Posted on

Copper Cookware Interior Linings

tin lined copper, tin-lined copper, copper cookware, american copper, pure copper, pure metal, pure metal cookware, pure copper cookware, safe copper cookware, healthy cookware, pure tin, best copper cookware

There’s the ongoing debate (which I suspect will never die) about what interior is better for copper cookware: stainless vs tin vs nickel vs silver. American brand copper cookware is generally made either overseas (ironically) or by small boutique artisans these days, and anyone who cooks in copper has opinions about what they prefer their copper to be lined with. This is my take on it and why, but as always, it’s just my two cents!

First of all, I am completely in the camp that lining a non-ferrous metal (copper) with a ferrous metal (iron) goes against the point of using copper. Copper (and the tin bonded with it) has a thermal conductive speed of over 380W/m K, whereas stainless is around 25W/m K. Plus, if you want something made to last, and won’t slowly rust away, having metals that don’t contain iron is where to place your bets. Copper and bronze ewers used by the Egyptians thousands of years ago and stuck in Nile mud are still found in relatively the same shape and in good condition. Meanwhile, iron cooking pots in Viking digs that date back a mere 900 years are crumbled up and nearly gone to oxidation. Granted, stainless might not oxidize quite that fast (there’s no way to know yet, considering stainless steel has only been around for about 100 years) but you get the picture. I’m all about making something that should last for millennia. (why not?)

 

Anyway, regardless of my opinion, there are four generally used and/or viable metals for lining copper cookware.

The first is silver. This stuff is amazing. It’s the fastest (that means its thermal conductivity is superb, better than copper’s (406 W/m K), and is highly efficient in heating and safe for cooking food. It bonds molecularly with the copper, and lasts a long time if you use wooden or silicon utensils. There’s mainly one problem with silver, and that’s price. Since I know my cookware is already pretty pricey for some people, could you imagine if I coated it with silver? They’d be crazy awesome and super beautiful, but probably not practical. Bloomberg’s luxury list recently popped a silver saucepan, and it’s only you know…few thousand bucks.

The second interior option is nickel. In fact, many old and vintage pieces are wiped with or plated with nickel. Many times they can be refurbished with some good cleaning and a new coat of tin, and this is probably best due to the amount of nickel allergies out there. The nickel doesn’t leach into food the way, say, lead would, but it still would be touching the food and having a slight chemical reaction with it, so if you (or your dinner guests) had any type of nickel aversion, you probably don’t want to be cooking with it. And who wants to be on the line for that type of issue? No maker I know…

Then there’s stainless, which many people like because they say it’s easier to work with. I have yet to receive an answer on why exactly that is. If you’ve got a copper sauce pan that’s 2.5mm but lined with stainless, my guess is you’re still probably hand washing (correct me if I’m wrong and you have a magical dish soap for your washer that doesn’t result in pitting your copper?!) There is some ease in that stainless doesn’t scratch like tin, so you can scrape away at the stainless lining with wire and metal. Bear in mind that stainless is sticky (so clean up is harder) instead of non-stick like tin, and eventually it may pop apart due to the huge range in thermal coefficients between stainless and copper. Or your cookware isn’t pure copper, so it may stick to the stainless without much issue.

Clearly, I’m in love with tin lining. For me, molecularly, thermally, and purely – tin-lined copper takes the cake. Because of the electron exchange that happens when tin and copper are heated together (we’re talking over 500F), the molecular bond allows the thermal conductivity properties (ie: fast!) of the copper to transfer seamlessly through the crystal structure of the tin, allowing the copper to actually work the way it is supposed to when used as copper cookware. Plus, it’s non-stick and you need far lower temperatures to achieve the same thing, so it’s green/energy efficient plus always can be re-tinned over the decades, meaning it’s renewable and sustainable and won’t end up in a landfill. Tin has its downsides, of course. With daily use and proper care, it can slowly wear down. After about 12 -15 years your copper cookware may need re-tinning, which has to be done by hand.

 

Posted on

Copper Cookware: Vintage copper cookware seams

cramp seam, dovetail seam, coppersmith, tinsmith, fur trade, vintage copper, vintage american copper, vintage fur trade copper kettle, copper kettle

COPPER COOKWARE SEAMS: HOW DO THEY DO THAT?

Before CNC machines and even hand-held lathes to make copper pots, we made ‘em out of copper sheets. This meant that we were stuck using small sheets sent over (and heavily taxed) from England (even though the copper itself was mined in America) and riveting, braising, seaming and pressing those sheets together in order to create nearly all copper cookware.

