match expansion and contraction rates with an unknown clay body and glaze with your attempted patch glaze are close to nil.

    Sorry, but I think you brought home a decorative piece.

    Check with the local artists to see if they might be able to reproduce something similar, though. It looks like a simple clay body with a glaze made of the same clay, fritted with something to make it melt at a slightly lower temp.

    I can dig out my books and figure a recipe for each, or if you're really interested, I could try a few attempts at replicating the ware.

    A post about how they used these vessels would be really cool, too.

    (Sorry if this is too long, pottery and cooking are both favorite hobbies.)

  8. Yea, I was concerned about the stress on the pot during firing. The cracks on the bottom are mere hairlines now, but if they split I do run the risk of molten glass leaking out and making a mess of someone's kiln.

    I've chipped glaze off those bricks before, I know it isn't fun.

    It probably would be easy to reproduce, it is a thick sided, heavy bottomed 'pot weapon' with simple pulled handles. Almost anyone could make it (including myself with my own meager, very rusty skills). Makes me wish I still had my ol' Shimpo wheel around.

    I do wish I knew how to use these vessels (or even what they were called). The stews inside of them were marvelous. I looked all over Marrakesh for them after that lunch and I couldn't find a single one in the souqs. I eventually found three of them caked in dust in the corner of a small shop on the last day of my visits. This one, at just under a foot tall, was the only one small enough for me to take home. Now I wish I figured a way to bring all three home.

    I too love ceramics. I spent a lot of time trying to find just the right Moroccan tajine, sifting through all the touristy, nonfunctional stuff.

    Finding the stew pot was a treat too. Though it is clearly is quickly made and disposable within the culture, it has such great spirit of place. That, and it makes yummy food. What is not to love.

    Oh well, it is charming to look at too. It will look nice on a bookshelf.

  9. i know not a thing about restoration of your pot but i do know that the photograph of all the pots @ chez lamine was beautiful!

  10. That's a tangia. I saw Jamie Oliver using one on one of his recent programmes. There's a brief explanation here
    and I found another recipe and explanation here

    I think your cracked pot is alas only for decorative purposes. Souldn't be too hard to get someone to knock up a replacement.

  11. gemma,

    Thank you so much!

    "A tangia is a dish traditionally cooked by men. Tangia refers to the amphora-shaped earthenware vessel (left) it is cooked in. It is filled with the ingredients then taken down to the local bath-house/sauna (hammas) where it is cooked for several hours in the furnace room ashes underneath the hammans. I couldn't quite see The Spouse, casserole under his arm, traipsing around Wellington looking for a sauna with an ashpit, so I cooked the dish in our own oven. A tangia should also be eaten outdoors, I am told."

    How nifty is that!

  12. That sounds like something I need to try. Maybe on the slow side of the smoker while I'm doing a pork butt?

    I think I need to make a few of these. Does anyone know how they close them? It looked like there was fabric involved. Maybe a ceramic lid with a fabric seal?

  13. If I remember correctly, it was just paper on top of the jars. Perhaps wet paper, that would allow it to crimp around tightly and not burn during the cooking process.

  14. Ah, then. I'll try it with parchment and some string, thanks!

  15. As for your cracked pot, LabBoy and the others are right... it is only decorative now. Any time a pot cracks, any sort of seal won't repair it for cooking purposes, only surface repair. It can't hold up to contraction and expansion when there are two different substances like ceramics and a sealant.

    Those are beautiful though and your cracked pot will be a great piece of artwork on a shelf or table somewhere! And a great conversation starter!

    Great blog by the way!! ... Thanks for the heads up, SouthLakesMom!


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