Facts That Figure: Pots & Pans

Facts That Figure: Pots & Pans

By: C.G. Hoffman

Whether you belong to the easy-off-all-the-pots-and-then-clean-the-cracks-with-a-needle camp, or you’re firmly on team no-rewashing-pots-that-are-already-clean, you still have to deal with pots and pans, whether it’s before Pesach or during Pesach. Here’s a look at some interesting facts about cookware.

One of the first things archaeology students learn is the importance of pottery, or, as is more commonly found, shards of pottery. The history of pottery goes back thousands of years, from when man first roasted meat over a fire, to when some genius discovered that clay mud could be shaped into pots, fired in a kiln, and then used to cook all kinds of things, including iiquids. Every society had their own unique style of making pottery, from the way they shaped it, to the way they decorated the finished pots. Archaeologists can discern the origin and age of a site by identifying the kind of pottery they find, even if they only find tiny shattered shards. Sometimes they even get lucky enough to find microscopic bits of food sticking to the pots, and through DNA testing they can learn about ancient diets.

In ancient times, almost all pottery was made of kiln fired clay. Almost all, with a notable exception. Archaeologists have found numerous pottery producing factories in Israel dating to the Second Bais Hamikdash era. What makes them unique is that they produced stone vessels, including drinking cups, bowls and storage vessels. Why would anyone go through the difficult task of carving stone when clay pots were much easier to produce? Because stone vessels are not mekabel tumah, and they cannot become ritually impure. Although clay vessels were also used, stone vessels were popular with the wealthy and with kohanim.

The typical medieval kitchen contained one giant iron cauldron with a handle for hanging over the fire. Everything went into it, grains, vegetables, and if you were lucky, some meat, and that, together with bread, made up the main meal. Metal cookware was expensive and labor intensive to produce, so the poor made do with earthenware ceramics. The most common pot was a three legged pot, called a pipkin, which was placed over hot coals, as it was too delicate for open flames.

Abraham Darby, an English Quaker, changed the world of cookery in 1707 with his cast iron cooking pot. For the first time, blast furnaces were powered with coal, the fuel that powered the Industrial Revolution. Mass production of cooking pots now made it affordable to the masses.

Before the introduction of the cooking stove in the mid 1800’s, most cooking was done over an open fire, making kitchens hot, smoky and dangerous places. The new stoves burned wood or coal, and the flat tops allowed for the new, flat bottomed pots and pans to be used. Suddenly, a world of different shaped pots opened up, with stew pots, frying pans and skillets becoming commonplace in everyday kitchens.

One has to wonder how our bubbies fried latkes before Teflon. The great discovery that changed balebustas’ lives forever was actually accidentally discovered by a researcher at the DuPont Laboratory in 1938. The new coating was widely used at the Manhattan Project, America’s top secret nuclear laboratory. The new non-stick coating was even better for peacetime than wartime, and the first T-fal pots were rolled out after the war; omelettes were never the same again.

The inspiration for Crock-Pots comes from cholent, not the other way around. Irving Naxon grew up on stories of the alte-heim from his mother, and his favorite was the way Jewish families would take their cholent before Shabbos to the village baker, whose huge oven stayed hot enough over Shabbos to keep everyone’s cholent hot. HIs first attempt was called the Beanery (he was an inventor, not a marketing genius!)and was patented in 1940. It didn’t catch on much until 1971, when he sold it to the Rival company. They remarketed it as the Crock-Pot, and struck gold as they marketed it to hardworking moms.

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