Everything that was made with copper was usually required to be waterproof. From boilers to cups to coffee pots to washpans – everything held some sort of liquid. By the 1700 – 1800’s, tin and coppersmiths knew to line the cooking wares with tin in order so the copper and heat wouldn’t combine for an icky combination.

But before anything could be tinned, or considered finished at all, the sheets of copper would need to be cut, fit and joined together with seams which were then either soldered or braised together.

Because there’s few places to list these seams, and there’s buzz about vintage copper cookware out there, I thought I’d put it out in writing in case anyone wants to delve into it. I’ve learned this at the tinsmith and coppersmith apprenticeship I’m so lucky to have at Backwoods Tin!

 

The Lap Seam

This very easy connection is simply when the very ends of the metal sheet (which you’re going to bend or curve) are clipped to your seam/burr allowances. The two metal ends are then placed next to one another, overlapping slightly, and then usually soldered together.

lap seam, tin lap seam, coppersmith lap seam, tinsmith

Example of a lap seam exterior (on a tin mug).

The Crimp Seam

Make your hand into a C shape. Do it with the other hand. Now join the “C’s”. There’s your crimp seam. The copper sheet ends are bent into V shapes that fit together and then are pressed together. Another way to make a crimp seam along the base of a copper pot is to splay the bottom of the copper into a 90” burr, and fit a burred base around the burred bottom. Hammering down the exterior base burr over the top of the copper body burred base creates another version of the crimp seam.

(this can also become a double crimp seam if you take the finished seam and then push it up against the side of the vessel, or fold it over once more)

crimp seam, tinsmith, coppersmith, tinners crimp seam, vintage copper, american copper, vintage american copper, fur trade copper

Crimp Seam example along the base of a vintage sheet metal copper pot.

crimp seam, tinsmith, coppersmith, tinners crimp seam, vintage copper, american copper, vintage american copper, fur trade copper

Exterior View of a Crimp Seam on a Copper Pot

crimp seam, interior seam, tinning, tin lined copper, vintage copper, american copper, vintage american copper, handmade copper, fur trade copper

The interior view of a crimp seam on copper cookware.

The Cramp Seam

A lot of very old vintage copper cookware has this particular method along the base. It has been called “dovetail seam” which is one way to describe it, as it certainly looks like splayed versions of the square dovetailing done on woodworking. However, in smith-talk, that’s a cramp seam. Those were insanely hard to do. Not only was the cutting very difficult, but also matching the copper together and then braising it to essentially melt the copper together, was incredibly painstaking. It’s one of the reasons they are rare – they were harder and more expensive to make so a plethora wasn’t made. They are beautiful…but tricky!

cramp seam, dovetail seam, coppersmith, tinsmith, fur trade, vintage copper, vintage american copper, vintage fur trade copper kettle, copper kettle

Example of a Cramp Seam on a copper cookware base.

So there you are! Three kinds of seams, all of which can be found on American copper cookware made the old way – sometimes more than one is used, depending on the copper cookware made. Either way, they all helped make those canteens, cook pots and beer mugs waterproof, which was the end goal after all.

{If you want to purchase the modern versions of pure metal American copper cookware, I’d be thrilled to share my copper obsession!}

Posted on

Cooking on Copper Cookware…Or What Else?

vintage copper cookware

Have you ever asked yourself: what are you cooking on?

I just want to know if you’ve ever asked the question.

Do you select your pans based on what you’re going to cook? Do you choose cast iron because you’re going to fry some cheese, or a huge stainless pot because you want to cook the onions slowly to make gooey French onion soup? If you make fancy sauce, do you try to find silver or tin lined copper cookware?

We are all completely obsessed with our food: what it ate before we eat it, what it drank, what hormones (if any) were pumped into it before it was butchered. We might pride ourselves on the fact that we understand how closely local the beef was raised, or how humanely the chickens were treated. It’s something we look for on labels in the same way we may check for the organic certification.

But there’s not enough conversation and chatter about what we’re cooking food in. We aren’t discussing, seriously and as a whole, the method to our madness in the kitchen.

Kitchen tools exist for reasons – and I’m not really talking the super specialty ones like lime squeezers and different shaped zesters that all do the same job. I’m talking about the science behind the cookware itself. Why do you think certain smiths made items out of tin, copper or pewter for certain uses? Why do you think chefs have special pots for careful sauces or ‘workhorses’ that can be anything from big woks to gigantic cast steel frying pans?

