Friday, July 29, 2011

Tools and Tips: Blue Cornflower Corningware

Corning Ware in Cabinet


What do you cook with?

Growing up, my parents used a whole set of Blue Cornflower Corning Ware to prepare food: Corning Ware on the stove-top, in the oven, in the microwave, in the freezer, in the fridge, from the fridge to the oven, from the freezer to the oven, from the freezer to the stove-top. And if my parents had believed in dishwashers (besides us kids), it would have been Corning Ware from the table to the dishwasher.

To me, the blue cornflower pattern always seemed outdated and fuddy-duddy. So when I started building a home with Boyfriend Javelin, I couldn't wait to equip my kitchen with the very latest cookware (or at least cookware that resembled something sleek and modern). Like Calphalon, Kitchen Aid, Cuisinart, T-Fal, All-clad, Le Creuset. Who wants that old Blue Cornflower crap when you could have shiny new stainless steel and a vivid rainbow of enameled cast iron?

Sealed Corning Ware A-11/2-B

Skip forward 8 years and today I can't get enough Blue Cornflower. Seriously. I'm stockpiling it. I scavenge local thrift stores and pour over eBay auctions. I've got Boyfriend Javelin searching Craigslist (I hate Craigslist) and my mother-in-law searching thrift stores in her hometown. Obsession? I think we've moved well beyond that! 

It wasn't that I had some great revelation or changed my taste for new and modern cookware. In fact, until 3 years ago, I didn't own a single piece of Corning Ware. It wasn't until my grandmother moved into a care home and my dad sorted through the remains of her kitchen that I grudgingly accepted a few pieces with blue cornflowers. The love for Corning Ware grew slowly as I discovered the amazing capability of this fuddy-duddy cookware.

Untitled

Before I dive into the technical facts about why this old, dated-looking Corning Ware is so special, answer me this: What does everyone want in good cookware? Maybe if you have a live-in maid, chef, gardener, cabana boy and butler you don't really care about cookware. As for the rest of us, I think the following attributes are commonly desired:
  1. Easy cleanup: I don't clean most of my cookware. Boyfriend Javelin is such a good boyfriend he does it for me. But for his sake, I know he appreciates cookware he can take give a good scrubbing without destroying the surface. And if it's dishwasher safe, I might just see him smile a wee little bit. Blue Cornflower Corning Ware is dishwasher safe and stands up to even the most vigorous scrubs and it easily comes clean. You can't say the same for non-stick, enameled cast iron, or even some stoneware.

  2. Microwave safe: Yes, Food Snobs, some of us do use a microwave willingly. Used appropriately, microwaves are safe and a whole lot faster than re-heating food on the stove-top or in the oven. So if you're in the majority and use a microwave, then you know the value of owning microwave-safe cookware. And Blue Cornflower Corning Ware is truly microwave safe because it's non-porous, contains no metal or plastics and does uses no non-stick coatings. It's almost like Corning Ware was specifically designed to be microwave-safe. (A happy accident as Corning Ware predates microwaves).

    Melted Butter for Dipping

  3. Stove-top and Oven safe: Let's be honest - how often do we really move something directly from the stove-top to a 450F oven or vice versa? Maybe I'm in the minority, but I probably do this 2-5 times a year and typically it's into a much cooler oven (say 350 degrees). Most of what I cook on the stove-top needs to be combined with other ingredients before moving to the oven (like lasagnas or casseroles). But despite the infrequent need, I prefer cookware with stove-top to oven flexibility. You'd be surprised how difficult (and expensive) it is to acquire this flexibility. Cookware is often either oven-safe for stove-top-safe but rarely both due to plastic handles, firing techniques or coatings. But Blue Cornflower Corning Ware is both stove-top AND oven safe. It's also a hell-of-a-lot cheaper than some of the alternatives like enameled cast iron or quality stainless steel cookware.

  4. Freezer-to-Oven safe: I frequently want to move previously-prepared food directly from the freezer to the oven. Like frozen homemade lasagna. Or frozen homemade pot pies. Or frozen shepherds pie. Or frozen brownies. This is where Blue Cornflower Corning Ware really shines and most other bakeware literally blows up. You can move this old, dated-looking Corning Ware directly from the freezer to your hot oven and bake, bake, bake. Easy. Peazy. Give me more of that.

    Baked Banana Bread

  5. Toxin-free: It should be at the top of every must-have list for cookware, but I'm leaving it at #5 as a reflection of how most of us prioritize. After all, would we really bother with toxin-free cookware if it was not a) microwave-safe, b) dishwasher safe, c) stove-top safe, d) oven-safe or e) freezer-safe? Ideally though, your cookware should be free from non-stick coatings (non-stick releases chemicals into your food over time), lead, pastic (chemicals leaches out of plastic cookware and into food when exposed to heat and food acids), BPA and other chemical coatings. Blue Cornflower Corning Ware is free from the usual line-up of toxins, so you can cook without worrying about what's leaching into your food. What a concept!

