Cooking with copper

Guest post: Amy’s Batterie de Cuisine

Amy L.

Amy L.


My copper cookware collection has grown in its entirety during the last year. The story behind my collection, though, goes back a few decades, involves childhood awe and wonder, and demonstrates a great deal of personal growth.

Let’s backpedal 20 to 30 years…

My sister (right) and me when we were young, at the age when we began our much anticipated girl’s trips to Newport

I fell in love with copper pots and pans when I was a young girl visiting the Newport Mansions in Rhode Island in the United States. As many of you know, these mansions reigned in all of their opulence and splendor during the summer months of the Gilded Age. Fast forward 100 years to the 1990s, and they were (and still are) preserved as museums frequented by tourists. My mother, grandmother, sister, and I enjoyed visiting the mansions during the summer months and the holiday season. I LOVED girls days in Newport, which usually included sushi for lunch (I am a quarter Japanese), shopping, and a visit to one of the mansions. Christmas in Newport was extra special. The mansions and their gardens brought the magic of the holiday season alive with their bright lights and over the top displays of elegant decor. Sounds of carolers filled wide open grand halls. The entire experience was magical, especially for a young child.

The Marble House at Christmas

One of my favorite stops during holiday tours was at the end, when groups were led down flights of stairs into large mansion kitchens. Staff scurried around baking cookies, brownies, and other goodies in somehow still functioning antique ovens, and I remember thinking that the hustle and bustle was exciting! Smells of sweet treats filled the air as I gazed in awe, almost as if I was in a trance, at copper pots and pans hanging on tall ceiling racks. I thought they were beautiful, especially displayed among holiday garlands and bows! My mother knew she’d have to help move me along during this part of every tour, as I’d routinely find myself stuck in my tracks totally entranced staring at copper pots and pans.

 

Years later, finishing up grad school, newly married, and on a very tight budget, I stumbled upon a set of copper pots and pans with iron handles hanging on a wall at an estate sale. This was the fist time that I saw copper cookware since visiting the Newport mansions, and the first time in a domestic setting. Fortunately and unfortunately, my husband and I had just purchased our house, and even though I was eager to buy my dream copper cookware, we were still getting over the shock of bills that we didn’t encounter while apartment living. For that reason, I didn’t inquire about the price of the pots and pans, knowing that we probably couldn’t afford them. On our way home from the estate sale I told my husband that I would really like to have my own copper cookware someday. He agreed, but made me promise to wait a few years so we could get on our feet. My response was, “Okay, deal!” 

The still unused Ruffoni set

I invested in my first set of copper cookware in spring 2020. Williams Sonoma was having its semi annual sale and in routine fashion I scrolled through the clearance section and stumbled upon a Ruffoni stainless steel lined set with lids adorned with pineapples. The set was marked with an additional 20% off so I figured the price seemed right, and I liked the pineapples, as pineapples are a welcome sign in New England. Feeling elated, I checked out online and called my mother to share the great news. Bless her heart, she always means well… she celebrated with me for a moment and then stirred up inherited OCD that I’ve been struggling to work through for years. My family rarely uses nice things out of fear of damaging or ruining them, so my mom recommended saving and displaying the set until I could afford to replace it. I felt paralyzed. To this day, I have still not used my Ruffoni set, however this twist of fate led to something far greater.

Since I couldn’t bring myself to use my new copper set, I decided that old copper was the way to go. I could wrap my mind around using what has already been used for decades, figuring that imperfect cookware would be perfect for a person with my ridiculous anxiety. I excitedly searched Ebay and Etsy, looking for pots and pans to cook in and decorate with. During this time I met William and Fidelma Cox of NormandyKitchenCopper and bought my first copper pieces: a planter that I use as a utensil holder, a decorative tea kettle, and lollipop lids that I use occasionally, but mostly display hanging year round in a picture window. Fid and Bill were very kind, so I felt comfortable asking for advice on copper buying and collecting. Fid said she enjoys collecting really old thick pots and pans, and antique cauldrons, lechefrites, and daubieres. Shortly after I bought my lèchefrite that I wrote about in a post here.

Right around this time I stumbled upon this website, introduced myself to VFC, and joined this informative and encouraging community!

