My mother had a lone copper fish
mold hanging in her kitchen. It stared down from its perch casting one
doleful eye on the scene below. But my mother preferred her collection
of bone china dishes. When a small chip on a single plate caused my
mother deep distress, I looked up at the copper fish mold. That would
not chip, I thought and preferred it to all other dining accouterments.
When my husband and I married, we
received the usual assortment of mismatched, but elegant, tableware.
Among the gifts was a set of three nested copper pots - small, medium
and large, each with a long brass handle. They were professional chef's
pots, hand-hammered and heavier than heavy. The giver, a fine cook himself,
knew that these were treasures and had bought them on a trip to France.
He valued them so highly that he refused to relinquish the box with
the rest of his luggage, and had clutched the package on his lap the
entire time the plane crossed the Atlantic.
As a novice cook, eager to master
technique, I had read that copper was the best conductor of heat and
saw photos of nameless chefs with their copper pots. I felt myself in
company with those whose mastery would always surpass mine. And then
I thought of our giving friend, so loving, so proud of his wonderful
gift that he held it on his lap. With its warm, burnished glow, copper
became associated with love.
My style of entertaining began to
emerge. My husband and I were earthy. We were not chic-little-dinner-party
people. Though I planned color schemes and centerpieces, entertaining
was a casual affair that could accommodate a last minute guest. And
if we were assembling to eat, then food had to be the star. Enter the
copper gratin pan. It went from oven to table and looked elegant no
matter what its contents. I was hooked on copper and began the collection
that I polish so lovingly.
As the years go by, I have realized
that my children will inherit, not just copper pots but antique copper
Now - I jsut saw an ad for a copper
fondue pot. I've made fondue once in my life. Do I need that new piece
of copper as much as I think I do. . . . .
In his fine work, On Food and
Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen, (click
for book review) Harold McGee tells us that "Copper is unique
among the common metals because it can be found naturally in the metallic
state. For this reason it was the first metal to be used in tool making,
about 10,000 years ago."
All cooking requires the transfer
of heat from the source of fire, whether it is a flame or an electric
coil, into the food. Of all metals used for cooking, copper is the most
even and the quickest. There are pots with copper coatings on the bottom,
but they are of little value. Copper should be heavy - yes, the heavier
the better. Today you can find some copper lined in stainless steel,
but most are lined with tin which wears with time and requires re-tinning
. Tin is a soft metal with a low melting point, and is very susceptible
to wear and tear. Re-tinning only happens after years of use, however,
and those are years of good cooking and happy eating, so the infrequent
trips to re-tin a pot are worth it. If the copper shines through the
tin lining it is time to make that trip as copper can have toxic affects
on the human system.
When cooking with copper, always
be sure there is food in the pan before putting it over the fire. Do
not set an empty pot over a flame or the soft tin will be damaged. Copper
is such a fine conductor of heat that there is no reason to preheat
A copper bowl will produce the finest
egg whites. If a recipe calls for cream of tartar and you are using
a copper bowl, you can eliminate the cream of tartar.
Though a decorative item may be
coated with lacquer, a hardworking pot or pan stands alone. Copper tarnishes
when exposed to air, especially moist air. You don't have to polish
copper to get the positive effects of cooking with it, though the beauty
of this lustrous metal shines when polished. Aside from the many polishes
available, the old method of lemon and salt, or vinegar and salt mixed
together will polish a pan to gleaming perfection. Instead of throwing
out the rind, save it and watch those pots shine, shine, shine.