Fermentation and pickling has long been viewed as an effective and healthy way to preserve certain foods. Our ancestors fermented cabbage and other vegetables to make delicious and easy-to-store foods that would see their families through the winter and early spring. These pickled and fermented foods were most commonly prepared in large stoneware crocks – an historic homesteading tool that is often forgotten.
Stoneware is made of a fine quality clay which is semi-vitrified, or fired until it is hard and non-porous, but not to the point where silicates inside the clay body fuse into glass. Industrial ceramics, china and other such items are fully vitrified and are made with clay and other ingredients that form an extra-strong ceramic, while stoneware is not as chemically complex.
Our ancestors knew there was no need to make a high-grade porcelain body for their stoneware crocks, which allowed them to make functional and sometimes highly artistic crockery using less fuel to fire the clay body. The fired stoneware body was then glazed, fired a second time to fix the glaze, and then was ready for use. Over time, stoneware-preserving crocks took on several common forms, but most always with a large, wide mouth and big enough to hold multiple gallons of produce.