As time passed my enthusiasm for collecting old copper pots and pans grew. I’ve heard many of you say this: once you get your hands on your first really great old pot or pan, you’re hooked. I loved receiving old cookware, researching every pot and pans history, and displaying copper cookware on shelves. However, my anxiety surrounding using my copper cookware did not fade or disappear easily. As I mentioned, my plan was always to cook in my old pots and pans, but accomplishing this was a feat. It took months of taking deep breaths, placing pots and pans on burners, adding fat, and turning up heat to eventually feel comfortable cooking (you can imagine how much panic I actually experienced last Halloween when “witches” interfered with my cooking and burned pork to a crisp in my cocotte!)

This may sound silly, but I think my old pots and pans sensed my fear and breathed confidence into me. Time and again my copper showed me how much pressure it could handle and how easy it was to clean. This took enormous pressure off of my shoulders, allowing me to slowly let go of my fear of damaging my beloved cookware. It took months of constant cooking to work through my anxiety, and I’m glad that I pushed myself to do it. Today I cook almost every meal that I make in copper (I use aluminum periodically to give my copper much needed breaks) and I’m hooked!

I also owe everyone here a huge thank you! I never shared my anxiety in previous posts and cooking posts (looking back I’m not sure why I didn’t, actually). Nevertheless, your constant encouragement and positivity motivated me push myself out of my comfort zone and continue cooking in copper! This will continue to be a life long journey and passion for me so I couldn’t be more grateful! Thank you!!

Here are a few recent examples of confident cooking!

I recently purchased this 20cm 3mm windsor for my birthday and for the first time made homemade gravy for a roast! My husband, who loves meat and gravy, was equally thrilled!

Since I’ve grown to really love cooking in my old copper pots and pans, organization has become important to me. I have rearranged my kitchen several times during the last year based on how often I use certain pots, pans, and other tools. Right now my saucepans, saute pans, and cocottes are situated on top of cabinets next to the oven, as they are my most reached-for pieces.

 

Here’s a picture of this side of the kitchen. My husband built the prep table in the center of the kitchen last summer!

Here’s a view of another side of the kitchen and our “fur children.” I like to keep the dogs out of the kitchen while I’m cooking, so I put up a baby gate. This is a very convenient way to keep an eye on them while I’m busy cooking, even though most of the time they wind up lounging on the couch and napping. I display one decorative pan and less often used functional pans on these walls. My husband also built the shelf displayed that holds my 40cm 2.7mm antique E. Dehillerin roasting pan (my favorite purchase this year! I can’t wait to use it during the holidays!)

This decorative pan is neat! It’s from the tourism and retail boom that occurred in France during the late 1800s. The pot is stamped A * L, which I think is ironic since my maiden name is Levesque. This was the deciding factor when I chose to buy it, as I figured the pot was once again finding its way home.

 

This 35cm antique E. Dehillerin lid is on the far right of the wall just pictured. It’s hanging above and beside our kitchen cabinets.

This is my Julia Child-inspired pegboard boasting copper jelly molds, two grain pans and other odds and ends. It is in the far back corner of the kitchen. I reach for most things here often enough to keep them displayed out of drawers, but not frequently enough to prioritize placing them close to the oven. Some items (like the jelly molds) have never been used and likely wont be, but I enjoy looking at them so I keep them hung up.

I really enjoy displaying these antiques! They’re loaded with history and a lot of fun! I joke around by saying the tourtiere is a mini spaceship, and when it arrived from France told my husband, “The UFO has landed!”

This is my 28.5cm 3.2-3.5mm thick Chomette Favor sauté pan. I love saute pans and use this one constantly! It’s such an amazing piece!! I purchased this pan last summer from Steve Nash’s store FrenchAntiquity. Most of the copper cookware that I currently own is from Fid and Bill’s shop and from Steve. I’ve also found a few great pieces at local antique and second hand stores, and when pots and pans require new tin I take them to Jim’s shop in RI, East Coast Tinning.

Searching for, collecting, and cooking in old copper has been a serious journey for me. I’ve made my childhood dream come true while simultaneously working through pointless crippling anxiety (that I will finally fully conquer when I someday put my Ruffoni set to work, but for now it can hang, shine, and continue looking pretty). I have learned a lot while coming a long way personally, and I couldn’t be more grateful.

