First Comes the Pot

Spherical pots have been around for thousands of years.  Dusty, glassed-in cabinets in archeological museums in all parts of the world contain spherical crockery of all shapes and sizes.  Spherical clay pots were ubiquitous in antiquity.  Not only did they store food and water, but they made cooking and brewing possible.The spherical cooking vessel has endured through the ages, and in the 1500s such vessels were first cast in iron.  Manufacturers throughout Europe made and sold all varieties of spherical pots, large and small.  Metalsmiths competed to fill the demand for large pots and hammered out caldrons that were often suspended in manor fireplaces.  Nowadays these pots more often contain flower arrangements, hung on the balconies of country homes.

In the city-state of Geneva, a cast iron spherical pot took on military, historical, and religious significance on December 11, 1602.

the famed Mère Royaume awakens the besieged citizens of Geneva by knocking out invading Savoyards with her cooking pot

One such pot, thrown by an old woman, knocked out a Savoyard scout when the citizens of Geneva  rose up against invading well-armed troops financed by Phillip II.

Every year at the Escalade of Geneva, a stately procession winds its way through the old city’s old town in celebration of  the foiled invasion.  During the week leading up to the celebration, spherical pots “cast” in chocolate are sold throughout the city, a tasty reminder of the city’s salvation by a pot.

Clay, cast iron, or sheet metal spherical pots made their way into every trade.  Even whaling ships on the high seas used specially designed cast iron pots of enormous capacity for blubber.  To stabilize them, whalers flattened the sides of the pots, thus allowing them to line them up in a row.

The manufacture of cast iron spherical pots was widespread in the US, particularly in the southern states.  Here the pots were referred to as “English pots,” “honey pots,” or “sugar kettles.”

“Modern” times in the developed world saw the introduction of aluminum and stainless steel vessels.  These popular and bright materials were fashioned into pots of a cylindrical shape, eclipsing the spherical-shaped pots in the kitchen, relegating them to ancestral memory.  The demand for spherical cast iron pots plummeted, and people melted down their molds to use the metal elsewhere, especially during the two World Wars.  In the developed world, most foundries specializing in cast cookware have had to close down or branch out into other products.

However sad the plight of the spherical cooking pot may be in the developed world, it retains great popularity in many developing countries in Africa and Asia, both in metal and in clay.  In Asia, particularly in India and Nepal, spherical spun aluminum pots of various sizes are sold in markets everywhere.  These pots retain a  shape that dates back millennia.

Asian pot makers fashion these on lathes.  They lock a pre-heated annealed aluminum disc to the lathe and then an operator — usually strapped to the lathe for support much in the way that a repairman belts himself to a telephone pole — folds and shapes the spinning aluminum disc over a mold using a hard ball-tipped staff pivoted against a vertical bar.  The operator leans into his work with all his weight and strength so that the steel tip of the staff grooves the disc into shape.  The wooden mold is made of several fitted pieces that can easily be removed one at a time from the finished product.  the pots are then stacked and dipped into a solution of carbolic acid to give them a shiny appearance.

The sizes and capacities of these pots vary from one manufacturer to another.  Because their material is thin and spun, they dent easily.  When they can no longer serve as a cooking vessel, they get recycled.

The spherical pots that attracted the attention of the Bellerive team working on cookstoves were those pots commonly used throughout western and southern Africa where they are cast of aluminum and iron respectively.

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