Seasoning a mud pot

Seasoning a clay pot

The pot you see in the featured image above is a “factory pot”. Yes that is what it is called in Tulu to distinguish it from the locally available thin pots. The thick pot is manufactured in factories probably in Kerala and needs no seasoning and is at least two times as thick as locally available pots turned on a potters wheel. The pores in the pot do need to be sealed before using it to cook though. Since it was the only pot I had, I decided to use it for this tutorial on seasoning pots. The local pots are a pale muddy brown while the factory manufactured pots are brick red… probably added color.

Why season?

So why do pots need to be seasoned?

The answer is two fold.

  1. The pots like those available locally have not been heat treated. It is not much fun when due to stresses in the pot, it bursts open with your fish curry when it is placed over a fire.
  2. Pots are porous. That is how pots made for drinking water manage to keep water cool. The water seeps out of the pores very slowly and evaporates from the outer surface of the pot.
The factory pot being fired (Not really required) I think it is already heat treated at the factory in an oven. The pot sellers usually stand on the pot to show us how strong it is.
The factory pot being fired (Not really required) I think it is already heat treated at the factory in an oven. The pot sellers usually stand on the pot to show us how strong it is.

I still remember my first pot seasoning. It was sometime in the mid 1990’s. Even though we have steel utensils today, people still swear that fish and meat cooked in a clay pot tastes better. Some of my south Indian friends had their own pots in Mumbai, then Bombay. I was determined to have one of my own, so when I went home during the vacations, I asked my father in law for advice.

We went to the closest sante (or village market) held once a week. Every day of the week it is held in a different town. On his advice, I bought two pots. A backup, in case one broke while seasoning.

This is what we required for the seasoning:

  1. A matchbox or a lighter to start the fire
  2. Eye protection (Read on)
  3. Two pots
  4. A large pile of well dried leaves (He had his own nursery, so no shortage of leaves :-))
  5. Some fleshy or slimy leaves such as cashew, Malabar spinach (Basella alba), Hibiscus, Aloe vera etc.. ( Make sure the leaves are not poisonous)
  6. A thick cloth to hold the pot or oven mitts (remember it would get blackened)
Once rubbed with the leaves, the pot takes on a beautiful mottled red-green-black color.
Once rubbed with the leaves, the pot takes on a beautiful mottled red-green-black color.

Make a big pile of leaves, dried coconut leaves work as well. We need the fire to burn fiercely for a while. Light the fire and place the pot upside down on it so that the flames reach inside. Keep turning the pot as required so that it is evenly fired inside and out. Do this for 10 minutes or so.

While it is still hot, hold it by the edge using a thick cloth or gloves and thoroughly rub it inside out with the green leaves. By the time you are done, the pot would have turned greenish black with the original color of the pot still showing in places. We have now successfully heat treated the pot and also sealed its pores. It can be washed out with wood ash and water and dried in the sun after which it is ready to use.

We can also go one step ahead, and this is definitely required for pots manufactured in a factory. I sincerely hope that it is real clay and has no chemical additives added to it. Put the pot over a wood fire ( a gas ring works too, but you need to increase the flame slowly) after filling it with the starchy water (Teli in Tulu) left over after cooking par boiled rice. I guess normal white rice water should do as well. Bring it to a boil and as it foams up, reduce the flame and simmer it for a while. Any impurities or dirt embedded in the pores should rise up to the surface.

Note the brown colored impurities from the pores rising up with the foam at the edges.
Note the brown colored impurities from the pores rising up with the foam at the edges.

Cool, discard the rice water and wash and dry the pot in the sun. It is better not to use commercial  dish washing soap as the pot remembers smells. That is why a pot used for fish curry will not be used for cooking rice and vice versa. Drying the pot in the sun gets rid of most of the smells and also sterilizes the pot.

To end this post, let me tell you the end of the story. We placed both pots on the leaves and set them on fire. A short while later, I heard a crack and a zing. It took me a few moments to realize that one of the pot’s rims had broken off a piece and shot it at me narrowly missing my face.  Hence the requirement of eye protection! The pot was still usable, but I had no use or place for two pots in my bag. I use the pot only occasionally. 25 years later, I still have the pot with me 🙂

Credits:

| Mrs. Manorama Soans | Mrs. Sukumari Furtado  | Mr. Wilson Soans | Mrs. Eileen Mathias | 

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3 thoughts on “Seasoning a clay pot”

  1. Hi
    I have a clay pot which I couldnt use yet because it creates a lot of foam, I ahve cooked rice (to season it) a few times already and still it creates a lot of foam for any dish like dal etc. The foam is exactly like your last pic (like soapy foam). Is it normal?

    1. Hi Rima,

      I think this is normal. I’ve seen this happening when I’ve seen my old folks cooking in pots. They often stir with a wooden spoon whenever it starts foaming too much. It is also good to not fill the pot close to its limit. However rice, dals (split lentils) and anything containing cream like milk or ground coconut do foam more than other foods 🙂

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