If the South could be encapsulated by a single symbol of industry, it would be the syrup kettle. An iron cauldron, coveted for its capacity and revered for its cost, was indispensable to the nineteenth-century landowner. These workhorses, which ranged in capacity from 40 to 100 gallons, processed everything on Southern farms, from cane sugar to hogs to soap.
Rusty Fowler began casting modern syrup kettles because his wife, Sandy, wanted a fire pit at their home near Walterboro, South Carolina, but the antique vessels they located at auctions were either divoted or cracked. He first tried to pour traditional wrought iron, but quickly moved on to ductile iron. The kettles they fashion today, cast in sand molds at their foundry, are expected to last more than 200 years in four-season weather. With that longevity in mind, the Fowlers customize the rim of each Carolina Kettle with heirloom expectation. “They are meant to stay in a family,” says Sandy Fowler. “Six generations later, you will look upon these names and dates or landmarks and know who sat around this kettle.”
The kettles are handmade and hand-forged by the Fowlers, each from an original mold. It’s a two-week process to make the rounded bowl, from design- to-finish, with an additional stand. Though mostly installed by resorts and lodges in the United States and internationally (there are three in Sweden), a good percentage of sales are to private homeowners.
BRAND RECOGNITION // Carolina Kettles, modeled after nineteenth-century syrup kettles, are designed to last more than 200 years in the elements. They can be used as fire pits, water features, or cooking vessels.
The kettles, which come in 30-, 40-, 60-, and 80-gallon capacities, make striking fire pits (wood burning or gas-fitted), water features, or outdoor cooking vessels. In Sandy’s estimation, the 40-gallon model makes the perfect backyard kettle since six to eight people fit comfortably around it in chairs. Over the years, Carolina Kettles has offered additional accessories such as griddles and a popular oyster tray insert.
The kettles retail for $1,125 and up. Sandy or Rusty take orders only by phone because they like to talk to customers and think through things “the right way,” as Sandy puts it. She says Carolina Kettles is meant to be a Southern family business, not a corporation.
“We love to share the heritage of the South, and when you sell a kettle to a couple, it’s theirs forever,” explains Sandy. “We feel like we become a small part of that family when we forge their name on the lip of our iron.”