Many years ago, I invested a big chunk of my tax refund on a 20-quart stainless steel stockpot at a gourmet cooking shop.
For the first couple of years, I used it mostly for stewing tomatoes in preparation for canning tomato sauce. I still use it that way every August and September.
But the stockpot has become one of my most used and useful household tools. I think everyone should own one. (I now own two.) Buy the largest, heaviest one you can afford. Here’s why:
Cook for a crowd. A big stockpot allows you to steam a quantity of corn on the cob, boil a lobster, brine a small-to-medium-sized turkey, prepare a whole-chicken stew, or boil any amount of pasta without fear of having it foam over.
Make broths, stocks, and soups in quantity. When you’re making soup or stock, why not make a lot of it? You’ll use about the same amount of fuel as you’d use for a small amount. If you have no plans for a dinner party or potluck, prepare your family meal and freeze the extra.
Cook dry beans and lentils. I’ve taken to soaking five or six pounds of dry beans or lentils in my stockpot overnight, draining and rinsing them in the morning, covering with double the volume of fresh water, and simmering until soft. What I’m not using for the evening meal, I cool and ladle into appropriate containers, and freeze.
Blanch a large quantity of vegetables for freezing. The stockpot comes in handy if you have a lot of green beans or broccoli coming in from the garden or from a local grower.
Allow at least one gallon of water per pound of prepared vegetables, and prepare a big pot or a food-grade plastic tub of ice water (containing lots of unmelted ice cubes) to cool the blanched veggies quickly when they’ve emerged from the cooking pot. Get the water boiling vigorously before you add the cut veggies. Stir with a long wooden spoon until the water begins boiling again, then cover the pot and cook for the required amount of time.
Make a big batch of yeast bread. I earned my living for a few years baking whole-grain bread in my kitchen. I still enjoy baking--usually 2-4 loaves at a time, but occasionally, I want to make a super-large batch. For example, when holiday season rolls around, I like to make “pizza kits” for my friends: a couple of partially-baked crusts, a pint of my homemade tomato sauce, and a bag of herbed cheese.
Use it as a water-bath canning kettle for small batches of fruits, jams/jellies, and tomatoes.
Make laundry detergent. I make a couple of gallons of detergent three or four times a year. After I’ve funneled off the detergent into plastic bottles, I use the residue to clean down the stockpot.
Wash greens and other wild edibles. I like to collect wild edible and medicinal plants, which often require a lot of washing and rinsing to get out the grit. Whenever I find an abundance of some wild plant, I stash my harvest in a recycled mesh onion bag, first rinse them under the faucet, then vigorously swoosh the bag around in my stockpot through several changes of water.
Store emergency water. When a big thunderstorm threatens, I hasten to the cellar sink and fill my stockpots with drinking and cooking water. We have some long-term water storage, but that’s chlorinated, and most outages last less than a day.
Finally Dare I say it? My tall, round stockpot is the perfect size for soaking cold or aching feet. I use salt, baking soda, or Epsom salt, maybe add a pot of some good-smelling herbal tea.
Margaret Boyles lives in a wood-heated house in central New Hampshire. She grows vegetables, eats weeds, keeps chickens, swims in a backyard pond in summer, snowshoes in the surrounding woods in winter, and commutes by bike whenever possible.