Posted by: acooksca | 08/13/2011

Claypot Cookware at Bram, Sonoma

Tagine, traditional Moroccan clay cookware

We are gazing at shelves stacked with handcrafted cookware, all made of clay and representing both New and Old World, wondering if we really need another pot. Each design has evolved over generations for a specific cuisine…rustic cazuelas from Spain, sienna-hued Vulcania bean pots from Tuscany, steep-sided Hala for Egyptian stews, black La Chamba pots from Colombia. My eye keeps returning to the elegant sloped lid of the Moroccan Tagines.

We have found Bram, a shop devoted to clay pot cookware on the town square in the city of Sonoma. These pots are a direct link to the past, to how slow cooking has been done for hundreds or thousands of years. In my hands they feel substantial, formed from the earth and look like they will visually warm a contemporary kitchen. I will soon learn that claypots are very practical for overcoming a fault of modern stove tops. I think I need one. At least one.

I am engrossed in admiring and petting the pots and a gentle voice asks if I have questions. Bram is the shop of Ashrf Almasri, a native of Alexandria, Egypt who grew up with clay pot cooking. It is clear from the quality of his claypots and selection of cookbooks and serving pieces that he is passionate about food.

Ashrf Almasri, owner of the shop Bram

Ashrf describes the versatility of different claypots. Some are best for browning in the oven, some are made for braising on stove top, and all deliver consistent, gentle heat to keep foods moist and prevent toughening. Cooking with clayware on the stove top is opposite from using metal pans. With metal you heat a pan on high, add the food, and then turn the heat down to cook. With clay pots you start on low, gradually increasing the heat to medium over 5 minutes or so. The clay pot will absorb and radiate a consistent heat, letting food simmer perfectly and gently.

This could solve a control problem I have with my glass cooktop. The burners toggle on and off, causing metal pans to yoyo in temperature dramatically. It is maddening when you need a constant temperature. But a claypot doesn’t require a consistent heat source, it absorbs heat, holds it, and self regulates beautifully. Ashrf suggests setting a heat diffuser over any electric burner to nullify the spikes in temperature, protecting the pot.

Ashrf works with a factory in Egypt for much of his stock. Craftsman use the same source of fine textured river clay proven over millennia to be best for durable cookware. Our first visit to Bram was this last February, during the week that Egypt was erupting in protest and earning top headlines worldwide. We asked Ashrf about family and friends in his country and murmured our wishes for their safety. This last week we returned to Bram for another piece of cookware and asked if the chaos in Egypt has affected his business. “I have not received a shipment since the uprising started. I think I won’t receive any more pieces for at least a year” he shrugged and smiled softly.

Thankfully, Ashrf has enough inventory to keep his shelves at Bram stocked for a while. It would be a shame if this beautiful addition to culinary life in Sonoma faded away.




  1. Hi Karen,

    I always look forward to reading the latest edition of A Cook’s California! You always have something interesting to read or learn about and it helps me see where you and Bruce have been visiting recently!
    Hope you are both well.

    Take care,

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