There used to be a very particular reason for every piece of ware in the kitchen. Copper cookware was used for delicate dishes. Cast iron was used for every day use, or tin corn boilers were preferred over cast iron if one was traveling by horse over the mountains (it was light weight).

Somewhere between WWI and today, our kitchen tools and cooking reasons became all about ease and not about truth. We shunned pure metal cookware in favor of fast care and smooth promises of glass, painted, and ceramic cookware. Teflon and aluminum cookware replaced tin-lined copper or cast iron skillets. We wanted inexpensive cooking tools. We stopped focusing on the reason some metals were used for certain pots. What conducts heat? What’s pure metal? What’s really going back to basics in your kitchen?

We’ve come full circle by caring deeply what we are cooking and how it’s raised or grown. We have created dialogue and words for local items and given prestige to crops that have not been sprayed by the chemicals that were prized only a few decades ago.

It is my hope that we all take the conversation one step further and a half-step lower and talk about the pots we’re using. Let’s know why they’re made with certain materials, and what they’re used for. Let’s discuss the merits of the cookware and the tools we use. Let’s be aware of what we’re cooking on on a visceral level that is multi-layered. It will only add depth to the food conversation already cooking on the trend radar today.

Posted on

Copper Cookware Cleaners

American copper cookware, american copper, pure copper, pure metal, pure metal cookware, american cookware, cooking with copper, tin-lined copper, house copper

I am by no means a chemist, nor a science major, nor even a chef.  But I do like to research, and I do like to compile information (thankfully my book genre is historical fiction so I get to channel that nutty history obsession habit).  Cleaning pure metal copper cookware is a topic that fascinates me, mostly because so many people don’t know some of the basics, and it’s truly incredibly easy.

I am not going to get into cleaning of interiors, as tin-lined copper cookware requires different cleaning than stainless lined copper cookware.  That’ll be another post.  So to be safe, generally plan to use all the methods below on the copper body, but not the insides.

Here are some favorites, or are listed highly on forums.  If you like having copper that looks vintage or has a deep patina, you should completely ignore the rest of this post.  If you like to clean your copper cookware, or your copper sink, or your collectable copper molds, read on.  And, as always, I welcome thoughts, feedback, and even results!

  1. Organic copper cookware cleaner:  This one’s easy.  Use organic copper ketchup!  Or regular ketchup works too.  This method generally is best for newer copper, or copper that doesn’t have much patina on it, as it is relatively superficial and won’t dig deep into the copper crystals to pull out the oxidation (see, I had to get some sort of metal geekness in there). **because this is just food, you could use it on the tin or stainless interior, though it won’t react and give you the same polish as it will to the copper.
  2. One step further: Use ketchup with fine sea salt (make sure there’s no ingredient in the salt that is a silicate which can scratch the copper)
  3. Our friends at Brooklyn Copper Cookware recommend doing a paste of flour, ketchup, salt and a dash of vinegar to create an even more intense and thicker paste for deeper, but natural, polish.
  4. Using half a lemon with salt has also been used to clean the copper.  Or lemon and vinegar.  Measurements vary. Generally elbow grease is needed!
  5. Tarnex followed by MAAS.  Clean the copper pot (not the interior lining) with the Tarnex solution and then quickly use MAAS, a polishing paste you can buy on Amazon.  Don’t wait too long after using the Tarnex to polish, as the Tarnex will only get the oxidation off, but it will return relatively quickly without the polish application.
  6. Wright’s Copper Polish has been touted to give a great polish job on the copper as it is not abrasive.
  7. Many people swear by some of the following polishes as well for the copper exterior: Bar Keeper’s Friend, Twinkle, Brasso, Wright’s Copper Polish, Flitz, or Red Bear.
  8. The master smith I apprentice under turned me onto Eve Stone Antique’s Copper & Brass polish.  That stuff makes copper look like a mirror, plus it holds a shine for a LONG time.

If your copper is beyond anything you can do in the comfort of your home (or the ventilated area of your garage), you can always send it off to be professionally polished.  Many tinners/re-tinners will do that after they re-work the interior.  For those of you with stainless steel interiors, simply finding a local coppersmith or metalsmith might do the trick, or you can send your copper to us at House Copper for polishing!

Happy shining to you all!

Posted on

What is American Cookware?

vintage copper cookware, american copper cookware, old copper, tin-lined copper, copper kettle

When first starting out to create House Copper & Cookware (formerly branded as Housekeeper Crockery), I only knew I wanted to have wares that were 100% made in America, as locally as possible, and as purely as possible. Just like the “good old days.”

But with that desire comes the irresistible pull of research, as well as the need for it.

What did traditional American smiths create?

