Thursday, June 7, 2012

Tools and Tips: Pyrex Cinderella Nesting Bowls

Pyrex Colors


Let's talk about Pyrex, shall we?

And yes, I am talking about the kind of Pyrex your grandmother owned. The kind made from white glass (instead of clear) and painted with crazy designs. Specifically, let’s talk Pyrex Cinderella Nesting Mixing Bowls.

Pyrex Cinderella Bowl

Not familiar? Well, Cinderella bowls were shaped with a particularly peculiar design involving two different sized spouts on either side of the bowl - the larger spout to serve as a handle, the smaller for pouring. Supposedly, these bowls were christened “Cinderella” bowls because they were introduced about the same time as the Disney classic film and like Cinderella’s glass slipper, these bowls were the perfect size, shape and fit for the American kitchen.

Quite frankly, I believe Pyrex was right - but more on that later. Because despite such a perfect shape and size, these spouted bowls and their crazy painted designs disappeared from American kitchens over 30 years ago. Which begs the question: Why am I devoting an entire post to mixing bowls no longer commercially available?

Avocado Mashed

I’ll answer my question with another question: What do you want from a quality set of mixing bowls? Here’s my checklist and I suspect yours will be similar:
  1. Durability: I need work-horse bowls that can survive relentless abuse. I don’t need bowls that will break easily when bumped against other objects in my kitchen. Or explode when they come in contact with really hot or cold liquids. And once I find a set of bowls I like, I want them to last and last and last.
  2. Functionality: The bowls must be microwave, dishwasher and oven-safe. In addition, I find bowls with spouts to be more useful, especially when baking.
  3. Sizes: I need a set of graduated bowls with useful sizes that all nest together so they won’t take up a crazy amount of space in my little apartment kitchen. I do not need 50 different sizes, most of which I’ll never use.
  4. Value: I don’t mind paying more for a bowls as long as I know they’re exactly what I want. But whenever possible, I like to scrimp my pennies and save up for that replacement stand mixer or bread machine. So cost is certainly a factor in any purchase I make.
Certainly, there are a lot of bowls on the market that may seem to measure up against this checklist. You can visit pretty much any kitchen supply store and pick up a set of graduated glass bowls at very reasonable prices. And new bowls fit the trendy minimalist designs favored by modern kitchens.

But vintage Pyrex Cinderella Nesting Bowls, with their white interiors, dated patterns and peculiar designs, will beat out the modern competition every time. Yet after so many decades with opportunities along the way to improve the design, how can it be possible that vintage is better?

Four Nesting Pyrex Bowls

Two words: Durability and Functionality

The truth is, a lot has changed since the 1940’s when Pyrex first introduced their legendary glass nesting bowls. The patterns have changed. The shapes have changed. The colors have changed. Even the chemistry of the glass has changed. Just as Corning Ware discontinued the line of Pyroceram cookware to instead pedal inferior stoneware, the Pyrex bowls offered in stores today are not made of the same Pyrex glass your grandmother cherished.

Whisk in Remaining Flour

I’m sure a chemist could explain why the glass made before the 1990’s offers superior resistance to cracking, crazing, breaking and thermal shock verses the Pyrex products offered in stores today. However, I’m not a chemist and so I won’t pretend to understand the technical reasons for the superiority of vintage Pyrex - I’m just interested in performance. And when it comes to durability, vintage Pyrex has endured the test of time.

Old Pyrex Bowl

Take a look at the bowl pictured above (picked up at a thrift store) that I've been actively abusing for 5+ years. It’s gone through the dishwasher hundreds of times, I've used it over simmering pots of water as a double boiler and I've frequently poured simmering soup directly from a kettle into this bowl. I've even dropped this bowl a couple time, knocked it into other dishes and pots and whacked it by accident with metal spoons. Yet still no cracks, no chips, no nicks. Just a little marring of the paint.

And that bowl is over 60 years old. If you want bowls that are durable enough to last for decades, consider your search over.

Vintage Pyrex Nesting Bowl Sets

The functionality of these Cinderella bowls is just as impressive as their durability. As aesthetically odd as the spouts on these bowls may appear, they’re quite useful in the kitchen and I’ve come to rely on them for just about everything I make. In fact, I’m surprised this design fell out of favor because it has become even more useful now that so many kitchens are equipped with microwaves and stand mixers.

Adding Chocolate FlourAdding Eggs

When baking, the unique design of the spouts makes it easy to tip ingredients into a stand mixer without making a mess. I just rest the larger of the two spouts on the lip of the stand mixer bowl and use the smaller spout as a handle - so much easier to manage than a spout-less bowl.

