Pot Auntys

Ali needed a new pot for her book club dinner. A plastic handle had come off the old one and she’d had a go but couldn’t fix it. The previous tenant’s cookware was junk. Its handle stayed wobbly whatever you did. It had caused her to spill a whole pot of stew. Thank God she was wearing shoes! It had taken her an hour to clean the mess, and wasted ten dollars of ingredients.

She went to the hardware store for new cookware. There were so many different metals – pans made of aluminium, copper, cast iron, stainless steel, and carbon steel, and those with non-stick coatings. There were composite materials like enamelled cast iron, enamel over steel, and clad copper, plus alternatives like ceramics, glass, glass-ceramic, and silicon. What was the difference between them all?

The cookware specialist – she had a badge saying so – said, “Choice of material has a significant effect on performance and cost. Key factors you should look for are thermal conductivity and how much food sticks. Pans should conduct heat, but be chemically unreactive. Some may require surface pre-preparation with…”

This was too much information right now. Ali said, “Which one would you recommend for me?” The cookware specialist picked one out.

“How much is it? Oh, two hundred and twenty dollars? That’s more than I can afford.”

The cookware specialist told her the benefits of buying a pot for life. It would prove cheaper in the long run. How old was Ali now – twenty five? If she lived to seventy-five, that was fifty years at less than five dollars a year.

Ali said, “Does it come with a guarantee?” The cookware specialist said there was a two year guarantee.

“But didn’t you say it was a pot for life?” The cookware specialist said who, these days, thinks beyond two years? If Ali didn’t wish to invest her money wisely, maybe she should go across the road to the thrift store instead. This was a ploy to shame her into reconsidering, but she really didn’t want to spend two hundred and twenty dollars. She preferred to take the shame.

The sign on the hut across the road said Eternal Antiques. Ali had visited many times but never seen anyone working there, just shadows moving among piles. She’d chosen her items, dropped her cash into the honesty box and left. They had a good selection of books, clothes, games, and sports equipment. She recalled seeing cookware downstairs at the back, and made her way down there. Ali admired a painting of a medieval kitchen. Servant women in black aprons and white bonnets attended to steaming cauldrons, boiling pans and blackened spits. A vast feast was being prepared for their masters, and if they were lucky, the servants would dine on leftover suckling pig, roast swan, herb-roasted roots, and gravied dumplings.

Ali rummaged through the pile of cookware, causing crashes and bangs as lids rolled around. She found a dark fat cauldron, similar to one in the medieval painting, priced at five bucks. Its handles were welded. That’s what she needed.

It didn’t seem like the pot had any special coating so Ali scrubbed it well, but it remained dull and refused to shine. The water was on full, rushing and gushing. At one point she heard laughing but it must have been water fizzing as it whirled around. It was a good sign though. This was a happy pot.

Her book club members were coming at six, so she had better get cooking. She felt a grumbling as she crumbled stock cubes, which settled down as the water reached a rolling boil. She chopped beef into cubes, and then felt drawn to certain ingredients. Voices in her head said “Add this,” and “Add that,” causing her to reach for parsley, sage, hyssop, and cloves. The voices told her to add mace and verjuice – which she found in the previous tenant’s spice drawer – and egg yolks, ginger, salt, and saffron. This wasn’t her usual recipe for stew. The taste was much stronger and spicier. What was she making? She had no idea.

Her book club members said it was the best stew they had ever tasted, and the sole male member stayed for “coffee”. Later in the bedroom she heard further voices in her head, saying “Do this,” and “Do that,” and laughing. The book club member said this was the best sex he’d ever had.

Next morning as Ali washed the pot, she heard laughing again, as if someone was being tickled. It matched her good mood. She decided to scrub the pot really hard to remove the char stains. As the pot became shinier she noticed shapes wobbling within it. There was a series of black blobs, all crushed together, with pale circles within them. As she looked closely, Ali saw the servant women from the painting.

The pot was made by an English blacksmith in 1666. Women burnt in the bishop’s kitchen during the Great Fire of London had given the pot their souls. Added to these were the souls of every woman who had ever used the pot. There’s a reason that witches use cauldrons. Ali’s soul would also inhabit this one.

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