Monday, September 28, 2009

Pomaire Pottery/Greda de Pomaire

One of the most important characteristics of Chilean Creole cuisine is its cooking vessels; clay pots from Pomaire. They come in a variety of sizes and shapes, from the classic olla (pot), to casseroles, pitchers, water jars, plates and bowls; they hold heat wonderfully, are said to impart a special flavor to food, are inexpensive, and can be used in the oven or directly over a flame.  A pastel de choclo (corn pie) or paila marina (seafood stew--paila is the earthenware bowl) is almost unimaginable in anything else.[1]

Pomaire olla, a Motera grande


Paila marina

Click map to enlarge

Pomaire is a village of 10,000 or so, some 35 miles SE of Santiago. The village owes its name to Curaca Pomaire, leader of a group of Indians who in 1482 were settled to the north of today’s Pomaire.  In 1583 they were evidently expelled from property of their encomendero,Tomás Pastene, and settled near present day Pomaire as a Pueblo de Indios, and Indian Town.  Such indigenous communities, common in Mexico and Peru but relatively rare in Chile where most rural Indians and mestizos were attached to a hacienda as laborers[2], were used by the conquistadores and their descendants to house Indians displaced from lands the colonists wanted for their own uses.  Evidently this was the case with Pomaire’s Indians.  The village was established in its present location in 1771, and pottery making on a commercial scale evidently started shortly thereafter. [3]

The pottery technology used in Pomaire seems to have been that of the indigenous Mapuche.  Visiting the nearby village of Melipilla in 1822, Englishwoman Maria Graham found that the technology there was the same as she had observed earlier near Valparaiso.  There was…
…no regular manufactory, no division of labour, no machinery, not even the potter's wheel, none of the aids to industry which I had conceived almost indispensable to a trade so artificial as that of making earthenware. At the door of one of the poorest huts, formed merely of branches and covered with long grass, having a hide for a door, sat a family of manufacturers. They were seated on sheep-skins spread under the shade of a little penthouse formed of green boughs, at their work. A mass' of clay ready tempered lay before them, and each person according to age and ability was forming jars, plates, or dishes. The work-people were all women, and I believe that no man condescends to employ himself in this way, that is, in making the small ware: the large wine jars, &c. of Melipilla are made by men.[4]

While I found no description of the process in Pomaire, Mapuche chief Pascual Coña dictated a description in Life and Customs of the Indigenous Araucanians in the Second part of the XIX Century. 

Some of the old-time women were very skilled in the art of pottery; making various pitchers, jars, pots, plates, cups: all kinds of clay vessels….  When the clay was well mixed a handful was taken to work with.  First a round vessel bottom was formed from the clay.  Then another handful was molded into a strip or “piulo” using the palms of both hands.   When this piulo was long enough it was placed on the round bottom following its circumference, and was pressed into the base with the fingers.  Then a second handful of material was pressed onto the previous strip and the grove between the two piulos was smoothed inside and out.  The later work proceeded in exactly the same way.  According to what they wanted to make, the width, height and form of the vessel were formed.  As they were very experienced in their art, they produced many different shapes.[5]

While the technology seems to have been indigenous, the shapes were largely determined by Spanish taste.  The pieces below, and the one following the first paragraph, above, were made by Teresa Muñoz:

…born in Pomaire in 1915, learned the craft from her grandmother and mother.  She has practiced it since she was 16.  She works in the old style, forming the shapes by hand and repeating the patterns made by her ancestors.  She obtains the clay, already prepared, from the same area. She is one of the few artisans who maintain the tradition in the way she works and in the patterns she follows. [6]
  Paila (bowl)

More of her pieces can be found on line: see Traditional ceramic pieces from Pomaire, Collection of traditional Chilean craftwork, Pontifical Catholic University of Chile.

Today Pomaire is an attractive tourist destination for Santiagueños and visitors, who come on weekends and holidays to window-shop, buy pottery and other handicrafts, and to enjoy the Chilean Creole cuisine.

Dozens of shops line the main street.  Some include artisans demonstrating their work.  Today’s technology includes the wheel, but it remains an artisanal craft.


Prices are reasonable.  The casseroles to the right were 3,500 CLP, about $6.50 US.

  In addition to utilitarinan ware there are figurines, such as these crèche figures.


And other, non-religious novelties.

And there is food to take home or eat on the street.

And restaurants serving traditional Chilean Creole cuisine in pleasant shady patios.