Adding Cauliflower to Hot SoupSlowly Whisk in Hot Milk

When I’m cooking, the spouts make it easy to tip ingredients into boiling pots of water without getting scalded. Again, I hold the smaller of the two spouts like a handle and pour with the larger spout. Because these bowls can endure some thermal shock, I feel safer using them around vats of boiling water. In fact, I frequently use these bowls over simmering water as double-boilers when melting chocolate.

Pyrex Bowl as a Double Boiler

The spouts also come in handy when transporting hot liquids. Even if the sides of the bowl are too hot to safely touch, the spouts stay moderately cool and serve as convenient handles during transport.

But there’s more than just spouts. Most Cinderella bowls are also microwave safe (exceptions are bowls painted with gold designs as the paint can spark in the microwave). And all Cinderella bowls are dishwasher and oven-safe. The bowls are also sufficiently heavy that you can whisk vigorously without the bowl traveling across the counter - useful when you’re making whipped cream by hand.

Add Milk a Little at a Time

Typical Cinderella bowl sets come in four useful graduated nesting sizes: 4 Quarts, 2 1/2 Quarts, 1 1/2 Quarts, 1 1/2 Pints. Believe it or not, these sizes work for pretty much every task in the kitchen. I very rarely go in search of a smaller or larger bowl beyond these four sizes. And because I use these bowls so frequently, I find it helpful to have at least two sets.

Pyrex Butterprint Nesting Bowls

Of course, in order to own two sets, you first have to find two sets. And since you can’t stroll over to Crate & Barrel and grab a set off the shelf, you may be wondering where one can acquire vintage Pyrex. Funny enough, these bowls are becoming harder and harder to obtain at reasonable prices.

If you want a specific pattern or a complete set of matching bowls, your best bet will be Craigslist, eBay or Etsy. Just watch out for price-gouging as some collectors have crazy-high expectations for the value of their bowls.

Different Designs of Pyrex

If you’re less concerned about matching patterns and just want to get your hands on some of this durability and functionality, start religiously prowling local thrift stores. Be patient and vigilant - these bowls get snapped up pretty quick. And some thrift stores have gotten wise to the value of these bowls and are pricing them higher accordingly ($6 - $12 a bowl, depending on size and condition).

If all this sounds like too much work for a simple set of bowls, consider these final thoughts:
  • Buying vintage helps the environment by keeping reusable items out of landfills
  • Buying vintage reduces your environmental footprint by eliminating your demand for new products (and related manufacturing, marketing and packaging waste)
  • Purchasing items from thrift stores generally benefits worthwhile charitable causes - rather than contributing to the bottom line of a corporation
  • Vintage items offer unique designs that are commercially unavailable
Pyrex White with Designs



19 comments:

  1. I adore the pyrex patterns!... I have one or two round serving bowls that have a wonderfully floral orange pattern on them and I love them and use them regularly... lovely post x

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    1. Thanks Dom, I'm glad you enjoyed. And personally I like a handful of the patterns. Some more than others ;) There's a few patterns that I just can't stomach ;)

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  2. I never can seem to find mixing bowls and cooking things that really work well unless I spend a fortune (which I cannot do). Even the cheaper ones are expensive for how long they last. Sad, that we've lost some of these things. I wish I would have been able to get some of my grandmother's stuff as well as my mom's. It was one of a kind. Ahhh, but I'm now back in fantasy land... wishing for a dream to come true that will never happen.

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    1. I've gotten lucky which some of the Pyrex I own - I've been able to find sets or partial sets at local thrift stores. A couple sets I did end up getting off of ebay and Craigslist because they're really tough to find and I adore the colors. It is sad that this kind of stuff gets thrown out or pitched... Sometimes for no better reason than it doesn't coordinate with someone's color scheme ;)

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  3. Are those little wheat-growing peasants on the side of that one set?

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    1. I believe the official name of the blue bowl is "Blue Amish Butterprint" so I'm thinking they're supposed to be wheat-harvesting Amish...

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  4. Life is so funny! I was reading your post and my mom leaned over and giggled at the pic of some of your bowls I was looking at, she thought they were neat. She asks what I'm reading so I tell her. She asks me if I saw a stack of bowls in the living rm, I say yes but hadn't really look at them. !!!They are a set of four matching pyrex bowls slated for Goodwill!! Not anymore! See, you just never know when your writing something how it might affect someone. You saved mom's Pyrex : ) and I might just get them handed down to me one day if I'm a lucky girl! No nicks, chips, cracks, or any real signs of wear and tear and she knows she's had them at least...45 years herself! little roosters, eagles, etc on them : ) Thanks JW : )

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    1. I actually have a set of those bowls I think - are they brown (and white) with gold designs? I think they're called the "Americana" design and I'm missing just one from that set ;) I'm so happy your mom has decided to keep them and you're right - it's surprising who we impact when we post blogs or stories from our lives...

