A few years back, I discovered the awesomeness that is pyroceram Corning Ware. If you're new to my blog and wondering what all the fuss is about, catch up with this post.
As my love affair with vintage Blue Cornflower Corning Ware blossomed, so did my collection. In fact, I've stopped collecting because I had so many different designs, I can't use them all. There are some pieces I've never used. Not even once.
Despite a plethora of unused pieces, I really do measure, cook, bake, broil, brew, reheat and store food using this versatile Corning Ware cookware every single day. And with all that repeated use, I learned which pieces I truly love and I periodically share these favorites with you.
Sadly, even if you share my love for these pieces, you won't be able to drop by your local retailer and pick up them up. I've explained this before, but here's a brief history on why:
- 1950s: Corning discovers pyroceram and launches a line of cookware capable of withstanding extreme temperature changes (freezer to blistering hot oven). The cookware is extremely versatile, safe for use with range, oven, broiler, dishwasher, toaster oven and (later) microwave. Awesomeness.
- 1960s and 1970s: Corning Ware products are sold everywhere and everyone loves them. They're so durable and last so well, mothers start to pass on their Corning Ware to their children and the Corning Ware brand becomes synonymous with indestructibility.
- 1980s: Corning Ware sales are slowing. The pyroceram Corning Ware has proved so durable, no one needs to buy replacement pieces. In an effort to boost sales, Corning Ware launches new patterns and designs.
- Early 1990s: Despite a flurry of new designs and patterns, consumers just aren't buying enough new Corning Ware products to maintain profitability. Consumer tastes and expectations have shifted and the legendary pyroceram Corning Ware from the 1950s still isn't breaking.
- Late 1990s: Corning sells the Corning Ware brand to World Kitchen and the pyroceram material is replaced by glazed stoneware.
- Current: World Kitchen sells a variety of cookware products under the CorningWare brand, but these products are not made of the original pyroceram material. The current CorningWare cannot be used on range cooktop, under the broiler or in toaster ovens and are susceptible to crazing, cracking and exploding when exposed to rapid temperature changes or extended soaking.
So where can you get original pyroceram Corning Ware? First, read this post so you can learn how to distinguish between pyroceram and stoneware Corning Ware. Then, scour your local thrift stores - not only will your purchase support a charitable organization, you will also help prevent future landfill. If you are searching for a specific pattern, piece or design, try eBay, Etsy or Craigslist.
Here are a few pieces I love and recommend picking up for your kitchen. And if you want even more suggestions, check out these previous installments of this series:
Blue Cornflower A-21-B-N Lasagna Pan
Growing up, my mom had a clear, trusty Pyrex lasagna pan she used for a whole variety of baking needs. Like stuffed manicotti shells, brownies, sweet rolls, roasted squash, stuffed peppers, etc. In fact, she still owns that very same Pyrex pan.
If you walk into Walmart today and grab a Pyrex lasagna pan off the shelf, you might think you're getting the same Pyrex pan my mom has used for years. But you're not. Pyrex changed the glass formula a while back and the glass is now more susceptible to crazing, cracking and exploding due to if exposed to uneven or rapid temperature changes. If you read the fine print on the packaging, Pyrex explicitly warns against certain uses such as dry roasting, immediate soaking after use or setting a hot lasagna pan on a cool surface.
But even my mom's trusty old Pyrex pan still has limitations. It's not broiler-safe, it can't go from freezer-to-oven and it definitely cannot be used on the cooktop. But this pyroceram Corning Ware A-21-B pan can do all that and more. It's virtually impervious to extreme temperature change, which means it can go from the freezer directly under the broiler or I can immediately soak the pan in water after use or and I can dry roast to my heart's content without fear of an exploding dish. Not bad for pan over 30 years old.
I especially love the shape of the A-21-B: it's a bit wider and shorter than a traditional Pyrex lasagna pan, but the volume is virtually the same. I use mine mostly for baking lasagna and sweet rolls, but the shape and depth of the pan makes it extremely versatile for baking, roasting and broiling. It's also compact enough to fit into most standard microwaves. If you're looking for an large, all-purpose pan, this is one of the very best.
These A-21-B pans were made in a variety of patterns and you can sometimes find them in thrift stores. If you're in a rush, check eBay or Etsy. You can also sometimes find the French White F-21-B version, but it's less versatile as it sacrifices the convenient handles for a streamlined profile.
Blue Cornflower A-10-B
I love this dish. The low-profile, vertical sides and square design is perfect for evenly baking crisps, crumbles, gratins, cornbread, stuffing/dressing, mac and cheese, brownies and bars. It can also be fitted with a detachable handle, transforming it into a cooktop skillet. There is even a matching glass lid and various plastic covers, making this dish one of the most useful pieces of equipment in my kitchen.
What I love most is that I can do so much with just one dish: prepare a gratin, cover with the plastic lid and refrigerate until I'm ready to bake, then straight from the fridge to oven (minus the plastic lid), oven to table for serving and then back into the fridge with the plastic cover. And when I reheat the last of the leftovers, I can pop the dish straight into the microwave (no waiting for the dish to warm up). When the dish is empty, I can immediately soak (no waiting for the dish to cool down). Love it.
A-10-B dishes are fairly common in thrift stores, although the somewhat smaller and more sloped P-10-B is even more common. I've used both and prefer the A-10-B, but either would be a versatile addition to any kitchen.
Blue Cornflower P-35-B Broil, Bake Tray
If you've been paying close attention, you've seen me use these trays over and over again. At first, the design may seem a little obtuse compared to traditional baking sheets. But the odd design is precisely what makes these trays so useful.
Shorter and often narrower than traditional baking sheets, you can fit two of these trays side-by-side on same oven rack. How awesome is that? They're also extremely low-profile which makes them perfect for sliding under the broiler. The lack of sides guarantees maximum heat exposure and circulation around the food, and the funky drip edge is perfect for catching excess juice, preventing vegetables, squash and fruit from steaming (rather than roasting).
These trays are also a breeze to clean. As soon as they come out of the oven, just soak and scrub to remove any blackened bits, then pop right into the dishwasher. In fact, these are the only baking sheets I own that go into the dishwasher because my non-stick baking sheets really shouldn't go in and my aluminum sheet pans discolor in the dishwasher.
I use my P-35-B trays mostly for roasting bell peppers, butternut squash and pumpkin, but you could really roast or broil just about anything. I don't recommend using these to bake cookies (they heat and cool too slowly), but who am I to restrict your creativity?
I found both of my trays at local thrift stores, but they can be hard to find so I recommend checking eBay and Etsy.
To my great shock, I actually think vintage Corning Ware is making a comeback. I've received multiple emails from folks who've inherited pieces from their grandmothers and I've noticed a general creep in the price of Corning Ware on eBay and Etsy. Despite the sleek new designs and spiffy modern colors of the new stoneware hawked at local retailers, is it possible we would rather have something old and used? Something dated? Something plain and simple?
Or could it be that we really crave the indestructible and versatile? I don't know. But one thing is clear: as a growing fan-base for vintage pyroceram eagerly gobbles up the surviving Corning Ware, prices are likely to climb and locating your favorite pieces may become challenging. Or rather, more challenging.