  6. Dual-purpose: If you're like me, you probably have cookware, serve-ware, and storage-ware (not to mention prep-ware, bakeware, cutlery, etc). And if you're like me and living in a home with limited kitchen space, there never seems to be enough room to store it all. Wouldn't it be nice if your cookware was also bakeware? Or if you could serve directly from your cookware/bakeware? Or if your cookware/bakeware/serve-ware could also function as storage containers?

    You already know what I'm going to say next - Blue Cornflower Corning Ware is the ultimate in dual-purpose. You can cook your food on the stove-top, move it to the oven to bake, move it from the oven to the table to serve and then move leftovers directly to the fridge. Nice. And this very versatility originally marketed to housewives in the '50s and '60s is just as relevant today.

    Oatmeal in A-11/2-B

  7. Space-saver: I'm not bothering with this one. It's true Corning Ware takes up space. But so do pots and pans and other forms of cookware/bakeware. If you still don't appreciate Corning Ware, I'm not bothering to defend why it's worth the extra space. And the good news is, there were so many different sizes and shapes manufactured, you can now select just the pieces that fit your needs.

  8. Go Green: I can see you rolling your eyes: "How can old Corning Ware have anything to do with being green?" Let me pull out my soapbox.

    • Blue Cornflower Corning Ware is primarily available only as USED items from vintage sellers (eBay, thrift stores, Craigslist, etc), therefore no new manufacturing waste must be absorbed by the environment.
       
    • No new packaging materials will be created to ship these products from the factory, thus reducing toxic output and byproducts and possibly saving trees and baby whales (no new cardboard boxes and no toxic run-off into oceans and rivers).

    • Buying used or vintage prevents further landfill by re-using a used item rather than allowing it to be discarded. The more you save for your kitchen, the less waste Mother Earth has to absorb.
Taking all this into consideration, I'm addicted to this old fuddy-duddy dated Corning Ware. I intend to collect until I have every useful piece and I'll even develop recipes to take advantage of this versatile cookware. And although dated, I prefer to think of the blue cornflower pattern as classic and timeless. A claim only time itself can prove valid.

Before you rush out to Walmart to pick up your own set of timeless Corning Ware, please read on. Because while you can buy very attractive Corning Ware at just about any big box store, it's most certainly NOT your grandmother's dated Corning Ware. When compared to original Blue Cornflower Corning Ware, the current stuff with the Corning Ware label is but a sad, cheap, limited-functionality look-alike that will leave you feeling cheated and bitter (or at least puzzled when your assumed impervious Corning Ware explodes dramatically on your stove-top). 

CorningWare Stoneware Stamp

That being said, there's nothing wrong with owning limited-use bakeware. The stuff pictured above serves it's intended purpose just fine. It's not meant to go from freezer-to-oven, it's not meant to be used on the stove-top, it's not meant to be cooled rapidly, it's not meant to be soaked in water. If you're ok with these limitations, you'll likely be happy. 

But maybe you're asking yourself, "What happened to the good-old versatile stuff like my grandma's? Why can't I buy that?"

It all comes down to a history lesson in cost-cutting. [History lesson also available from Wikipedia]

In 1953, a researcher at Corning (the company, not the brand) accidentally invented a material (later trademarked as Pyroceram) while researching materials intended for the nose cones of US ballistics missiles.  This new Pyroceram material was so special and so coveted because it could withstand sudden and extreme temperature changes or "thermal shock" of up to 840 degrees Fahrenheit. What would you do if you discovered a virtually impervious material? Sell it, of course.

And that's exactly what Corning did. They spotted a marketing opportunity to appeal to Amercia's over-burdened housewives. Housewives needed to cook and serve meals in a manner fit for entertaining while still finding time to clean the house, tend the children and look beautiful for their husbands. So what could be better than versatile cookware capable of traveling from freezer-to-oven-to-table-to-fridge?

Roasted Mashed Potatoes Served

Thus in 1958, Corning introduced "Corning Ware" as the brand for this incredible new cookware and selected the blue cornflower design as it's first (of many) cookware designs. According to Corning Ware's online shop:
It was hailed as a new space-age cookware material virtually impervious to temperature extremes.
Originally targeted toward working women who wanted to cook, set an attractive table, and get out of the kitchen fast...
Corning's marking ploys successfully appealed to millions of buyers and over 750 million pieces of this special Corning Ware were manufactured in a whole slew of different designs. What remains can now be found in vintage stores. Considering how extraordinarily versatile the cookware could be, it's hard to believe the company decided to discontinue the material in the 1990s.