What did their wares look like? What kinds of materials were available?

It’s these types of questions that can lead to way too many interesting paths, such as my apprenticeship at Backwoods Tin & Copper, among other things. Visits to makers. Chats with blacksmiths (like my uncle, Doug Merkel). Questions to fabricators. Time begged for of mentors (of which I’m insanely fortunate to have many!).

So much of what we think of as vintage wares usually harkens back to a specific heritage. Designs painted in trays or saved under a potter’s glaze is particular not only to a time period, but another nationality. The beauty of America’s early melting pot was the great variety brought to the shores, but it also is cause for consternation when trying to identify what was actually made in our country and what was imported.

Thankfully, there are a lot of resources (happily re-printed these days by several printers, Amazon included) if one is willing to dig, as well as not be afraid to join a few groups and ask questions.

For those who are interested in learning about everything and anything to do with cast iron cookware here in the States, I highly recommend joining the Griswold & Cast Iron Cookware Association (dues are a simple $25/year and the benefits for identifying myriad unique finds are immeasurable, among a great many other networking and collecting opportunities).

If you’re up for tackling tin and copperware of days goneby, there’s everything from the annual tinsmith (and coppersmith) convergence in June of each year to the Early American Industries Association, where you can rub shoulders with metalsmiths of all walks, histories and talent.

And here in Wisconsin, there’s the Midwest Fire Fest, where tons of potters are around hawking their wares (and their information and craft) in Cambridge, should you wish to talk about the earliest kitchenware art beyond wood bowls and basket weaving.

So what exactly did American makers create that was unique to this country and was not simply a repair or an obvious echo of past European examples?

Here’s a list of my favorites…and what typically is the catalyst for creating the wares in the HCC line.

COPPER

American coppersmiths first came over from Europe with a repertoire of works they’d learned as apprentices in their homeland. However, limited copper sheet (the British only allowed the colonies to ship raw materials back, then pay to ship the smelted sheets back to America, which meant it was cut to fit inside ships, and expensive) meant adjustments had to be made, which relatively quickly led to American designs and preferences.

American copper cookware, american copper, pure copper, pure metal, pure metal cookware, american cookware, cooking with copper, tin-lined copper, house copper100% pure copper cookware made in the American style

I’m a fan of the taller pots, brought about because one had to use several sheets of copper to curl into a pot. Most handles were usually copper as well (you can imagine how hot they’d get and how bendy once the pot was hot AND full of food) or sometimes wrought iron from a local blacksmith and either detachable, or attached with copper rivets. Later, when brass became more widely available in America, handles were poured at brass foundries, but I’m partial to the original iron handles.

vintage copper cookware, american copper cookware, old copper, tin-lined copper, copper kettleAmerican copper sauce pan / pot, made by a coppersmith, photo courtesy of American Copper & Brass by Henry Kauffman

There were many coppersmith items made here – or repaired here – and one of the items that quickly became part of the American landscape were the many different types of copper lanterns, something that could be easily adjusted to preferences, design and need, as well as decoration. (this isn’t kitchenware, but it’s very American).

A handful of copper skillet examples can be attested to American coppersmiths, and so can copper boilers, which also give me the lines for the copperware we make at HC. All were made in the flat, until the later 1800’s, when machines started to make pressed cookware and accessories.

TIN

american tin, american tinware, tinware

Examples of tinware from the 1800’s. Could be made from copper as well. Photo courtesy of The Art of the Tinsmith by Shirley DeVoe

Because copper was so expensive (and cast iron so heavy), tinware was hugely popular and common in America. And while I don’t make any tin pieces for the HC/HC lines, they are undoubtedly part of the landscape of American cookware design. I am a huge fan of the plain, silvery tin, but some pieces were covered in black asphaltum and then painted with beautiful brushed designs (these were servingware only – if you cook in it, you bake off the decorations).

painted tin, tinware, painted tinware, vintage tin, vintage painted tinware

Vintage Chippendale painted tin tray for serving. ca 1765, photo courtesy of Early American Decorating Patterns by Peg Hall

Some great examples of American tinwork can be found in a plethora of books, but if you want to get serious about tinware, start with The Complete Tinsmith & Tinman’s Trade, so you don’t have to go digging around old bookstores yourself.

