Sunday 6 March 2011

Cornish crab pots - artisan and artifact

Photo story: Edward Barber

Richard Ede knows when the willow season is drawing to a close - by the piercing scream of the first swifts - usually around the beginning of May. By then the willow, mature and hard, will need soaking but in March it is a compliant sapling. 

Green enough to cut one day and the next aided by marlin spike, long handled mallet, wooden stake, rope and former, Ede with his customised fingerless rubber gloves (this stops the ends getting pinched in the woven willow) - twists, turns, weaves and coaxes the willow into his desired form.

The diagram was fashioned by his teacher, a fisherman, who instructed him over 50 years ago in the art of making willow crab pots. Ede keen to emphasise his own adopted and adapted style drew special attention to the bottom of the pot where he had used thicker willow at the outer edge to give more strength.

The crab pots longevity is dependent upon the weather conditions out at sea. But the toils of Ede's labour, five hours to make at £130 is a small price to pay. His artisan skills have a value beyond the monetary and with no apprentice risk being lost in the sands of time.

For those who are keen to pay more than lip service to our cultural food heritage - Ede should be declared a Cornish food hero. For he provides a sustainable beautifully crafted natural product, made from locally sourced and readily available materials. To truly celebrate British food Ede, and his like with their rapidly disappearing skills, should be perpetuated not just in the photographs of passing tourists as some sort of spectacle of a bygone time but as a invaluable and irreplaceable source of knowledge with a true connection to their environment and the food produced  it.

If I was a crab I would be happy to wonder into one of his pots.

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