Thank you all again! I hope you enjoyed my batterie de cuisine!

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28 Comments

  1. Hi Amy, I very much enjoyed reading your post on your batterie de cuisine! You have put together an impressive collection in only a year’s time. It’s great that you are getting comfortable cooking in tinned copper and will probably soon put that lovely Ruffoni set to use. I see that you also have collected some vintage French aluminum pans. Did you also start collecting them this past year? Thank you for this entertaining post!

    1. Thank you so much, Stephen! Yes! The aluminum and copper have been collected simultaneously! One of my favorite pans, the large saucepan with an iron handle, is from Fid and Bill. I think this is what got me started with aluminum… You know what’s funny (I digress a little), after reading your comment I took another look around the kitchen and realized that all of the pieces on my pegboard, except my lechefrite, but including the aluminum skillets, have been found in America. The skillets are also American brands. Everything found here except my egg white beating bowl (that is hung strategically to cover an old door bell box) has gravitated to one spot. Anyway, the other French aluminum pieces that I have include 14, 16, and 18cm Bourgeat saucepans. I picked up from an Etsy seller that doesn’t specialize in cookware, but I was attracted to the listing. All-in-all aluminum has been a great because I have been able to hold off on retinning pans by rotating cookware frequently! Thank you so much for your comment and support!! I appreciate it!!

  2. Amy, you are a wonderful storyteller. It gives me great pleasure to listen to you. Everything sounds so natural. Just like atmosphere of your kitchen reflects your personality, which by the way I don’t find “obsessive” at all, but rather
    full of joie de vivre. Perhaps apprehension or caution would be a more appropriate term for your fears, which I think are quite normal. While I’m convinced that good vintage copper is forgiving of rougher treatment and mistakes, it’s also perfectly fine to gain some experience first before venturing into your treasures. By now, I’m sure you’re advanced enough that you can naturally turn to cooking with the Ruffoni set to finally bring those pans to life. I think it’s time they get some patina and tell a story in your kitchen – your story. And if ghosts start popping up, so what? No master fell from the sky, as they say in our country. And from what I’ve seen, you’ve accumulated enough “spare pans.”

    1. Hi Martin! Thank you so much!! I always appreciate your kindness, support, and encouragement! And thank you for the fun laugh referring to (mistakes) ghosts! You are absolutely right! Pots and pans, including my Ruffoni set, are meant to be used, and learning curves and mistakes are very natural, even with a year now of practice. That’s why I bought the set and what it was intended for! Plus, the antique and vintage pieces that we covet and love so much have a past… that’s why we love them… so why should my Ruffoni set be any different? Like you said, I’ll be telling my own story, and it will be neat being the first person to use these pans during their ‘culinary life’! Thank you for the confidence! I will have to take a deep breath, put a skillet on the stovetop, and just like with my other pots and pans, give it a go!

  3. What a great post Amy! Full of inspiration for us all, I think we all have had anxiety at some time or another when cooking with copper and tin linings. Most of mine have some sort of heat damage or brown patches due to lazy de-glazing! It’s an impressive batterie de cuisine, Amy!

    1. Thank you so much, Fid!! You and Bill played a large role in how I got started, and continue to be an important part of my copper collecting journey (which I am very grateful for!!) I appreciate your kindness, professionalism, and consistency with descriptions of pots and pans. The buyer/seller relationship that we have developed means a lot, and I trust you and Bill wholly. This takes a lot of weight off my shoulders! Also, on the subject of deglazing (you might find this funny!) I made a red wine reduction sauce this past weekend my windsor pan and learned quickly that wine should not reduce while sustaining a decent boil at medium (high for tin lined copper) heat for a long period of time! It took an overnight soak and SIX rounds of boiling dish soap to remove the thick burnt rim that developed while cooking… and I had to use some elbow grease… I kept thinking, “Oh man, off to the tinner I go!” but I was able to save her! I guess we don’t know until we try! But for the most part, after a year of building some confidence, if anything sticks I consider it “seasoning” haha. So I am right there with you! Anyway I ramble, but I appreciate your ongoing support and our buyer/seller friendship! Thanks again!!