CAST IRON

We had such an amazing array of American foundries and forges that I feel cast iron is intensely American, for all that it originated overseas as a pourable metal.  Even though Darby got the patent in England for creating sand casting molds, it was right after the American Revolution and we were busting to get industrious and self-sufficient here, perhaps latching on this new technology, especially in Massachusetts, with a zeal that came with victory… Regardless, thanks to Griswold, Wagner, Eerie, and many smaller foundries (Main Foundry, Martin Stove & Range, Sidney Hollow Ware, Marion Stove, and Wapak, to name a tiny few), we have an amazing array of cast iron pieces that are uniquely American.

american cast iron, american skillet, american cast iron skillet, cast iron skillet

Spider cast iron skillet, made in America ca 1840 – 1860. Photo from Early American Cast Iron Holloware by John Tyler

Oddly enough, as much as the simple round pan is considered traditional, we had a dizzying array of specialty items that now are rare, but at times were considered very useful, practical and common place. We aren’t, as a whole, making corn pone, mini bundts, cupcakes, and Danish cakes in cast iron pieces anymore, but we did at one time. I hope the cool and funky styles come back!

wrought iron skillet, iron skillet, iron, spider skillet, american

Wrought Iron American spider skillet, forged by a blacksmith, not in a foundry. ca 1810 – 1830, photo courtesy of Early American Holloware by John Tyler

But in working to create something that makes sense for today’s kitchens, I went with a tried and true skillet. American skillets in the early 1800s actually often had legs. They could be poured or wrought. As no one really needs skillets with legs anymore, though, I thought it best to stick with more modern examples.

american cast iron skillet, cast iron, skillet, vintage cast ironAmerican-made cast iron fry pan / skillet ca 1860 – 1880, roughly 12″ diameter.

 

CLAY

Spongeware. Meh. Not my favorite style of decorating stoneware. Sometimes (but incorrectly) called spatterware, the pottery is white/cream with a bright and true blue “spongy” looking decoration in stripes or all over the piece, sometimes broken up by a blue band or two. It was intensely an American design starting in the early 1700’s, with high production in New York and Philadelphia. (source)

There was also Rockinghamware, a very common, brown glazed earthenware pottery that quickly became “Americanized” in the early 1800’s. A great book on this particular and little-studied type of pottery was written by Jane Perkins Claney, and can be bought for $28.

I like the blue glaze used in spongeware, and the beautiful, hand-crafted vibe of making each piece by hand on a wheel instead of by machine and slip casting (there’s something to be said for supporting individual potters vs purchasing bulk pieces from companies who just pour clay into molds), so our pieces are created with the blue lines…because it’s still pretty darn true to history.

Yes – there’s a lot of legwork and time in putting together a true American-style kitchen and cookware ensemble…but you know me and my research.

(Which, by the way, apparently researching never ends. It’s like a sickness. Catching a research bug is outrageously fun…and annoying, likely, for the spouse who gets dragged to things and learns all kinds of extra knowledge he was not expecting to have to absorb…but I have an inkling he’s catching it too. He wants to take a class on cooper work…)

Posted on

Making a Copper Jambonnière Part 3

copper jambonniere, copper, copper cookware, vintage cookware, vintage american cookware, vintage french cookware, pure copper, pure cookware, solid copper, jambonniere, ham pan, copper ham pan, organic copper, pure, healthy, healthy cookware, healthy copper

If you’ve been following the saga of pattern creation and remaking a vintage piece of copper cookware from scratch…here’s the final conclusion.  Likely you might be as happy as I am that this is done and I can start posting things like cheese recipes again…

So it was time to create the lid and handles to this crazy jambonnière project – finally! As always, it meant a large amount of guesswork, and fiddling with wood jigs.

Tracing the base, we added some fractions to allow for crimp seams, and went ahead to create a cover jig, which was similar, but not exactly the same, as the base jig. I’m learning, in a very tactile way, that should I ever own my own metal shop, I will inadvertently become an ad-hoc woodworker by necessity. We also went ahead and cut out a pattern to make the big top cover.

(Good thing my husband has lately been into buying every kind of saw invented…now I just need to convince him that a drill press is also necessary…)

Next we folded (twice) the band base and linked the two pieces before connecting them with a lap seam and some extra reinforcement pieces before bending the whole long band over the jig. With a little help from a lot of clamps, we finished forming the cover band inside the body to make sure it allowed for any tweaks and idiosyncrasies creating during the bending of the base.

copper jambonniere, copper, copper cookware, vintage cookware, vintage american cookware, vintage french cookware, pure copper, pure cookware, solid copper, jambonniere, ham pan, copper ham pan, organic copper, pure, healthy, healthy cookware, healthy copper

Creating the jambonniere lid band

Then it was a simple (for once!) practice of burring edges, clamping the cover piece to the band and hammering the seams together before soldering.

