La Chamba, Colombia Cookware

Chamba woman starting clay pot

The village of La Chamba sits on the banks of the Magdalena river, in the shadow of the active Ruiz volcano, Colombia’s tallest mountain.

Since as far back as collective memory, this area has been producing one of the world’s finest cookware. The village sits on large deposits of sandy volcanic clay that, once fired, offers a superb even heating cooking surface with excellent thermal shock properties.

In ancient times, the people of the village, who also fished the mighty river, would cross over to the other side in their dugouts. There they found large deposits of very fine and pure red sedimentary clay. They brought it back to the village and made a slurry with it that they coated their unfired vessels with, giving them a smooth finish. Then, with agates and other semi precious stones rolled smooth by the river, they burnished their pots to a shine before firing them in their ancient teepee shaped kilns.  

It is unclear when pre-Columbian cultures in the Americas started “smoking” their pots, as the practice is called in the American South West. In La Chamba the pots to be smoked are placed in large vessels and these placed into the kiln. When the kiln reaches its top temperature and the pieces are thoroughly fired, the large vessel is pulled with hooks from the kiln, the white hot contents smothered with dry leaves and the holding vessel covered. The carbon in the leaves coming into contact with the white hot clay starts to combust but finding no oxygen to complete its combustion in the sealed environment of the covered holding vessel, it pulls oxygen from the iron oxide in the red surface clay of the pots, turning them black.

This is how the art of making the very distinctive cookware from La Chamba developed in the very earliest epochs of pre-Columbian America. Handed down from mother to daughter, this tradition has continued uninterrupted. Now it can continue to flourish and be appreciated throughout the world as a truly remarkable non reactive cookware, made from nothing more than a few lumps of very special local clay.

Please share your favorite recipes and experience cooking with clay cookware from around the world.