x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

17. Two clay pots, northern Emirates. Date unknown

To mark the nation's 40th anniversary, we feature 40 historic objects.

Two clay pots used to store butter milk and oil or ghee.
Two clay pots used to store butter milk and oil or ghee.
These two pots, one glazed, would once have been familiar to every family in the Emirates. Today, they require some explanation.

In a time before refrigerators, the unglazed pot would have held buttermilk, the liquid left behind when milk has been churned into butter. In hotter countries, it can also be referred to as laban, a naturally fermented yogurt drink that keeps well.

Laban was traditionally produced by filling a goat skin with milk and rocking it to and fro.

Storing the buttermilk in an unglazed pot would also keep it cooler because evaporation through the pores of the baked clay would draw heat out of the liquid.

Goats' milk would have been mostly used in the Emirates, with the butter produced then clarified by heating to remove the solids. Like buttermilk, ghee stores well without refrigeration.

The second glazed pot would have held ghee. This example comes with its original lid and the base is still sticky from stored fats nearly half a century old.

Both pots still have the cords from which they would have hung in traditional arish homes to keep them away from animals and insects.

Artefacts such as this do not survive well, despite their cultural significance. As household objects, they were both commonplace and fragile, to be discarded when no longer of practical value.

As a result, Dr Ahmed Khoori, from whose collection they come, had more difficulty obtaining these pots than almost anything else he owns. Dr Khoori eventually secured them in Ras Al Khaimah, where they were once made in large quantities.