We only had maybe…five? ten?…hang-ups along the way… It likely didn’t help that all three of my children are off school and like to create while they’re at the shop with us and are constantly adding some sort of project to get soldered…

But we had a cover that fit, for the most part, so then it was time to form the handles. This is when Bob’s mini forge comes in handy. We fired up the propane (and Bob, bless him, made a sweet little jig for bending), heated up some super fat solid copper wire, and made handles that look very similar to the old photographs.

copper jambonniere, copper, copper cookware, vintage cookware, vintage american cookware, vintage french cookware, pure copper, pure cookware, solid copper, jambonniere, ham pan, copper ham pan, organic copper, pure, healthy, healthy cookware, healthy copper

Jig for creating copper handles

copper jambonniere, copper, copper cookware, vintage cookware, vintage american cookware, vintage french cookware, pure copper, pure cookware, solid copper, jambonniere, ham pan, copper ham pan, organic copper, pure, healthy, healthy cookware, healthy copper

Forming copper handles over a jig after blasting with heat.

copper jambonniere, copper, copper cookware, vintage cookware, vintage american cookware, vintage french cookware, pure copper, pure cookware, solid copper, jambonniere, ham pan, copper ham pan, organic copper, pure, healthy, healthy cookware, healthy copper

Buffing the copper handles

I should mention, as well, that Jan, from the Netherlands, found this blog and was amazing enough to send photos of the jambonnière pan he has in his vintage collection. The cover looks constructed almost exactly to how we did it in our reproduction, though I do covet the base, which looks either rolled to a bead or somehow wired.

copper jambonniere, copper, copper cookware, vintage cookware, vintage american cookware, vintage french cookware, pure copper, pure cookware, solid copper, jambonniere, ham pan, copper ham pan, organic copper, pure, healthy, healthy cookware, healthy copper

A vintage jambonniere pan – photo sent to us by Jan in the Netherlands!

After getting the handles connected, and folding and creating a simple, thick cover handle, we riveted and checked all the seams, worked together to double bottom the base for strength, and then settled on the final polishing.

copper jambonniere, copper, copper cookware, vintage cookware, vintage american cookware, vintage french cookware, pure copper, pure cookware, solid copper, jambonniere, ham pan, copper ham pan, organic copper, pure, healthy, healthy cookware, healthy copper

Top handle for copper jambonniere lid.

And suddenly, amazingly, it’s done!

copper jambonniere, copper, copper cookware, vintage cookware, vintage american cookware, vintage french cookware, pure copper, pure cookware, solid copper, jambonniere, ham pan, copper ham pan, organic copper, pure, healthy, healthy cookware, healthy copper

Finished copper jambonniere ham pan

Posted on

Making A Copper Jambonnière Part 2

My ongoing apprenticeship at Backwoods Tin & Copper has been mostly obsessed with finishing up the copper jambonnière pan – not least because we wanted to have it done to show at the tinsmith convergence in Indiana this month.

So the craziness continued.

copper ham pan, copper pan, copper pot, vintage copper, vintage copper ham pan, jambonniere, copper jambonniere

Tinning the copper jambonnière in the flat.

After finally creating the bottom pattern that seemed to work, we set about organizing the sides of the jambonnière. Besides knowing they should be about 8” high, we had to figure out a length and a process. This, apparently, was another part where we had to make a few examples and mess up a few  more times.  (I’m starting to realize that creating a new pattern from scratch is about 65% of making copper and tin wares…)

copper, copper pot, copper jambonniere, jambonniere, tin lined copper, vintage french copper, vintage copper

Preparing the sides for wiring.

Bob finally was able to figure out that putting the wire in when the two sides were joined as a huge circle was the best way to handle it, but that was only after we’d tried to form the sides on the hollow mandrel first, and then wire it. We ended up poking the steel out of the soft tinned copper.

Whoops.

And then there was the math. I’m not very good at math, which is why my husband handles the company accounting for House Copper, etc (thank heaven!) but this tinsmithing math also deals with fractions. Which, to me, is even worse, because they’re never normal fractions – a gripe I often voice when at the tinshop. I believe after Bob tinkered for hours after I left (read: defeated and needing to get my children from school), he ended up with sides that measured 26 5/16”.

copper pan, copper ham pan, copper jambonniere, jambonniere, copper pot, tin-lined copper, vintage copper, pure copper, custom copper

Forming the sides of the jambonnière by hand on the hollow mandrel.

But we still had to free-hand form the sides to match the base, and then create a jig to fit inside the jambonnière base that we then sawed apart and screwed back together in order to create a tight enough structure to allow for seam setting.

