Copper cookware is making a resurgence. As you can see in lifestyle magazines, posts of vintage kitchens on social media sites such as instagram and pinterest and featuring in the dining rooms of french bistros the world over. But copper cookware is about more than just looking pretty sitting on a shelf or hanging from the wall. It is about the durable quality of workmanship and giving a new lease of life to these fabulous items. Of course they are beautiful to look at, the metallic earth-tone gleam is undeniably charming even to a complete layman who only buys their household items from Ikea (other furniture stores are available). Sean, who is an avid copper enthusiast as you may have seen in the YouTube videos on the Sean’s World channel, told me: "using copper cookware is to cooking what driving an old Bentley is to motorsport. You get a feeling of weight and craftsmanship that makes copper a pleasure to use." Here are some of the reasons why copper cookware is in such high demand and why it has always been the preferred choice for top chefs.
Durability and Investment
Fact: copper cookware items are built to last. They are made from a metal that has been used by humans for around 9000 years. When you buy a copper pan, be it old or new, you can be sure it will last for as long as you need it, providing that you take care of it and maintain it every now and then. Back in the olden days when items were built to last, the pots and pans that were the most desirable were the ones made out of copper, which is why they filled the kitchens of the aristocracy. Compared to an average teflon non-stick stainless steel pan which has an average lifespan of five years due to warping or the teflon coming off, a decent quality copper pan can - and does - last hundreds of years. Although granted it will need re-tining during that time. A beautiful piece of handcrafted copper cookware is an investment since time has shown that they gain in value. Although at first they may seem expensive, bargains can still be found. Besides, if you were to buy a top quality smartphone, you would not expect it to be as cheap as the lower quality competition; the same applies with copper cookware. But unlike a smartphone, you won’t have to keep replacing it every couple of years. Au-contraire, it will be as good as new, year after year. As anyone who has cooked with a copper pot or pan will tell you, it feels great in the hand and is well balanced refined. A beautiful copper item really does all the talking itself.
Heat conduction and valuable uses in the kitchen
Copper is highly conductive. In the modern world, copper has many uses: from electronic cables to heating and cooling systems in appliances. It is due to this reason that quality copper pans are highly sought after by chefs since they offer a greater level of control. Copper heats and cools very quickly. Think about it: the more conductive a metal is, the quicker it will react to a change in temperature on the stove or heat source, giving the chef a higher level of control over the temperature in the pan to achieve optimal results on the plate. This makes copper pans ideal for temperature-sensitive foods such as reducing a jus or melting chocolate, where even a degree makes a huge difference in whether or not you end up with a pan full of burnt mush or a delicate and refined amalgamation. It also means that it will even make water boil quicker ! The heat is also evenly distributed throughout the pan’s surface meaning that the food is more evenly cooked. Compared to non-stick teflon pans, where you just can’t achieve a nice sear on a piece of meat, a nice heavy copper frying pan can achieve the perfect sear. However, when purchasing vintage and antique cookware items, it is worth knowing that if your item doesn’t contain a lining on the inside such as tin or silver, copper can taint and discolour the food when exposed to heat, which can lead to unhealthy levels of copper in your mineral intake, and it is advised to use tin lined copper cookware which makes it perfectly safe. Although they can still make for stunning decorative pieces. This is why it is always a good idea to buy from a reputable source, such as here: https://www.etsy.com/shop/FrenchAntiqueSalvage. Copper bowls, often referred to as cul-de-poule in French (meaning the rear-end of a chicken due to its shape) don’t require any tin lining. This is due to the fact that minimal trace amounts of copper interact with the food since there is no heat exposure. Besides, small levels of copper are beneficial for our diets. Copper cul-de-poules are actually ideal for whisking eggs, due to how the copper ions react with the proteins in the eggs forming a complex called conalbumin, producing a richer and fluffier mixture.
Healthier and greener
Due to its higher heat sensitivity, you don’t need to wait as long for copper pots and pans to reach temperature as compared to a steel or iron pots and pans, thus reducing your energy consumption, which adds up gradually over time. Copper is antimicrobial, which means that germs and other unwanted bacteria cannot survive when in contact with copper. This is why it was used prominently in the hospitals of yesteryear. It really is a miracle metal! The main type of cookware that you can find in people’s homes today is teflon. Teflon also known as polytetrafluoroethylene can be scratched off by metal utensils thus finding itself in our food. Polytetrafluoroethylene doesn’t exactly sound like something that we should be consuming in our diets, and it isn’t: the fumes of teflon are toxic when heated over 260°c. Although it is unlikely that teflon pans will cause detrimental effects on your health if used correctly, studies remain inconclusive. Besides, it’s not nice having bits of teflon come off the pan and into your food, at which point you should of course get rid of that pan. With a copper pan, you don’t have that problem, making it better for the environment. Especially if you are buying a restored antique pan, you are participating in reducing mass production and giving a new lease of life to a beautiful piece of cookware, which brings us onto our next section.
Artistry and craftsmanship
There is no denying that a set of antique copper pans hanging above a stove has a highly refined and aesthetic look. The beauty of seeing your own set of copper cookware in your kitchen makes you want to use them, they are a true pleasure to have - as someone who is not a stranger to the kitchen, I can attest personally. This is especially true if you own a rare or a unique item, for instance a copper fish-kettle, you just want to try it out. Not only are these rare works of art pleasing to the eye, they are also relics of the past, each one rich in history, that have stood the test of time. Each piece has its own story so it's a conversational piece which is why you should hang them up with pride in your kitchen to share with your guests. There are a few factors to look at when choosing antique french copper, a significant indicator of quality is its thickness and its weight. Some of the copper pieces that you can find are hand-plannished, meaning that the craftsman used a plannishing-hammer to smooth out the copper in the forgery to achieve the desired form and surface, as pictured above, giving a nice blemished effect. Another rare and impressive feat of skill to look out for when buying antique copperware is hand cut braised dovetail jointing which is the ultimate show of a coppersmith's skill, due to its technical difficulty, as pictured above also. When buying antique copper some makers' marks to look out for are Dehillerin, Gaillard and Mauviel. You can spot their hallmark engraved into the copper. These are the most iconic copper producers that France, home of the finest antique copperware, has to offer - and a true guarantee of quality.
So to summarize, these are the main reasons why antique and vintage copper cookware is in right now, and why they will remain popular for the decades to come. In an age of plastics and consumerism, we are starting to see that we can gain a lot from looking back to our past and valuing quality craftsmanship. This is why copper cookware is making a resurgence. In my opinion, you can never go wrong with copper. All the photos used in this post are of items that can be found on the Sean's World Etsy shop.
-Written by Thomas Cayzer, you can find me at: https://tcayzer.wixsite.com/thomascayzerwrites