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History of an oven pot

  In old times, for cooking in Russian ovens people have been using earthenware pots, which basically were jars with greatly inflated torso, wide neck, and narrow bottom. Because of this shape, heat from cooking chamber covers a pot on all sides. Since a pot had a lid on top of it, food not only was cooked really well, but also kept all the nutrients. On top of that, fire, "licking" the widest part of a pot, was heating the upper part of it much less, i.e. its neck was much cooler, so a housewife could not worry that food, cooking in the oven, would boil over. And if some smoke still got in a pot, it only added some zest to that oven-cooked meal. 

Usually pots were bought at a market or from a local potter. Oftentimes a sale was made as follows. A buyer would come to a potter, choose a desired pot and poured flour into it up to the top. A potter would pour flour into a barrel and give a pot back to a buyer. From this it is easy to conclude that the bigger a pot, the higher its price. Pots often got broken; so many people had to make them by themselves. They have been preparing clay by themselves, molding pots, and then burning them in a crucible of a Russian stove.

The fate of an earthenware pot is very accurately described in the ancient riddle, with some biblical imagery in it: "Taken from the earth, thou Adam; thrown into the fiery, thou three youths, seated on a chariot, thou Elijah, brought on mart, thou Joseph, bought by a housewife for a copper coin; was a laborer in the fire of hell and hurt therewith; clothed in colorful garments and began to live the second life; got old and crumbled to bones, which the earth does not accept. " If the story from this puzzle is translated into modern language, the sense of it is the following. Clay was taken from soil and made into a pot, which was burned in a furnace, and then it was put on cart and taken to a market, there it was bought by a woman with a copper coin. After laboring in a fiery furnace, a pot got old and crashed, but it was tightened with birch bark strips and began to live a second life; but after some more time it grown too old and crumbled into fragments that even can be found in abundance on peasant vegetable gardens.

Usually pots had natural color of baked clay. Sometimes they were poured with liquid white clay before baking, and then pots came brighter. Sometimes the opposite was done, earthenware pots were kept in an oven without air for some time. As a result, they acquired deep black color.

Earthenware pots were used for cooking of soup, porridge, stewed meat, vegetables and fish, or for water boiling. And in each case a pot of a certain size was required: from a huge pot to a tiny one containing only 200-300 g of food. A large pot, called korchaga, banyak, or makitra, was used for boiling of water, steaming of linen and making feed for cattle. Tambov peasants called smaller pots estalnik, Ryazan egolnik and across the rest of Russia it was called a pot for shchi (Russian cabbage soup). As the name suggests, it was used for first courses, and, above all, for Russian people's favorite soup. Medium-sized pot was called kashnik (kasha means porridge) and used to cook second courses and in particular, porridge. The smallest pots were called malysh, gorshenyatko, or mahotka. They were used for melting of butter and cooking of clotted cream. In wealthy families these small pots were used for cooking of individual dishes such as stewed potatoes with meat and mushrooms or bishop-style soup. High and narrow pots called krynka, gorlach or gornushka were used for cooking of dairy dishes: ryazhenka (fermented baked milk), clotted cream and baked milk. Specifically designed deep earthenware pans were used as lids for such pots. Large pans were used for cooking of a second course: baked fish or roasted potatoes. Designated earthenware pans with low sides, so-called cherepushki, were used for baking of special pancakes made from buckwheat flour. Metal sheet trays were used for baking of cakes and cookies. 

Kinds of symbol of abundance in Russian folk tales were "milk rivers and kissel shores. Today kissel is as liquid as milk. Therefore, "kissel shores" are perceived as a poetic twist. Meanwhile, that kissel from fairy tales was so hard that it was cut into separate pieces, laid out on a bowl, and covered with milk. In the imagination of the unknown authors of fairy tales each piece of kissel towered over milk is as a real island with steep banks.

So that is not that far from milk rivers and kissel shores. Hard kissel was cooked from oat flour with honey. Specifically prepared batter was poured into an earthenware cruet and sent into an oven. For festive kissel potters made cruets which sides and bottoms decorated with patterns of flowers, leaves and fruit. A cruet with cooled kissel was upturned, shaken gently, and kissel was laid out on a plate. Decorated with patterns, kissel resembled a cake, especially if decorated with jam.

Old proverb says: "A mountain may never meet a mountain, but two pots eventually would bump into each other" Indeed, no matter how carefully a housewife handles her pots, they still could eventually break from accidental awkward movement. If a pot crashed into large pieces, it was not discarded and swaddled, it was entwined with bark or, as that riddle said, clothed in colorful garments . Before entwining a pot, its shards was glued together with flour or starch glue. While glue was getting dry, narrow strips of bark were being steaming in hot water. After the heat treatment, bark becomes elastic. While entwining a pot with birch tape, they tried to pull it as much as possible. When a tape had dried, birch bark pulled the fragments together so firmly that one could easily pour water into it. However, most often its purpose was different.

Molostovs, as peasants called pots, entwined with birch bark, were used for keeping of mostly dry products: flour, peas and dry fruits. Sometimes a pot, entwined birch bark was used as a bowl for dough. Gradually fragile earthenware pots gave way to cast iron ones. Iron pots almost completely repeated a shape of ancient clay pots. Only those big rings that were supposed to protect a neck of an earthenware pots from chipping, disappeared. Due to the high durability of metal there was no need to strengthen neck of pots. Now metal pots can serve for many years. So that cast irons are not subjected to corrosion, some of them inside are cover with white enamel. The only downside of cast iron is its impressive weight. Therefore, along with cast iron foundries began to produce cast aluminum pots.