We spent more time measuring and creating jigs than we actually did making the base!  But the bottom seam is set, and then we soldered it with a lot of heat.

copper pan, copper ham pan, copper jambonniere, jambonniere, copper pot, tin-lined copper, vintage copper, pure copper, custom copper

Setting down the base seam of the jambonnière

Next will be some time to organize a cover that fits our insane bottom pan shape.

If something ends up measuring something along the lines of 26 15/16” I think I might cry.

Posted on

Making A Copper Jambonniere : Part 1

It all started with a book. Oh wait. That seems to be my M.O. But this time it wasn’t one of the Flats Junction novels, nor was it even in English.

Instead, it was an out-of-print tome: Les Cuivres de Cuisine by Jean-Claude Renard, brought to my attention by a fellow copper cookware collector and connoisseur. I’ll call him by his online name, kaleokahu, and I consider him to be far more versed than I am in particularities about vintage wares.

Still, when he showed me the page of the coveted but elusive jambonnière pan, I was excited to realize I could make him the missing piece in his batterie de cuisine. Looking at the photograph, I saw the seams and realized that part of why this particular copperware was so rare is not only the odd shape but the fact that most of them were always made by hand.

Photograph of a vintage copper jambonnière pan from Renard’s book

There’s not a lot of us coppersmiths out there making cookware anymore.

Since then, the hunt for information on the jambonnière has revealed little else. I’ve found one other that looks pressed (instead of hand-formed) with a recessed lid, but as there’s little text on the pan itself out there, I thought I’d explain – in parts as we go – the way we have been making this one for kaleokahu. We know the pan requires a lot of copper, a huge footprint, and likely some tricky double-bottoming and raising of an odd-shaped lid. But it’s also a huge amount of fun to try and re-create something that has nearly disappeared from kitchens today.

What is a jambonnière?  In the words of Renard:

Marmite épousant la belle forme du jambon entier, à fond plat, avec couvercle et deux poignées latérales fixes. Autrefois, lorsqu’on cuisait dans la cheminée, la jambonnière était montée su des pieds en fer.

Roughly translated (and mind you, I have no aid but Google Translate, but I’ll save you that step here) it means that the pan was created to mirror and marry the beautiful shape of the whole ham during cooking.  The pan would have a flat bottom, a lid, and two fixed lateral handles.  In the past, when cooking directly over fire, the ham pan was mounted on iron feet.

First it was a matter of finalizing the dimensions. One other book, French Kitchenware: The Art of Collectibles by Monique Cabré gave a photograph of a less hand-crafted version, but still didn’t give definitive measurements. Kaleokahu has his preferences, but we also want it to look proportionate, plus actually fit an entire ham shank as it was supposed to do. Madame Cabré states in her book that the jambonnière was a pan created specifically for the ham (with leg attached) and that it was “of an imposing size”. She also mentioned the same sturdy handles on two sides of the pan, a heavy lid and that some jambonnière pans would have small legs for placement directly in the hearth. We’re not making legs.

We spent some time with graph paper figuring what made sense and what looked and felt “right” in terms of length. All we knew was we wanted it to be 8” high.

copper ham pan, copper jambonniere, vintage copper, coppersmith, house copper

Final copper jambonnière pattern – let’s hope it works!

As my master smith, Bob, of Backwoods Tin & Copper,  has explained to me, tin and coppersmiths of old do not simply make it easy on themselves. Using a compass, nearly all notches, measurements and arcs were created using that particular tool, which is why the traditional, hand-made jambonnière does not appear to be made of joining two circles of different sizes. When I made such a connection Bob looked at me with a strange sort of grin.

Bob: “Well, it can’t be that easy.”

Me: “What do you mean?”

Bob: “It can’t be that easy. Otherwise everyone would do it. There’s got to be more to it.”

And then he proceeded to add additional arcs to the top of the pattern using an extended compass (this being our third or fourth try on paper) that eventually gave way to the slightly “flattened” look of the widest part of the jambonnière pan.

Me: “Why would they make it harder on themselves?”

Bob: “I don’t know. But it would not be as easy as two circles.”

Me: “Well that’s just crazy.”

We both stared at our paper copy and realized it matched the photograph in both size and squashed-ness.

It was time to make a pattern. We pasted the final graph paper on a piece of tin, glued it down and cut it out. Bob measured the exterior of the shape to get a feel for the amount of copper for the outside and added in for two seams – one at the top and one at the bottom – while I traced and cut out the base itself. Soon we had a lot of copper on the bench which now needs to get tinned.

