Thursday, November 18, 2010

Lead-Free Clay Cookware

"You can put them on the stove??" is a frequent question from many people when they see this clay cookware. No offense intended, but that's like asking a salesperson if you can wear a raincoat in the rain. Umm...that's what they're for.
Es para cocinar. Or to translate into English, "It's for cooking". The amazing thing about these casseroles and pots (and the molera above) is not that you can put them directly on a gas flame or wood fire-- or inside the oven--but that they're from Mexico, and they are LEAD FREE. Most Americans don't realize that even though it has been the law for several years that all pottery designed for food use must be lead free, what you usually get in Mexico-- still-- has lead in the glaze. So most likely the stuff sold as "vintage" collectibles on eBay is full of lead, as is most of the cheap pottery sold in the markets all around Mexico. However this pottery, which is exported by a non-profit organization in Mexico called Barro Sin Plomo, which means lead free clay, is the only Mexican clay cookware imported to the U.S. that is certified lead free.

Using lead free pottery is better for your health, and for the health of the Mexican artisans and their families whose workshops are no longer contaminated with lead dust. The earnings from the pottery sales provide essential economic support for families in several poor Mexican communities, and are also used in the campaign to encourage more artisans to give up the use of lead in their clay process.
I mentioned the usual reaction by Americans to this cookware, but there is also a typical response from Mexicanos or Mexican-Americans when they see it here in the United States. Young and old, men and women, most react emotionally, remembering an
abuelita who used to cook amazing sopa, frijoles, or mole in simple pots just like these. They know that the food tastes better cooked in clay-- no convincing needed there. This is part of their cultura, and the memories and feelings are strong. So many of these folks, while they have adapted to the American style of supermarket shopping and food preparation, remember a time when there was always a pot of something delicious on the fire, cooking nice and slow, all day long.
The family's meal was
homemade, and the clay pot used for cooking it was handmade... like this one on the right, which is part of our new product line we're calling Cocina Sana (healthy kitchen) through Mexico By Hand.
For more information, or to purchase lead-free clay cookware, please go to
or contact us at: (510) 526-6395.
Wholesale customers of Cocina Sana are most welcome.

See traditional clay cookware being used today in Mexico in the beautiful video below from UNESCO.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Burnished Clay Pots

Mexico By Hand is excited to be exhibiting the beautiful clay pots from Huancito, Michoacán at the Green Festival on Nov. 6th and 7th in San Francisco.
The first time we went to Huancito (pronounced wáhn-see-toe) was in 2004 to tape an interview with Bernardina Rivera and Elena Felix for our video project for Michoacán's La Casa de las Artesanias, and we really weren't sure what to expect. We found some major challenges taping that day, but the best part was when Elena and Bernardina took us out to where they mine the clay, which was very cool. The women do it all, including picking and digging up the clay and hauling it back home-- all with babies on their backs. At that time we had no idea that these two women who are sisters-in-laws, were in the Banamex collection, Great Masters of Mexican Folk Art. We were grateful for the opportunity to get to meet these very talented women from whom we have been buying for several years now.

We have had funny chance meetings with members of the family since then. I found the beautiful large white pot below when Imelda, Elena's daughter, was holding it on her lap on a sidewalk in Patzcuaro...waiting for a buyer. I had bought several smaller ones from her the year before as she was walking around town with her little brother, carrying a load of pots strapped to her back. It's about a two hour bus ride from Huancito to Patzcuaro; that's what these folks have to do in order to sell their work.
The pots were originally designed thousands of years ago to store water and were stacked as towers because of limited space. After the pieces are formed and air-dried, they are coated with charanda, a soil pigment. They are then burnished or polished with a stone and decorated totally free hand with a squirrel hair brush. They say that the paint is made from ant excrement, but we never got to see them make that.
(left) Imelda is painting pots with her grandmother in the family workshop...

And one Saturday afternoon this past August we ran into Elena Felix sitting on a sidewalk with her pots near the Plaza Grande in Patzcuaro. She had so many beautiful pieces there, including these below, but few takers. There aren't many foreign tourists in Michoacán these days, and unfortunately few Mexican nationals buy elaborate fine quality crafts like these.

It was a good day for Elena and her family, and a great day for Mexico By Hand to be able to purchase this magnificent work that is so appreciated by our customers.

I've also gotten to know another Huancito family-- the Espicios. They have visited me bearing pots at my favorite Patzcuaro hotel, Meson de San Antonio, and this summer we happened to be driving off at just the right time when we saw Marta (below on left) walking up the hill to our hotel with some gorgeous pots to show me. Her husband, David, and their children all work with clay. The two pots with handles (photo above) are part of a tower of 8 pieces made by Maria Guadalupe. Mexico By Hand will have work by both Huancito families in booth #534 at the S.F. Green Festival.
For more info. on purchasing these pots, go to