In the Beginning…We Still Had to Eat!
Humans have been obsessing over their cookware since the dawn of time. Don’t believe me? Let’s go back to the Stone Age and listen in:
Cave Daddy: Look! I got us some fire!
Cave Mama: Awesome! What should we do with it?
Cave Daddy: Let’s use it to boil water for soup.
Cave Mama: Great! Hand me my cooking pot.
Cave Daddy: Umm…What?
And thus, the concept of cookware was born.
Still not convinced? Trip over to the nearest museum and visit the section on ancient civilizations. I guarantee you will find a display that features ancient cooking vessels made of ancient clay. To this day archeologists get quite giddy over a shard of old crockery poking up through the ground at one of their digs. Now here we are, thousands of years later, and we still get excited about the latest, greatest discoveries in pots and pans.
Through the Ages
Original, stone-age cookware was made of – you guessed it – stone. In fact, you can still find genuine stone items among the trendier kitchen wares of today. (Think marble mortar and pestles, Mexican molcajetes, and Korean dolsots that sizzle for an hour after removing from the heat!) As progress would have it, humans eventually learned how to work with various metals, and stylish, Bronze Age Mamas started demanding upgrades to replace their ancient cooking vessels. Bronze Age Daddies listened very carefully and came up with the perfect solution: cauldrons. Then they went back to making spear tips. Remarkably, cauldrons were the preferred piece of cookware all the way up to the late 1700’s. So why are we not here discussing the merits of hanging our cauldrons over an open fire vs. plopping a three-legged pot right into the flames? The answer is: stoves.
Thank you, Count Rumford
American-born scientist and inventor Benjamin Thompson, later known as British inventor Count Rumford, designed the first controllable, flat-topped heat source. Stoves had been around for decades, but they were mostly used as space heaters rather than cooking. Thankfully, the count did not stop there, but went on to design the cookware to go with it. The sizes and shapes of Rumford’s cookware haven’t changed much over the years, and for good reason. Rumford was a physicist whose interest in the efficiency of heat transfer led him to design special pots and pans for use on his creation. Modern cookware manufacturers continue to use those same shapes and sizes because, thermodynamically speaking, they were that good. Although Rumford’s stove was too big for most kitchens, the evolution of the controllable cooktop quickly rolled forward, and that was the end of the cauldron.
How We Ended Up Here
After Count Rumford’s inventions caught the attention of some very important people in England and Germany, savvy entrepreneurs apparently smelled a major opportunity, and lost their minds dreaming up unique, new pots and pans, and all kinds of accessories to outfit the best kitchens of the day. Mrs. Beeton’s Every Day Cookery, published in 1865, actually details a horrifying list of items that any scullery maid worth her salt would have been able to identify. Happily, I am not a scullery maid, and neither are you, and we do not have to concern ourselves with such things as the “digester,” the “turbot kettle,” or the “fricandeau” if we don’t want to. What we do need to be clear about is thoughtfully choosing the right items that will serve us without complaint for many years to come in our very own kitchens. Your cookware is the foundation for everything else you do. Let’s make sure you get it right!