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    2. Yes! That's them : ) I looked 'em up online, my mom and I ate apple pie and browsed the site and looked at all of the vintage designs, very cool : ) They are also called Early American...

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  5. I am still on the look out for my first set--I love these bowls!

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  6. I have a set of Pyrex nesting bowls that I purchased in 1963 and I have been trying to find the name of the pattern..they are the cinderella bowls and are decorated with blue and white delicate flowers. Any help out there?

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  7. Hi Lynn, without a photo, it's tough to know for sure (and even then, it can be difficult). But it sounds like you may have a set of Colonial Mist Blue Floral bowls. If you search for this name on Google, you can find some photos for comparison to your pattern... Hope this helps...

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  8. SheWhoPlaysWithGlassSeptember 10, 2013 at 11:08 AM

    Mark,

    What a refreshing article! I love my Pyrex and Fire King mixing bowls. I agree with absolutely everything you said. I cannot believe that anyone serious about cooking/baking could choose anything but these bowls. I even love the quirky designs. I feel the way about antique china, especially Noritake. When I spend time baking something special, serving it on 90 fine porcelain china takes the meal to a whole new level.
    Thank for your article!
    Nancy

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  9. I'm so glad you enjoyed the post, Nancy - I have to admit I'm partial to the old Pyrex, much more so than the current new stuff. I can't say I've ever used any porcelain - the closest I've come is a set of old Centura Blue Cornflower plates which kind of mimic porcelain - but not the real thing :)

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  10. I just dropped (oh no!!!!!) our go to almost daily 2 qt. clear glass pyrex bowl. My husband and I both find it the most balanced and light weight useful bowl in the kitchen. Also the 1 1/2 cup of that set is used often. The 2qt bowl has been a best "friend" in my kitchen since the early 50s (actually I would like to know when it first came on the market), featured as a tear drop clear glass set of 3 nesting bowls. Does anyone who has other bowls more favored have the clear glass set or part of it they would like to sell or trade?

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  11. Our house burned down in 2010, and during the time it was being re-built, we rented a furnished house. That's when I discovered Cinderella bowls! A full set of pink gooseberry bowls...loved how they were so versatile and durable (I was not necessarily in love with the pattern). When we moved back into our re-built home, I purchased a set in clear glass - I can't remember where though. Imagine my dismay when I found out they are no longer commercially available. You can find the white glass and patterned ones on ebay. They are great bowls...you won't be sorry!

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  12. The reason, older Pryex is better made, is it's not made by the horrible galloup we all know as "World Kitchen". Now, I appreciate the company for taking on the name when corning when through bankruptcy, and keeping the name irrelevant, but, the buck stops there.


    Older Pryex (measuring cups, glass bakeware, and bowls) were made from a wonderful, safe material known as borosilicate, or glass with small trace amounts of *safe* boron added. Under extreme conditions, borosilicate can survive thermal shocks in excess of 300*F without issues, quite useful, considering most american households cook around 350 or so. And even when the stuff, didn't survive thermal shock, it'd slowly crack, into safer, less sharp pieces, making it much less likely the end user wouldn't get hurt.


    There was also the simple fact, that it didn't shatter when bumped into hot things, or, just when bumped or knocked into common surfaces. It was a strong material, and literally made to last, a bit too long, which, probably was the reason Corning went under.


    The new "Pryex" is made from a material, known as "soda lime" glass, and costs much, much less to produce. It doesn't handle thermal shocks, or "extreme" conditions well at all, only allowing about a 70* F shock, before shattering. And even than.. the new glass isn't any safer, when cracking. In fact, often, it "explodes" sending very sharp shards of glass all over the Kitchen, possibly injuring any poor soul who happens to be standing by.


    I'm honestly disappointed, to see how horrible the quality of stuff, can go downhill over time. I guess it doesn't matter though, as long as they can continue to sell under the treasured names.

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  13. I meant to say *relevant*.. but, anyhow, I really don't care for the new company. I don't think they deserve to even be able to touch the old Corning name :(

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  14. No matter what the reason, it's certainly true that the newer Pyrex is just not as durable as the 1950's stuff. I've gotten rid of most of my new Pyrex bake wake and the few pieces I do own, I'm extremely cautious with. Which just doesn't seem appropriate for bakeware that used to be the definition of durable and versatile...

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