The Bargee’s Pail.
A recipe bound in tradition, the story of The Bargee’s Pail is more than just a meal, it reflects some of the stories of Great Britain’s industrial revolution. The potteries of Stoke-on-Trent, for example, depended upon the canals and the barges that rode on them – delivering the raw materials and dispatching the finished products. Back in 1979, Brunyfire lived and worked in Stoke-on-Trent working with a group called the Ceramic Workshop – experiencing first hand what the potteries had to offer in the traditions of making production ware. These lessons were later applied in my own studio and teaching.
During the time I was an ‘apprentice’, I spent as much of my free time in the museums in the surrounding six towns that make up Stoke-on-Trent. My favourite being the Gladstone Pottery Museum, whose vast collection of potting paraphernalia were all housed in the disused, coal-fired bottle kilns.In Brunyfire’s take of The Bargee’s Pail however, the story features the pottery of Pearson’s of Chesterfield, Derbyshire – partner John’s home stomping ground.Pearson and Co. was a private company that had been in operation on Whittington Moor in Derbyshire, since 1810, (the pictures above were of Pearsons in the 19th century) finally ceasing production in 1994. At the time I visited back in the 70s the company was still employing mostly hand production techniques – primarily throwing. Two local stoneware bodies were blended together to create a warm, finely iron speckled body, and the ware was raw glazed and single fired to 1280 degrees centigrade. I’ve managed to build up quite a collection of Pearson ware, mostly found in op shops – and I’m still on the lookout for more pieces………..The pieces that carried text, like the store jars above, would often have to be fired a second time – a first firing for the glaze and then a decal (water slide transfer) would be applied and the pieces fired again at a lower temperature (800 degrees centigrade).The casseroles above are from a 1978 Habitat catalogue – Habitat of London that is, the Terence Conran store and were produced at Pearson’s in Chesterfield, for which they aren’t credited for. These pots were based on the traditional forms produced by Chesterfield as can be seen from the 19th century catalogue above.
But back to the recipe. The traditional Bargee’s Pail recipe was found in Dorothy Hartley’s book, Food in England. First published in 1954, Hartley’s book was the bible of English cooks and had a deep influence on many contemporary cooks and food writers. It’s full of fantastic self-help ideas based on traditional cooking methods and has a great section on cooking with fire.
The recipe is as you see it above – in this instance, the old bargee had used an old jam jar, and filled it with meat and veggies, submerged the pot in water and left it on his old coal fired stove for the day. By the time he was ready to eat dinner, the stew was tender and the tea – stewed I would imagine!
In Josie Walter’s book Pots in the Kitchen, she features a stoneware cooking pot called the Gourmet Boila. This was basically a kind of pressure cooker – food was placed in the ceramic pot, and then placed in a metal cookpot and brought to a rapid boil, where the contents of the Boila could cook away without fear of burning.With a few minor changes to the above recipe, and instead of an old jam jar or the Boila, this is what I tried out the other evening in a Pearson’s store jar:
- Bargee’s Pail: Bruny style.
- – 1/2 swede or turnip
- – Ground pepper, sprig of thyme
- – 500 gms belly pork (with rind removed)
- – Piece of smoked bacon
- – 1 parsnip, cut into strips
- – 1 carrot, chopped into rounds
- – 50 gms beef suet
- – 100 gms self-raising flour
- – 2 cloves of garlic, sliced finely
- All the ingredients are placed into the pot, in this case, a Pearson’s jar, starting with the cubes of swede, then the diced pork, followed by a layer of sliced parsnip and chopped carrots and garlic. (Note: the spuds weren’t added in this version). Top up pot about a third full of good stock. Make suet pastry (or ‘huff’) into a thick round pad………………….and place it like a lid, on top of the meat and veg, it will act as a lid. A cloth was then tied over the top of the pot……..
- …….and the whole pail placed onto the fire, in the firepit.
- This needs to maintain a steady roiling boil for about 3 hours. Serve with hunks of crusty bread.
- Very tasty – the suet pastry was not too stodgy, acting rather like dumplings, soaking up all the juices.