Monday, November 17, 2008

Notes on Crocks

(Doncha love the art on this one?)
P~ over at A Posse Ad Esse asked about the trick to finding good antique pickling crocks. I have a few thoughts on this.
Not to cause any despair in my blogfriend P~, but I think the ease of finding old crocks depends on where you live in the country, and on the pre-industrial food storage traditions of your region. Crocks were typically used in root cellars, and root cellars weren't as common in the west; in the more arid western climates, foods were often dried rather than fermented. As well, since the west experienced it's major population boom post-electricity, fewer old crocks made it that far west. Since I know P~ is in the great state of Utah, I suspect he'll have a tougher time of it than I do here in Michigan, which is full of old barns stuffed with old crocks. (If it makes you feel any better, P~, I'm jealous that you can collect your own salt.)
As a tip, though: It never hurts to endear yourself to a few antiques dealers. I "found" a couple of mine by asking a few dealers I know to keep an eye out for me; ask and ye shall receive. If you make sure they know you're definitely going to buy a few from them (provided they don't leak and are not pitted inside), it's a nice day's work for a local dealer. I wish I had time to knock around in antiques stores every weekend, would that I did, but dealers also have primary sources that end-buyers don't.
As lovely as the old crocks are, you can buy them new, too. Lehman's, located in Kidron, Ohio, has a nice selection of all the typical family-sized
crocks. They cost less than many of the old crocks, and they also have sauerkraut boards and nice wooden lids to fit them, too, although a non-reactive plate and a piece of fabric held snugly with a rubber band work just as well.
If I ever go into the fermenting biz, I'd probably commission a local potter or pottery student to make some crocks for me. I'd personally request stoneware and salt-glaze, just like the old ones, but letting the student have at it could be cool, too. As long as the interior sides are straight and the glaze is safe, there are a lot of possibilities.
Update: Of course, there are many other pots you can use for fermenting- food-grade plastic pickle buckets are free from any fast food restaurant that uses pickles (though plastic personally gives me pause); stainless steel stockpots or any non-reactive cooking pot- i.e., not aluminum and not granite ware (the surface might be cracked). Even the patron saint of modern fermenting, Sandor Ellix Katz, uses plastic pickle buckets. I just have a soft spot for the old ones.


d. moll, said...

Gorgeous !!! Have you seen the Harsch crocks with the water seal top ?

I have two, thought they were a bit expensive until I realized kraut sell for about 9 bucks for a pint in the stores.....

ilex said...

Oh yeah, I forgot about those. Those crocks are great, too. And I was looking for a link for the traditional Asian crocks, but couldn't find one. The little countertop, household ones they use in Korea and Japan are usually plastic, aren't they?

Anonymous said...

They're not as classy, but you can also use the removable crock from a crock pot, or half-gallon canning jars (use a baggie of brine instead of a plate/towel).

MOTM said...

I worked for a florist who had a dozen of these stashed away at the back of the greenhouse. I begged and begged for him to let me take a few of them but he wouldn't. Not like they were being used; this place was a dump, sadly. They finally tore the greenhouse down this year and I bet those gorgeous crocks went down with it. Sigh.

Rabbits' Guy said...

Man .. put a nickle in that girl and away she goes .. on and on ...

I knew she could write a lot about pickling, and here she has barely touched the surface. What next? A Toastmasters II Speech????

Carolyn said...

I love that crock!!!

Are you considering a pickling Business???

I would buy something!


Galen Lehman said...

Thanks for your nice mention of our website! We also carry the German ones mentioned by d.moll,, which I much better than the traditional American ones. (The German ones are out of stock at the moment, but should be in by the end of the week.)

Galen Lehman

PS - To see the crocks, go to and search "crocks"

Rabbits' Guy said...

I just knew it ... here we go ...

The Detroit Condo-Homestead Pickle, Worm, and Garden Emporium!

Verde said...

I never see old crocks at yard sales here in UT. I have some that were from my mom's family.

What every you want to dry, just leave it on the counter for a few days.

P~ said...

Ilex, thanks for the post, I've been meaning to get over and leave you a comment on it, but obligations keep keeping me from it. I totally agree with your analysis. A~, the wife, has often said the same thing. She was raised in West (by God) Virginia and has told me about the crocks her parents and grandparents had growing up, and how everyone had them. Out here in UT...None.
Oh, but wait, there's more! A~'s Dad is driving out here for Thanksgiving and guess what I just learned he's toting out for me? Not one, but two crocks. picked up at thrift stores too. a 2 gal. and a 6 gal. Like I always say, put it out there and believe in it, and the world will find a way.
Thanks how about some of those recipies?

Kateri said...

I love that crock in your post. I see them on Craig's List from time to time. I think I may have just been inspired to buy one the next time one comes up.

Irma said...

Crocks are gorgeous, wish I knew more about fermenting, I would love to do this. My Hubandly One doesn't enjoy pickles, and HATES sauerkraut...sometimes I question why I chose to live my life with him!

(Writing this by candlelight, by the way....)

P~ said...

We got our crocks ilex!!! they're in rally good condition too. Now, where's the garden fresh cukes when you need them??