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…
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.
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!”
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!