This food yarn starts with memories of an old family friend who has long since passed on. During his time though, Alan was an avid collector of Staffordshire pot lids and Brunyfire well recalls the walls of his family sitting room in Somerset, dedicated to showing off his remarkable collection. Pot lids are the highly decorated half of small earthenware containers that were made during the mid 19th century in England and were the equivalent, and in fact, early precursors, of our contemporary food canning industry.
Often no bigger than your average tin of tuna, these earthenware lidded pots were made to contain a variety of products from bear’s grease hair lotion, tooth powder – to potted meats – or Gentlemen’s relish. From a purely historical perspective, the decorated version of these pot lids provides a fascinating insight into sophisticated ceramics technical innovations (with the introduction of multi-coloured transfer printing techniques) and intriguing glimpses into the social history of Victorian England.
The pot lid above, entitled ‘The Times’ was produced by Felix Pratt in his Fenton pottery works in Stoke-on-Trent during the 1860s, but the design was due to the talents of water colour artist, Jesse Austin.
However, the more intriguing of these relish pots (in my opinion) were the black and white versions that were produced around the 1880s. These were simpler, more graphic and descriptive of their contents, and were thus an enduring package design concept that has since been sought from the Victorian rubbish dumps by obsessed collectors ever since.Despite the simple elegance of this little pot, it is its contents that is the essence of this story.
Potting – a term reflecting both the activity of making the vessel and the product it contained – was a method of preserving, particularly meats – often for those about to embark on long sea voyages. Basically, meat (although cheese was also potted) was cooked slowly for several hours, until it fell apart, and was then sealed with butter or fat to eliminate exposure to the air, thus preventing bacterial contamination. (Check out Victoria Rumble and Patricia Reber’s food history sites for a couple of interesting accounts of potted meats).
The following recipe is based on one by Jo Cook, chef, MONA market food curator, and more recently, fire-fighters heroine from Hobart. As Jo says, what better way to eat protein sustainably than by eating wallaby…….…….a product brought to the table ethically, and in this recipe, with the addition of pork to render some more fat to this incredibly lean meat.
Whilst Jo’s recipe is pretty straightforward, designed I suspect for busy people, there is a Yorkshire chef, James McKenzie, working in Great Britain, who is currently bringing the art of potting back into focus. He’s not just resurrecting a worthwhile culinary tradition, but celebrating its attributes as a contemporary cuisine. Check out his site for some serious pub grub.
Potted Wallaby with Pickled Wild Samphire.
- 750 grams Bruny Island wallaby meat, cut int chunks
- 250 grams Bruny Island pork belly, skin off and cut into chunks
- 5 native Bruny Island pepperberris and 5 native pepperberry leaves
- 250 mls red wine (Jo used white)
- 100 mls water
- 1 tsp sea salt
Stick all the ingredients into an oven proof pot with a tight fitting lid (such as the one below) and season with the ground pepper berries and scrunched up pepper berry leaves. Incidently, a fabulous $3 find in one of Hobart’s many Vinnie stores was this nifty 1970s spice storage system………..……..resembling a Joe Colombo storage cart of the same era – it contains 12 dainty little storage grinders that fit neatly on their sides in a rotary stand – brilliant!
Ideally, I would have put this dish into the woodoven after a pizza session to cook for several hours – but in this instance, had to resort to an electric oven – yech!
The pot I selected is a pretty unique piece, and one I was delighted to unearth by British potter John Pigott, again in Vinnies, for a price I’m too embarrassed to admit to paying. John Pigott was the British husband of Gwyn Hanssen Pigott (one of Australia’s most revered potters). The Pigott’s settled in Tasmania in 1974 and set up a pottery workshop together in an old chook farm in the south of the State with help of a Crafts Board, Australia Council grant. At the time, they were woodfiring their work from locally sourced materials. The design of this particular pot, with its wire cut lid and clay wad marks, is typical of the style of work John was producing during the 70s. It illustrates the economical use of his pot’s design – from the immediacy of throwing the lid and cutting it off the wheel (with no additional turning) to the way the piece was used to support other pots in the kiln for firing. The wad marks on the lid indicate that other pieces of ware were stacked on top of this one – a really lovely piece just asking to be used.Once cooked, leave the pot to cool before shredding the meat. Pack the meat into ceramic pots, top up with the cooking juices, and finish with a layer of melted butter. Mine was a little on the dry side, so I was able to turn it out as a moulded form and cut into it. This was served with an assortment of tracklements that included pickled samphire inspired by a recipe I’d found in another Vinnie coup.
Also featuring the 70s, and published in 1975, I found a handy little book entitled……. …….by A.B. and J.W. Cribb (now out of print), that gives a good account of foraged fodder – amongst which is samphire, which is plentiful near our shack. Low in calories, rich in trace minerals and vitamin C and with no saturated fat or cholestorol, samphire can be eaten raw, cooked or in this case, pickled. Fresh samphire was picked in the morning – note – don’t pull it out by the roots, always harvest by cutting so it can grow again. Boil gently for a couple of minutes in fast boiling (fresh) water – the aim here is to reduce the saltiness but maintain the texture – take care not to over boil or it will turn into pap.Drain the samphire and allow to cool before placing it in a sterilzed jar and topping up with a flavoured vinegar. I cheated and used the left over ‘juice’ from a jar of pickled onions but added a few extra pepper berries.To serve, present the meat with an assortment of tracklements – in this instance………………..medlar jelly, apple cheese, pickled samphire and a round of walnut biscuits. Or, serve up smaller portions in a uniquely designed Huon pine tray with porcelain pots and Huon/porcelain ‘spoons’ made by yours truly and partner, John.