What happened to pipkins?

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daveO

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Jun 22, 2009
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South Wales
I was reading a book that discussed the historical popularity of pipkins. For those who don't know a pipkin is a glazed earthenware cooking pot with a lid, hollow handle and three little legs. Very similar to some of the smaller cast iron dutch ovens that are popular now but more designed to be heated in the coals of a fire than suspended over one. I liked the idea of trying one out but it seems they've died a death and hardly anyone makes them anymore. It looks like some re-enactment people still use them though so I wondered if anyone here had tried one and could offer any insight or anything that might explain why they went out of favour? I imagine cast iron is much more durable but it has its own drawbacks too. I'm really fancying making a pipkin curry now but I'll have to find one first.

Pipkin in use here http://briwaf.blogspot.com/2013/02/second-open-fire-cooking-day-recap.html

This video also explains pipkins if you're interested.

 

Toddy

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Jan 21, 2005
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S. Lanarkshire
I've used one, well, two.
They're very good, a little fragile, but they're very good for sitting and slow cooking in the heat from the embers, or at the side of the fire and soaking up the radiant heat.
You have to be careful not to 'thermal shock' them. No hot pot onto something cold, or pour cold stuff into a hot pot, or vice versa.
They're used to make possets and to warm ale, etc.,
The ones I had didn't have lids and they were small, so not really for making stews or soups for a family. Think of them like a small milkpan, a saucepan, kind of thing, rather than a bean pot/ marmite/ casserole.

They simply became a victim of the changes in domesticity. We no longer routinely cook on open fires, and metal pots mostly superceded them and the legs which keep the pot in the heat but not in the cinders, etc., are a pest on a modern stove.

The original pots were hearth fired. This leaves them porous since the ceramicisation isn't as hot, or as long as a kiln fired, but if you soak the freshly fired pot in warmed milk then the lipids in the milk seal the pot. Very effective.

If you can find one with a hollow handle it makes it easier to lift away from the embers. You slip a dowel into the handle and it lets you move it without trying to find a pad or oven glove. Some of the old ones had a hooked handle, again just to let you use a stick to pull it away from the heat, but not so easy to lift it to pour.
 

daveO

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Jun 22, 2009
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When you say fragile do you just mean from thermal shock or do you think they would have broken in use a lot? I assume more modern firing techniques would increase their robustness a bit though. How did the weight compare to a similar sized cast iron pot out of interest?
 

Toddy

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Jan 21, 2005
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The fragility is a bit like clay plantpots. If you're clumsy with them they can chip and crack. One of mine was cracked when someone shoved it hard against the edge of the stones of the fire. It drained dry before it was noticed. The other one the whole top 'ring' of the rim came off.

To be honest, they originally were made and fired by so many different potters, from so many different clays, that there is no 'standard' per se.
Usually locally produced I was told, so some might be better made than others, harder or more brittle than others. Folks get used to what they have.

Weight wise they're lighter.

I don't know about modern firing techniques making them any more robust....think Denby pottery, much though I like mine it's not lightweight, and I don't use it on an open fire. It's horses for courses I reckon.

The Indian ladies who do cook in their beautifully made 'mud pots' say that the older softer fired clay ones are less likely to break with thermal shock. Like an old teapot they end up with a layer inside that they say makes all food good. African ladies who cook using their own version of the pots say the same thing.

I know that my fire pots (I used to demonstrate natural dyeing in heritage centres, etc.,) become very marked with the heat, they, even with care, do crack. I have made some of them myself and even knowing the effort involved, and being especially careful with them, they end up damaged.
I heard a quote once that went along the lines of that a pot has a life, and like us eventually it dies and is buried.

Oldtimer might be the fellow to talk about on the pottery though; he offered a set of notes that he'd written and used for many years, iirc.

M
 
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daveO

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Jun 22, 2009
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South Wales
Thanks, Toddy, that's all really useful information.
I've been looking around for something similar and came across this American infomercial style microwave cooker that seems to be a legless pipkin/tagine hybrid. I think if I want the authentic experience though I might have to get something custom made.
 

Bishop

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Jan 25, 2014
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Inside the wire, Llanelli
any insight or anything that might explain why they went out of favour?
Would imagine it's to do with the move towards communal ovens/bake-houses as feudal lords organised the workforce to be more efficient. As a result cookpots no longer needed feet or long handles allowing a better fit into the oven space.
 

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