Mar 22, 2022 | News

Very much in demand right now are these beautifully glazed earthenware pots known as ‘confit pots’, which can be found in a range of sizes and beautiful, earthy colours, just waiting to be rediscovered by modern collectors and lovers of rustic interiors.
For centuries, these broad and shapely earthenware vessels were to be found in all French kitchens, especially those in the South of France, where the weather was much warmer. Despite their gorgeous appearance, these quintessentially French clay storage pots were very much the latter-day equivalent of the modern Tupperware box, destined, for the most part, for a very humble life as a storage receptacle for all manner of delicious, French country foodstuffs, storing reserves of meat or poultry over the winter months.
‘Confit’, comes from the French verb ‘confire’, which means ‘to preserve’, and one of the most prized of French dishes – Confit de Canard, salted duck cooked lengthily and slowly in its own fat – was packed tightly into a confit pot, before being covered with gauze or a wooden lid, and buried three-quarters deep in the cool earth floor of a cellar, or placed at the back of a stone-lined larder. In the days before refrigeration, preservation of produce, whether meat, fish, fruit or vegetables, was a real challenge – especially in a region so famed for its beautiful, hot summers. The cool environment of the sunken confit pot aided the preservation process, thus extending the life of the food contained within it and allowing the housekeeper to ensure that there were always stocks of food in reserve, often to see families through the winter months.
This partial burial process is also the reason there is no glaze on the lower part of the exterior of most pots — it tended to peel when stored in the cool dirt. In fact, the glaze line acted as a marker, to show the depth to which the pot should be buried. Some pots had high, sturdy handles on each side, for lifting it out of the ground, while others had none.
Typically, the top and inside of a confit pot was glazed with a bright colour, ranging from mustard, honey or sunshine yellow, to off white or even bright green. In fact, the colour of the glaze is characteristic of the region in which the pot was made. Manufactured in huge numbers throughout the nineteenth century, the yellow glazed pots tend to originate from areas south of the River Loire, with the rarer, green ones coming from areas to the north of it.
Their increasing popularity as decorative items may well have stemmed from their frequent appearance in some of the artist Van Gogh’s ‘Sunflowers’ paintings. Van Gogh, who seemed to favour the bold, mustardy yellow pots for the most part, was obviously very taken with these capacious jars, and a close look at some of his other still life paintings reveals he owned pots in other colours too.
It was not just foodstuffs that needed to be kept cool, however. In a similar way, drinking water was kept cool and refreshing by storing it in a version of the pot called a ‘cruche’. Half-glazed on the exterior, with two handles, a spout and a lid, these beautiful jugs were traditionally used to store and serve water, often being part-buried in the ground as a means of keeping it cool. Like the confit pots, cruches are also to be found in a wide variety of sizes, and bright, beautiful colours – often rich golden yellows or emerald greens. The largest cruches were used to collect water from a fountain or a spring and were carried by donkeys or mules.
A smaller version of a cruche, known as a ‘gargoulette’, was a water jug designed to be worn on a belt, allowing those working in the hot sun to keep their drinking water cool. A gargoulette would have a handle (or belt hole) and two spouts – a corked one for pouring, and a long one which could be aimed straight into the mouth (long and thin, so that several people could drink from the vessel without it touching their lips).
It’s hard to determine exactly what it is that draws collectors and enthusiasts to these charmingly rustic kitchen vessels. They are such utilitarian items, usually with chips, cracks and glaze imperfections stemming from a lifetime of use and the passage of time. But as Van Gogh demonstrated so artfully in his paintings, they lend themselves perfectly to contemporary rustic decor, nowadays filled with cascading blooms or greenery, rather than salty, fatty meat.
I can never suppress my excitement when I am on my travels searching for antiques, when I come across one of these beautiful pots, often abandoned in a derelict country garden, or forgotten in a cellar. They have such history to them, and despite being made in such vast numbers in the past, each one is completely unique.