Friday, March 13, 2009

New Mexico's Original Clay Cookers

The clay cooking pot was shades of brown and black with gold flecks throughout - its design, a cousin of cazuelas from Spain and Romertopf terra cotta clay cookers. Available in Cafe Pasqual's Gallery, Santa Fe, above Cafe Pasqual's, it was crafted by Apache medicine man, Felipe Ortega, who has kept the same price on his piece for 14 years. Several shelves in the tiny gallery held his work, while pots created by a student (and slightly less expensive) lined another wall.

Ortega's breath literally shaped these pots, which sell for $100 per quart. Once fired, the indigenous clay makes each pot microwave, oven, and stove-top safe (although they should not be put in a dishwasher), because of silica that naturally occurs in the clay - a precursor to glass which makes it especially sturdy.

Despite their rugged appearance, Ortega's pots were surprisingly lightweight. Their generations-old design included a ridge near the top that remains cold to the touch, even with hot food sitting inside the 'bowl' of each pot. The indigenous clay also is naturally salty, reducing the need for added salt during food preparation; in fact a pot of beans cooked in one of these pots requires almost no seasoning.

Sometimes, old ways of preparing food are definitely worth a second look.

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