The wives of the Italian immigrants who farmed grapes, stone fruits, and grains in the early 20th century were known for their hard work in the vineyards, from planting vines to harvesting grapes. They were also known for their vegetable gardens, chickens, fishing skills, and their cooking. The wood-burning kitchen stove was where the meals were prepared.
One pot found in Italian kitchens was an eight to twelve inches deep copper pot with a base narrower than the rim. This is the polenta pot used for making the staple food from yellow corn. The copper pot was deeply blackened at the base because of the stove, and it often had a handle, similar to a bucket, so that the polenta could be carried to the house or the vineyard to serve family, friends, and workers at midday.
Copper was used in ancient cultures to make the tools that carved weapons for hunting and warfare. By 3000 B.C.E., copper was in use in cultures in China, Egypt, India, and Turkey for a variety of purposes, including infrastructure such as pipelines and sewer systems.
Artifacts discovered in the Mesopotamian culture are believed to be the earliest cooking utensils, according to historians. We know the Egyptians were using a variety of shapes of copper cooking utensils by 2700 B.C.E.
Mesopotamia was located between the Tigris and the Euphrates Rivers; the name derives from the Greek meaning “between the rivers.” Today this area, which includes the Fertile Crescent, is made up of a number of cultures and countries, including parts of Iraq, Iran, Turkey, Syria, and the Persian Gulf. The Babylonians, Sumerians, and Akked civilizations produced copper axes, chisels, knife blades, sickles, chains, clamps, and hammers. They cooked in clay vessels and copper pots. Copper conducts heat more evenly than many other metals. As civilizations developed on the Italian peninsula, the use of copper vessels spread north to Italy.
The polenta pots are still used today and you may purchase them online at Williams-Sonoma. I have not yet determined whether the Italian women brought these pots with them to America or purchased them in San Francisco.
More to follow! Meanwhile, please check out Joni Dusi’s Polenta Recipe 2023.
Copper Polenta Pot with Caterina’s Salt and Pepper Shakers