Why discontinue such special thermal-shock resistant cookware? The answer lies in cost-cutting. The company who now owns Corning Ware (World Kitchens, LLC) shut-down the production facilities of the Pyroceram cookware "as part of a program to reduce costs". To be fair, American kitchens have changed dramatically since the introduction of the original Pyroceram Corning Ware: stove-tops are rarely used for reheating, microwaves are everywhere, ovens are now primarily for baking boxed mixes and many people now consume vast quantities of pre-prepared food (rarely touching their gorgeous, modern cookware).

With World Kitchens' discontinuation of the expensive Pyroceram material, the company now plasters the Corning Ware brand on a variety of cheap(er) fired stoneware products. There's nothing necessarily wrong with stoneware when used as intended by the manufacturer, but it's not the impervious, thermal-shock-resistant Pyroceram that gave Corning Ware it's well-deserved laurels. It's not even close, so do not be fooled by the current Corning Ware label. You're buying stoneware and all the associated limitations.

But with 750 million pieces of Pyroceram Corning Ware floating out there somewhere, you're bound to find pieces you'll love for your kitchen. Why continue to pollute the planet by purchasing newly manufactured limited bakeware when plenty of people are dropping off their dated Corning Ware at local thrift stores? Skip the crowds at Walmart and do the green thing - give some Blue Cornflower Corning Ware a new home. And you might just even agree - it's a timeless keeper.

Corning Ware Saucemaker with Handle



11 comments:

  1. I am also a bf devotee, been married 47 years still often use my corning ware would never part with any of it. The one you call a 1 quart measure is actually a saucemaker/gravymaker, did check mine and that is definately what it says on the side!

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  2. How can i know that I am getting original cornflower corning ware at my thrift store and not the newer ones? How can I differentiate?? Are there numbers I should look for?

    I received a very large assortment of Cornflower when i married in 1965. I have passed most of it to my children, but would certainly love to find additional pieces for them..

    Thanks

    Pollie Kelley (podkel@verizon.net)

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  3. Thanks for the question Pollie and you are correct, there are number/letter stamps that you can find on the bottoms or underside of handles on very piece of pyroceram Corning Ware. Check out my other blog post regarding Corning Ware for examples and photos of some of these stamps: http://cookinwluv.blogspot.com/2011/10/corningware-love-my-favorite-pieces.html


    However, if you are interested primarily in the Blue Cornflower pattern, almost everything produced in this pattern (except for some Centura plates and some knockoff branded items) are all made from Pyroceram. It's the French White design that you will need to be particularly careful about as this design was made in both Pyroceram and stoneware.


    I hope this helps and I'll email you this same comment in case you do not receive or see it on my blog...

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  4. Thanks for your articles. I didn't realise how awesome pyroceram was/is. I have a bunch of these I have collected and was thinking of selling but now I think Ill keep them. :D I HAve a small teapot and two other coffe pots in different sizes, the sauce maker and a small casserole, all bought for around a dollar each at a rumble sale. My question is, can these be used on a gas range, or only on an electric element?

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  5. Hi Roonz - I'm so glad you found this post helpful and that you've found reasons to hang onto your pyroceram! To answer your question, yes, you can use (undamaged) pyroceram on both a gas or electric cooktop. In fact, gas may work even better as the heat from the gas is more evenly distributed, causing fewer isolated hotspots while cooking... I hope this helps and enjoy!

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  6. Thanks so much for this post! I didn't realize how versatile they really were. My Gramma had a full set of this stuff but I only have vague memories of how she used it. I do remember it going from the oven to the table to the fridge. My mom inherited most of it when she died, and now that my mom has passed I now have quite a few of these blue cornflower pieces! Mine have faint stamps that simply say "for range and microwave" so I wasn't sure if they were oven or freezer safe as well.

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  7. I'm so glad you enjoyed and happy to share. It's wonderful when cookware can be passed from generation to generation - I'm impressed! And all the pieces should be oven/freezer/broiler safe as long as they're no "No Boiler" or similar stamped on the pieces. Also, if you see the "starburst" symbol, that's another indication that the piece is made of pyroceram and therefore can be used in the oven, range, freezer, etc...

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  8. Do you know much about the McCoy La Blue cookware? I also inherited a bunch of that, and haven't been able to find much info about them online.

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  9. Unfortunately, no, I've never heard of it :/

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  10. I know this is an old post, but thought I'd comment anyway. I sold my home recently, kept the BC Corning Ware, but I think the handle got tossed. Oops! So glad to see these can be used on a gas stove, which is the very question I just put into a Google search. I always loved that old Corning Ware, but after reading this thread, I appreciate it even more.

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  11. I'm so glad you were able to keep your CorningWare and that's a shame about the handle (although you can find replacements online thru eBay and other places). I'm so gald you enjoyed the thread and thanks for the comment...

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