Brunyfire in Barcelona.
Sourcing traditional earthenware clay cooking pots that are still used on a daily basis on an open flame, has become a bit of an obsession. Seeking out and acquiring traditional clay pots that are designed to be used on an open wood or gas fire – in the wood-fired oven or in the fireplace – as clay tabletop grillers or charcoal fired clay braziers; as tandoors, hornos and chimineas – has led Brunyfire overseas in recent weeks.
Currently ensconced in a 4th floor apartment in Barcelona in up town Gràcia, the final evening of La Fiesta de Gràcia, an eagerly awaited event in Barcelona’s busy calendar (15th to the 21 st August) is being played out beneath my feet, creating a fiery reminder of what fire and clay mean to this city.
Earlier in the day, a walk down the Passeig de Gracia was like re-connecting with old aquaintences. Casa Batlló, one of Barcelona’s most renowned Modernista buildings by Antoni Gaudí, is a regular testimony to the versatility of clay…..……..With its use of coloured tiles on the building’s facade and in the thrown pots that form the roof’s ridge line.However, despite the glorious nature of Gaudi’s work and his use of ceramics as architecural embellishments, Brunyfire was after more modest stuff. The ceramica rustica – the folk pottery of the cocinas – the cookware of ordinary farm folk.
There are a number of shops selling ceramics in town, but one in particular proved to be a bit of a stand out – Art Escudellers on the street of the same name, off the main drag of La Rambla, is an emporium dedicated to ceramics from various Spanish regions. Such as the range of robustly thrown and glazed terracotta cook ware from Orense…..……..as well as some more commercially produced tableware with contrasting slips and trailed decoration from Girona, these latter being most likely from the small pottery town of La Bisbal. Staggering back up the Passeig de Gracia in the heat of the day, and bemoaning the innumerable flights of stairs (there’s 105 of them) up to the cool of the apartment, it was good to finally sit and gloat quietly over the spoils.
Firstly, this flat-bottomed piece that the shop described as an ‘olla’ and supposedly originating from Orense turns out, on further research, to more likely be a ‘puchero’.Delving even further revealed that Orense, or Ourense, is the name of both the province and its capital within the region of Galicia, and according to Ellingham and Fisher’s 1999 publication, Spain: The Rough Guide, Orense is ‘worse than disappointing’!! There is no mention of anything much, let alone a pottery making tradition in the area and it is more likely that these pieces came from the neighbouring region of Castile y León, from the province of Zamora, and in particular, the village of Pereruela.
Alfarería La Fábrica is a small, family run pottery in Pereruela with a long standing tradition of making domestic cooking pots and wood-fired ovens. Their highly refractory clay body is sourced locally; a combination of red and white clays that they mix together, with flecks of mica evident in the fired body. Interestingly, the company also boasts a long standing tradition of women potters who controlled the making process and whose skills were passed down from Mother to daughter.
A ‘puchero’ is thus the name of the pot and the dish that is cooked in it – basically a stew of meat and chickpeas originating from the region of Andalusia. Pork, sausages and often chicken are slow-simmered with hearty vegetables and garbanzo beans. Puchero was originally a wintertime peasant dish eaten over several days, first with rice, then with noodles, then with the remainder incorporated into other dishes.
Another excursion sourced a couple of more traditional ‘ollas’ – one from a small ceramics shop in the Barri Gotic, the old quarter of Barcelona and the lidded piece from the flea market at Els Encants Vells.
Olla podrida (literally meaning ‘rotten pot’) is a Spanish stew made from pork and beans and a wide variety of other meats and vegetables. The meal is traditionally prepared in an olla and with its round bottom, is designed for long slow cooking in hot coals over several hours.