But back to the pottery:  it is unglazed earthenware, thick and relative good at even heat distribution.  It can be used in the oven, over a flame or on charcoal, for roasting, sautéing, boiling or simmering, and for serving.  It keeps food warm for a long time.

Many people recommend that you “cure” new pieces; although it is not essential (my wife used her greda for years without curing any). The idea behind curing is to seal the pores of the clay.   Many techniques are recommended, but for pots that will be used for soups, stews, cooking beans, etc., boiling whole milk (preferably fresh from the cow) for 10 minutes or so seems the most common.  Others recommend boiling water with a good dollop of oil or lard added. (I tried this with my new piece, above—seems to have done no harm.) For casseroles, platters, bowls, etc., oiling the surface and then heating for 5 to 10 minutes in a hot oven is recommended.[7]

A few other suggestions:
  • For long simmered sauces, etc., that may burn on the bottom, use a heat diffuser 
  • Pre-heat casseroles that will be used in the oven for lasagna, baked chicken, etc. or expect to add 10 minutes or so to the cooking time.
  • Preheat bowls for serving soups and stews, cazuela, paila marina, etc.
  • Cook individual pastel de choclo, shepherd’s pie, mac & cheese, pot pie, etc. in greda bowls.
  • Use some caution in adding cold liquids to a hot casserole or immersing one in cold water. Greda is durable, but it’s not cast iron.
  • Don’t be overly cautious.  Sauté onions and garlic in the casserole, brown some meat, add wine, vegetables, simmer or pop in the oven. Take to the table and serve out of the pot with crusty bread and more wine. Enjoy. 
 Casuela de ave from a Pomaire restaurant

[1] Some take-out places sell pastel de choclo in bowls of greda for an extra $1 or so.
[2] Bauer, Arnold J. 1975.  Chilean Rural Society from the Spanish Conquest to 1930.  Cambridge Latin American Series, 21.  Cambridge University Press.  P. 47
[3]  Popular accounts of the early history of Pomaire such as the one published by El Detallista (Pomaire crèche y se proyecta a futuro, on line at seem to be sanitized, ignoring the circumstances under which Indians were dominated and exploited by the Spanish.  Discussion of the founding of the Pueblo de Indios of Pomaire come from Los Indígenas De Chile Central, Informe Comision Verdad Historica Y Nuevo Trato - 2001- 2003, Vol 1, Part 1, Chapter 2, p 74 on line at .
[4] Graham, Maria. 1824. Journal of a Residence in Chile, During the Year 1822.  London: Longman, Hurst, etc. On line at
[5] Wilhelm de Moesbach, P. Ernesto. 1930 Vida y costumbres de los indígenas araucanos de las segunda mitad del siglo XIX.  Santiago: Imprenta Cervantes P. 216.  My translation of the Spanish translation.  On line at
[6] 2001 Piezas de alfarería tradicional de Pomaire, ARQ (Santiago)  n.49 Santiago dic. 2001 on line at
[7] Facebook discussion board, Artesania a domicilio, Cuidados de los pocillos de Greda, on line at


  1. Oh! How I wish I could have one of this pots at home. So I could used it when cooking. I'm passionate about cooking so with pottery.

  2. Claypot,

    I guess it depends on how badly you want one. See for a company that sells Pomaire pottery and ships internationally.

    Best wishes - Jim

  3. cabrerajessica@yahoo.caMarch 18, 2011 at 7:27 PM

    I have several pieces I bought in chile a few years ago. They make a lovely display in my kitchen,and I am afraid to wreck them. My question is can you use them on an electric stove or oven. They have not been cured. I would love to use them for dinner parties

  4. I don't see why not, the're very sturdy, but I'd use a heat diffuser under the pot to make sure.

    Good luck

  5. FYI: Sadly, after 3+ years of weekly use over a gas flame for stews, pasta sauce, beans, etc. my greda casserole, pictured above, developed a crack and began to leak. So, this weekend we went to Pomaire to buy a new one, and in the process asked about cracking and curing. Our store owner suggested that to prevent cracking, you should heat greda slowly, using a heat diffuser and low flame at first rather than putting it directly over a high flame. And how to cure greda casseroles? This time we heard a new one: a little liquor "any kind, pisco, wine, etc." should be poured in and heated. But I went back to one of the standards: I rubbed the inside with solid shortening and heated in in the oven. All the shortening soaked in so I guess it worked.


Sorry, no more anonymous posts. I was getting too much spam. Email me (see my profile) if you would like to comment and have no account. Jim