Gorgeous copper vases like this one are produced every day in small workshops scattered around one small town in Mexico -- Santa Clara del Cobre in the state of Michoacán--one of the places the U.S. State Dept. says we shouldn't visit. Every year I'm asked if I still go there, or someone tells me that they'd love to go back, but they sadly can't do that anymore, because, "well, you know--it isn't safe anymore". While I can't deny the reality of violence experienced by Mexican citizens due to the drug cartels, I tell you that the only sounds interrupting the quiet on my visits to this charming town are the chirping of birds and the rhythmic ping-pinging of copper artisans hammering as one wanders down the cobblestone streets.
Roberto Castro Hernandez and I have been doing business for years. Some things have changed in his small family workshop, located several blocks off the main drag. The "showroom" next to the workshop now has a tile floor. And he now regularly communicates with me via email and Facebook on a computer there-- which make placing orders incredibly more efficient. But the pieces he produces and the deep passion and love he has for this traditional craft-- has not.
From simple, elegantly shaped 14 inch tall vases to finely etched pieces (called cincelado) with animals like the one here-- one never knows what you'll find coming out of his tiny smoke-filled workshop.
While we've been selling copper vases from Santa Clara for over a decade now, just this past year Mexico By Hand has been asked to import copper cazos like the one above for folks who are, to be honest, not our usual customer. In case you aren't familiar, cazos are essentially cooking pots, very traditional in Mexico for cooking a variety of foods over an open fire. Huge cazos are used for making carnitas and heavy ones like this are especially good for making candy and jam because copper conducts heat so well. [Search copper cooking pan on the internet and you'll find some from France that are marketed for just that purpose.] While we've been exploring the idea of competing with those expensive European pots, it turns out that some organic goat farmers have discovered that Mexican cazos are just the tool they need for making artisanal cajeta! Cajeta, for the uninitiated (and you really must try some) is a delicious caramel-like creamy delicacy made from milk, sometimes called dulce de leche. First a farmer in Australia reached out to us, and then two different farmers in Maine (females, I might add) ordered cazos. And this past week, someone from Estonia (do you know where that is?) contacted me about buying one! These are caucasian folks who seem to have no Mexican ancestry, so I find the whole thing fascinating.
Christelle bought one of our traditional copper cazos a few months ago and recently sent me this note: "We are back in caramel production! We are up to 17 baby goats! I used the cazo for the first time today... and it works great! It's so beautiful too." -- How cool is that?
Cazos can be purchased on our website, and come in a variety of sizes in both professional and commercial grades. If you're interested in ordering one, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 510/526-6395.