Friday, September 04, 2020

Friday Ramble - Stirring the Cauldron

This week's word hails from the Middle English caudroun, thence the Anglo-Norman caudiere, the Latin calderium meaning "hot bath", the Latin caldaria meaning “cooking pot” and the adjective calidus meaning fiery or hot. Caldera, calenture, calid, calor, caloric, calorie, caudle, chafe, chauffeur, cholent, chowder, kettle, lee, lukewarm, nonchalant, réchauffé and scald are kindred words and share the same origins. At the end of our wordy rambling is the Proto-Indo-European (PIE) root kelə meaning “warm”.

I still have the battered Dutch oven I carried while rambling the continent many years ago, baking bannock over open fires, stirring soups, stews and cassoulets by starlight and watching as sparks went spiraling into the inky sky over the rim of my old pot. A lot of beans, stew meat and bruised veggies went into the vessel, and it never failed to dish out a fine meal, no matter how humble its contents. The motes of light rising from its depths were stars too, perfect counterpoint to the constellations dancing over my head.

These days, there's a stockpot bubbling away on my stove, a rice cooker, a bean crock or two, an unglazed earthenware tagine, several bright red cast iron cooking pots by Staub and Le Creuset, a small three-legged iron incense bowl on the table in my study. I use them often and always treat them as the precious instruments they are, culinary vessels sacred to ancient goddesses of the hearth like Hestia, Bridget and Cerridwen.

Once upon a long ago time, a woman's standing in her community was measured by how many pots there were in her kitchen and the materials of which they were made. Pots were the most treasured items in a young woman's dowry when she married and set about making a home of her own, and a fine bronze cooking pot was something to be proud of.

Geologists use caldera to describe the crater formed when a volcano's magma chamber is emptied by a massive eruption or when the magma chamber's roof collapses. The largest volcanic caldera on earth is the vast Yellowstone Caldera in northern Wyoming, and another caldera, Indonesia's mighty Krakatoa has been in a state of almost constant eruption for more than a century. When Krakatoa blew in 1883, its eruption was the second most powerful volcanic event in recorded history, surpassed only by the cataclysmic performance of Mount Tambora (another Indonesian volcano) in 1815.

The night that gifts us with stars and enfolds us gently when the sun goes down is a vast cauldron or bowl.  Somewhere in the darkness up there, Cerridwen is stirring her heady cosmic brew of knowledge, creativity and rebirth, her kettle simmering over a mystic cook fire—the bard Taliesin once partook of a single drop from her magical vessel and awakened into wisdom and song.

We're all vessels, and one of the best motifs for this life is surely a pot, a kettle or a cauldron,  one battered, dented and well traveled, but useful and happy to be so, bubbling and crackling away in the background (sometimes in the foreground), making happy musics and occasionally sending bright motes up into the air.

And so it is with this old hen when the seasons turn. Notions of alchemy bubble away gently. Sparks fly upward, images of pots and cauldrons cosmic and domestic whirl about in her thoughts. She simply could not (and would not) be anywhere else.

3 comments:

Barbara R. said...

Wonderful essay. I recently had to purchase 2 new pots, with non-stick surfaces, so I could cook without using oil. It's a new diet for me, and surprisingly tasty and nutritious...totally plant based. I've made a couple of clay cauldrons, standing on 3 legs of course...not to be used for cooking. Perhaps I will set some blooming plant in the one I've kept. Thanks for your inspiration here all the days.

Tabor said...

I like the way you have carried theme of these vessels. My husband had gotten very attached to bowls his mother once owned.

Debbie Grace said...

Especially enjoyed reading this ramble. Oh, how I wish (again!) for some shared time with you in a kitchen... yours, mine, or somewhere in between, doesn't matter one bit to me. ❤️

Much love to you this day, dearest Cate,
Debbie Grace
who is still trustin'