by Delbert Trew
The Tupperware of their day
dictionary says, "A crock is an earthen jar made of baked clay, with
a wide mouth and no handles." Another statement says, "Clay cooking
vessels go back to the beginnings of man, even before the discovery
of fire, when humans used clay dishes to cook food out in the hot
Clay food storage containers were so common they could be called the
Tupperware of their day.
As a little boy I can remember crocks, and crock-type bowls that were
in everyday use in the Trew homes.
My favorite crock story tells of chuck wagon cooks who kept their
sourdough batch growing in a small crock with a lid. The thick walls
of the crock kept the temperature more even than other vessels, and
the wide mouth allowed the cook to work and pinch off biscuit dough
Each day, the cook fed his dough with flour and other ingredients
to keep it growing. The saddest thing that could happen to a wagon
crew is when for some reason the sourdough died and a new batch had
to be started. There were no biscuits until the new dough began producing.
If the weather was hot, the sourdough crock was hidden underneath
cowboy bedrolls to keep it cool.
In cold weather, the cook slept with the crock to keep the dough from
electricity and refrigeration came to the country in about 1939, Grandma
Trew kept a 4-inch-deep galvanized tin tray, 2 feet by 3 three feet,
sitting on a low table placed in front of a south kitchen window.
She kept four or five one-gallon crocks sitting in the tray, which
was filled with water. The crocks held fresh cow's milk on which the
cream rose to the top overnight.
She used a "skimmer ladle" to skim the cream off into another crock.
When enough cream was accumulated, she poured it into the crock-churn
containing a lid with a hole in the top to allow the dasher handle
By raising and lowering the dasher, the cream was churned into butter,
which was removed into a crock bowl to work out the liquids. The buttermilk
was poured into a crock in the tray to be used by the family. The
crocks were then covered with white dishcloths, letting the tails
drop down into the water in the tray.
The cloths became damp and the breeze from the window kept all cool.
Each time I visited, I used her skimmer to fill a "snuff glass" with
buttermilk then crumble the "always present" cornbread into the contents.
Hmmm, was that ever delicious.
Manufactured crocks in America date back to the early 1700s. The Red
Wing products are sought by collectors. They made all size crocks,
bowls and dishes, churns, chicken water dispensers, one-eared jugs
and a string-ball holder that hung on the kitchen wall.
I can remember like yesterday each time my mother removed a knife
from a drawer, reached for a favorite crock bowl, then with a few
strokes sharpened the knife edge along the rim of the clay bowl.
This happened often enough a slightly blackened ring remained permanently
etched on the bowl rim.
© Delbert Trew
"It's All Trew"
- April 17, 2006 column