  4. Wonderful to see the copper being used and loved! Thanks for sharing your collection and culinary creations!

    1. Hi!!! Thank you so much!! Collecting old copper is fun, but I’ve found over time that a great amount of joy comes from cooking in our beautiful vessels that have so much history! This group is also amazing! Where else can we find such an inspirational and informative community? I’m so glad to be here and for your support as well! 🙂

  5. Amy, it’s such a pleasure to have your story here — it inspires me, and clearly is connecting with others too! Thank you for writing and sharing this lovely post with us.

    1. Thank you VFC!! That’s so kind of you to say, as YOU have and continue to inspire me!! Thank you for the opportunity to write and be part of this wonderful copper community!!! 🙂

  6. Nice article Amy. You’ve got a very nice collection. I too purchased my first piece of copper cookware last Spring, a large, heavy, antique E. Dehillerin roasting pan. I’m an American currently living in the UK, so finding old copper cookware has been pretty easy for me over here, a lot of time to the dismay of my wife due to the limited space in our house over here. In the past year and a half I’ve amassed about 100 pieces, almost all antique a French and English. From my first roasting pan, to an antique set of nesting of A la Menagere pots, to a 10 gallon English stockpot. More recently I’ve been on the hunt for more rare makers and pieces, such as those made by Legry, Duval, Benham & Sons etc. I enjoy the hunt for these pieces, finding them in random places and then being able to have them restored as they would have once been. Anyway, keep enjoying your copper and the hunt for more pieces to add to your collection.

    1. Hi Chris! Thanks a ton!! Your collection sounds incredible and I am sure we’d all love to see it!! I personally have enjoyed batterie de cuisine posts here, as they’ve inspired me to share my own! I appreciate your support and enthusiasm for collecting as well 🙂

      1. Maybe one day Amy. It’ll have to be a day when I have a big enough kitchen and pantry to have them displayed. The majority are currently being stored in a guest bedroom. Haha

  7. Hi Chris, I’ve been watching the sell-off of European cultural assets to US for a while now. But when someone hoards 100 pans in such a short time, I’m no longer surprised that good pieces are increasingly rare to find here in the EU and the prices go through the roof. I think we Europeans have to think about an export restriction 😉

    1. Martin, I too am guilty as charged of participating in (and, yes, encouraging!) the sell-off! Certainly the imposition of export restrictions would ameliorate the problem, but please, not quite yet… there are a few more pieces I’m hunting for….. 😉

  8. Hey VFC, I know you are the “worst” instigator and I traitor contribute a tiny bit too. Very well, I’ll reconsider using my good connections in Brussels to sound the alarm. After all, the Yanks have always stood by us during the last decades (I have to subtract a few years). Now the airlift, which once ensured Berlin’s survival during the post-war period, is being turned the other way and we are providing development aid with European culture 😉
    How did T.J. say? Let’s sing the song of the Copper International (or something like that)

    1. Pfew! haha 🙂 History is on our side! And how wonderful to hear how ‘good’ has turned around to provide more good!!

  9. LOL, I also am guilty of plundering vintage pans from France where I find the majority of my vintage ones so Martin, please hold back from promoting export restrictions at least until I complete my series of Jacquotot stamped copper.

  10. Don’t worry, Amy, the most important thing, after all, is that the pans end up in loving hands, appreciated and used. Unfortunately, that seems to be less the case here than in the U.S., otherwise so many pans wouldn’t change hands and make the long journey across the Atlantic. In France, of all places, where most of these pans were made and long cherished and used, they are now being thrown on the market by the ton. That’s what’s really sad.

    1. You’re spot on with this Martin. It seems as if the majority of the French are more into newer things. Be it copper cookware or things such as homes. I could be completely off with this statement, but I’ve been looking at holiday homes in France for a while and it seems the majority of the old homes are bought by foreigners. Like you said though, whatever it is, as long as it’s bought by someone who will love and take care of it, that’s what matters most. I personally enjoy older things, homes, copper, furniture….the list goes on.

    2. That’s true Martin. The cost of shipping alone assures that they are being received by loving hands here. After all, unless old copper is your passion, there is no way anyone, or at lest anyone I know, would spend such a handful on cookware. I also can understand how it’s frustrating being unable to find good European cookware (your cultural heritage), in the EU though. Let’s hope that pots and pans continue to fall into the right hands so that they can be cared for and lovingly used for many years to come.

