Tag Archives: cooking

The Turkish pot is back in use

I wrote at the start of the month about an old cooking pot I found in a second hand shop. It’s a lovely shop, though a far cry from the second hand shops I knew growing up in the 60s and 70s. They were proper junk shops then, where you’d find a clutter of dusty rubbish and treasure. This shop is run by nice ladies who collect ‘vintage’ objects on their travels and clean them up a bit – you’ll find everything a house would hold, from large items of French furniture to cutlery, clothes and jewellery.

My prized Peugeot Frères hachoir

My favourite acquisition was an old French hachoir made by Peugeot Frères, who also made cars, which has a fine steel blade and beautifully turned handles. It has a good weight and makes short work of any fine chopping. Now it has competition in the form of ‘the pot’. I should say that I generally visit this shop after getting my hair cut, partly because it’s right next door and I can’t resist going in there to see what new treasures they’ve got. Every six months or so I might buy something.

When I first saw the pot it was sitting on the ground in the courtyard at the back of the shop. I glanced at it, thought it interesting, but passed by. Six weeks later it was still there, so I stopped for a closer look. Funny looking thing, hand-hammered copper with a tin lining. A bit scratched and worn, and the lid only fitted in one position, but intriguing, I’d never seen anything like it before. 12 quid, not bad. Tempting. I picked it up and felt the weight, the copper had a decent thickness and could no doubt be cleaned up a bit. ‘Buy me, lady‘ said the pot, so I did and took it home where it sat on a windowsill for a couple of weeks while I thought about what to do with it.

The pot in its original state

During that couple of weeks, I spent hours scouring the internet trying to find similar items, but failed to come up with anything quite the same. There were similar pots, however, and all were Turkish from the time of the Ottoman Empire. The best I could come up with was to place it in the early 1900s. Who had used it, when and where, and how did it end up in that Oxfordshire second hand shop? So many questions. Anyway, having tentatively decided on a rough age and origin, I thought about using it, but was wary of the worn tin lining, so started looking at getting the inside re-tinned. There are a few re-tinning companies in the UK and some of them proudly announce that they re-tin copper cookware for royalty, but that wasn’t really what I was looking for. As luck would have it, I came across a small business in Cornwall, Newlyn Tinning, run by Steve Pearse. On the website, this paragraph caught my eye:

I take great pride in following my predecessors of this trade and closer to home, the great tradition of coppersmithing in Newlyn where many fishermen in hard winter times turned their hands to producing some of the finest industrial art copper work from the late 19th century arts & crafts era onwards. A trade still going strong today.’

Cornwall has been a centre of tin mining and metal work since the Bronze Age and I wanted to support the continuation of that. Newlyn Tinning looked right, so I got in touch, discussed the details and cost, which was very reasonable, and sent the pot off to Steve. Three weeks later the pot was returned gleaming and transformed, both inside and out. The previously dark and scruffy exterior remained un-tinned, as requested, but had been cleaned and polished to a rich glow, while the inside was freshly tinned. It looked beautiful and still old, as if there was real history in there. I was delighted.

The transformed Ottoman pot

The Ottoman Empire. Image source

What to cook in it? It would feel right to cook something fitting and traditional. I looked at a map of the Ottoman Empire in 1900 and saw that it covered a wide area, from southern Europe to north Africa and parts of the Middle East. Quite a lot of choice there in terms of cuisine. The pot holds 2.5l at the line just above the indentation, so big enough for a family meal. I decided on a casserole of chicken, apricots and lentils, flavoured with ras el hanout, saffron and bay, served with couscous and green beans. It was delicious and we raised a glass to Steve the tinner.

A casserole of chicken, apricots and lentils – delicious!

It pleases me very much to think of this pot being put to use once again and I feel, however tenuously, connected to all those who have, over who knows how many years, stirred a meal in it. Long may that continue.

 

Re-visiting and seasoning the Holcroft skillet

Over the winter of 2015-16 I tried out a new method for restoring a very rusty cast iron old Holcroft skillet that had been used as a garden ornament for many years and was decidedly the worse for wear. I recently came across a picture I’d taken of it in 2006 and it had been a garden ornament for a good while then. There were nearly ten more years of rusting after that!

In its original spot

Anyway, a bit of back story. We work in woodland over the winter (more on that here) and a hot lunch is extremely welcome, so we decided to start making proper use of the skillet. Some logs and slabs of stone had been used to form sitting places and were already nicely set out to be used as an outdoor cooking area, so that’s where we cook.

The kitchen

Come lunchtime, we bring out the basket of supplies, set up the stove and get cooking.

This stove is an MSR Dragonfly multi-fuel stove and while it isn’t cheap, it’s a well made piece of kit and runs on any petroleum-based fuel. The first time we cooked bacon and egg rolls was delightful – just the two of us in the middle of the woods on a chilly January day and we could provide ourselves with a hot meal. We’ve cooked for other people since that first time and everyone has reacted with the same pleasure. It’s an instant mood-lifter.

I had previously seasoned the skillet using lard and it worked pretty well – the first eggs cooked in it came out perfectly and nothing stuck to the pan. We used it all winter with no issues. At home, I’d scrub it out with a hard brush and hot water, dry it straight away and wipe a light coating of oil or fat over it to keep the rust off.

The thing is, if it wasn’t wiped with oil or was left wet, then it did rust, so I looked for other seasoning methods and came across Sheryl Canter’s excellent blog on the chemistry of cast iron seasoning. Here, she discusses the polymerisation qualities of varying oils and fats and explains why flax oil is the best to use for seasoning. Polymerisation means that the combination of iron, heat, oil and oxygen creates a plastic-like protective layer on the iron. She recommends that you use the oven’s self-cleaning function to clean off old seasoning, but our oven doesn’t have that feature so I just scrubbed it out as well as I could.

The idea goes like this: put the pan in the oven and heat to 100C to open up the iron’s pores. Take the pan out and wipe all the inside surfaces with the lightest smear of flax oil (you must use pure food-grade flax oil), then wipe it again to make sure you’ve removed any excess. Put it back in the oven, turn to full heat and let the pan bake for an hour. Turn the oven off and let the pan cool completely. Repeat five or six times until you have a smooth dark veneer on the pan’s cooking surface.

Without having the inside ground by a machine, a smooth veneer simply isn’t going to happen with that old skillet, but I thought it could do with some TLC, so decided to give the method a go. Five seasonings later and it’s looking pretty good, even wood-ready. Compared to how it was before I started work on it, it’s impressive. The surface looks like it’s been freshly oiled , but it’s completely dry and there is no tackiness at all.

Before

After

Does this seem a little obsessive? It might do, but I wanted to experiment with how what was an unusable skillet could be turned back into something to be proud of and, above all, something that could be used again, and I believe I’ve done it.

Not too shabby!