The clay pots Brazilians love

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There is an old Brazilian song that goes “old pots make the best food” – but that refers to women past their prime, who actually happen to be the best lovers.

Naughty songs aside, most of us have a favourite pan or pot in our kitchens, the one we love cooking with the most. In Brazil, and particularly in the southern state of Espírito Santo and its coastal capital Vitória, this much-loved item could well be the clay pot.

While humankind has been cooking with clay pots since the dawn of time, it is relatively rare to find them in modern households – that is, pans that are made in the old-fashioned way, with clay and mangrove tree sap, like the beauties you see below:

The making of this traditional pot is very important to Vitória’s poorer communities who make their living out of pot-making. It is a tradition that passes on from mother to daughter – yes, it is mostly a female activity and has been going on for at least 400 years in Vitória alone.

After the shaping and firing process, the mangrove sap is applied to the pans while they are still hot – this process makes the clay turn black. Did you know that mangrove sap is used by East Africans and Polynesians to make black dye for cloth?

Then you wonder, what sorts of dishes can I cook if I have one of those pots at home? Well, any sort of curry, stew or slow-cooking dishes will be a perfect match for your clay pot.

In the state of Espirito Santo, the omnipresent fish stew above  (the “moqueca”) is what you can often find cooking in a clay pot. Would you like the recipe for the moqueca capixaba? Let us know in the comments below!

Images by Vitor Nogueira and Emerson Haas.