  11. Chris, I must admit that I too was and am a beneficiary of the sell-off in France. Just yesterday I acquired another sauté (although I already have more than enough). However in Germany. Nothing special, a tinned one from Lejeune, except that this pan is heavier than any Mauviel pan I know of in this size. Weight and price tipped the scales. You have to save what you can before ignorant people scrap everything

  12. What I really regret is that there is little public or private interest in comprehensively collecting and preserving for posterity these utilitarian items of cultural and historical interest in museums. Certainly, these simple objects are not comparable with paintings and statues of great artists or with castles and cathedrals. But don’t we respectfully preserve every object that archaeologists around the world enthusiastically recover from the earth? Are these cultural objects of everyday life of the 18th – 20th century less valuable than pottery shards, arrowheads, tools, vessels, jewelry or coins no matter from which century and which continent? The Americans among us certainly know the products made of wood by Edward Wohl. I own only one of his maple cutting boards. But these beautiful handcrafted products are exhibited in dozens of American museums and can also be purchased there. I name only two: SFMOMA and MAD (Museum of Arts and Design).

    It is true that there are some small museums spread over Europe dedicated to copper, but their collections could be much more comprehensive and better documented. By a really good documentation I mean the description of origin and production, as well as their embedding in the social, economic and political context. I too want to enjoy my treasures until my last day. But since my children do not share my passion in the same way and are content with a few mementos, I am thinking of bequeathing my collection to one of the copper museums I know.

    Great that VFC was born and traveled the world, which I understand as a kind of virtual museum. I would wish that many more copper pans would be shown here and their origin described. It does not always have to be done as elaborately as it was occasionally and fortunately possible with individual finds or manufacturers.

    1. I couldn’t agree with you more Martin.

      I have also wondered why these amazing vessels aren’t safeguarded in museums and used as teaching tools backed by thorough research like other historical artifacts. This site, which I’m eternally grateful for, truly is the most comprehensive informational location to learn about copper cookware, besides the few small museums you have mentioned. Otherwise, there is not much out there, which is really unfortunate… If I ever apply to earn a Ph.D. (after finishing a MA and Grad Certificate I decided it would be the result of a mid-life crisis) I believe I’ve found my niche. Or eventually someone else will do this, or in some way with resources promote cookware as cultural heritage that needs to be protected and preserved, I hope!

      I’ve also thought about this in regard to American cookware and the same holds true here. I have been to many museums and have rarely, if ever, seen cookware. I also recently got my hands on an antique Heinrichs pure nickel saute pan stamped Ritz Carlton and New York. From what we know about nickel cookware, it is shocking to me that this pan survived war scrap drives and I am able to own and display it in my kitchen. It should be in a museum, or at least displayed in a glass box in the Ritz Carlton (though I admit I am excited to own it… since it was made available for purchase!)

      Anyway, I really like your idea of donating a lot of your collection to a museum someday. If the next generation in my family (right now young nieces and nephews) remains indifferent about cookware, I will plan on budgeting to send it back overseas to a museum myself. I mentioned this to my husband and to my surprise (since it’ll be costly) he is on board. I figure if nothing else, it will return home, which is better than leaving it to chance here in the states. Time will tell, but I’ll consider it if need be in my plans.

  13. Hi Amy,
    Such a perfect reflection of so many happy past memories when visiting those stunning Mansions, the Grandeur of them is breath taking and the copper collections there are awesome too, but it looks like you are amassing a very fine collection too, and your confidence to not only use this fine copper but to serve up amazing looking meals only shows that confidence coming through.

    Great story Thank you for sharing.

    Steve Nash
    FrenchAntiquity. Etsy

    1. Hi Steve,
      Thank you so much for your kind words, they are appreciated!!
      The mansions are gems with enough grander to inspire any current or future copper cookware enthusiast! On the topic of cooking and confidence, the Chomette Favor saute that I purchased from you last summer has been my most often used pan in addition to my saucepans. Its uses are endless, and it’s large enough to accommodate my husband and I and a few of our close friends when we entertain. I’ve gained so much confidence while using it! As I’ve mentioned to you in the past, you source and sell top of the line copper and am grateful to own several pieces! I have appreciated working with you and the business relationship we’ve established during the last year, and I am continually grateful for that, as well as for your support here!
      Thanks again!!

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