Unrolling copper sheet

So this week, I’ll be standing over a lot of heat with some melted tin and preparing the copper in the flat before we figure out how to hand-shape the sides over a hollow mandrel. Let’s hope it works. Let’s hope it’s relatively “easy.”

Stay tuned…

Posted on

The (re) Making of an American Copper Skillet

In case it hasn’t been obvious, I’m a little enamored with the notion of recreating American copper cookware pieces that have been lost along with the slow disappearance of the hand-made, coppersmith trade itself.

So – surprise! I’ve made a skillet next.

Though most copper skillets were relatively small in terms of today’s expectations (and uses!), they all had high sides (not rounded) and a sharp edge. In fact, they were nearly identical in terms of form and shape to cast iron skillets, even though the copper pieces were made by hand and usually had relatively long wrought iron handles.


vintage copper cookware

Copper skillet in the tinshop in Metamora IN

Today, you’ll usually see low-sided copper skillets – some lined with tin, and some with stainless. They are softly curved, and have shorter handles. Part of this is because most of us don’t need to hang our copperware right next to the hearth, or stick it in and need an easier way to grab it out of the fire. It’d be very hard to wield the copper skillets of the 1800’s on today’s stoves, or put in the oven.

But I still believe there’s a place for the traditional, slightly tapered, straight-sided skillet in our kitchens. We just have forgotten they existed, and so have stopped looking to use them.

{Photo from American Copper & Brass book by Henry J. Kauffman}

Imagine a cast iron skillet that performs just like a copper pot!? That’s kinda what I thought. And I’m stupidly over-excited about this next piece. Thanks to the help from my good friend and product architect, who can take my sketches, the finds in old books, and my rough descriptions and make it a transferable file, and the master smith I apprentice under…AND all the guys from the tinsmith convergence this June, who are weighing in…as well as the feedback from the people actually spinning the bodies…

Well, it’s coming along!

It’s a big piece – bigger than the other pots in the House Copper line, and it’s thicker too (3mm) because I’m not flaring or rolling the edges (many older, (smaller) versions had wired rims or a beaded edge to help with strength, especially since these were usually formed by hand out of a thinner gauge copper sheet). And though the ductile handle won’t be long, it will still look similar to what was typical in the 1800’s for wrought handles.

house copper

Prototype of the 12″ American copper skillet

And of course, it will be lined with tin.

The skillets of old (and especially ones contributed to an American smith) are hard to find according to Henry Kauffman’s books, and yet they were the easiest to make for the beginning apprentice coppersmith. As it was typically formed from one circle and required no soldering, cuts (other than the circular blank itself) or fancy forming, it was typically a “trial” piece made with nothing but a stake and a hammer.

Traditional coppersmith copper skillet formation. {Photo from American Copper & Brass by Henry J Kauffman}

I’m excited to see each piece come to life – the guys in Ohio will be spinning the copper components from the Texas copper and the handles poured by the family-owned foundry in Lodi CA. And as for the actual drilling, riveting, tinning, polishing and buffing? Well, that’s going to happen (if all goes well) by…me. Because it will help with the pricing so more people can get pure metal cookware in their homes. And because I’d like to use much of what I’m learning in my own apprenticeship.

It’s just like the good old days, isn’t it?

Posted on

The Truth about Copper Moscow Mule Mugs

I was going to post a recipe today. Very “garden fresh and organic!” and all that.But instead there’s all this buzz about copper: copper Moscow Mule cups, copper cookware, unlined copper.

And before there’s yet another article published that cites the same source or two, I thought I’d throw my hat in the ring as an American coppersmith and copper cookware manufacturer. I bend copper using tools from the 1800’s, I apprentice under a master smith, and I can tin my copper pots. Suffice to say, I touch a lot of copper.

So first and foremost: copper itself, in the proper amount, is not poisonous.

In fact, it’s a micro-nutrient the World Health Organization says everyone needs to live and many of us fall short of our daily dietary intake. (Sources: US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health, Copper Development Association UK/ CDA Inc (USA). Copper is safe in the proper amount.

There are two exceptions to unlined copper: Jam Pans and Bowls. Jam pans are not lined at all because of the science that goes with the sugar process that happens during cooking jam. Bowls aren’t lined because of the science that goes with egg whites and the fact that you’re not heating them.

copper cookware, copper bowl, pure metal, pure copper, pure copper cookware

But COOK with acidic foods in unlined copper? I’m the first to tell you it’s not safe.

That means using unlined copper with tomatoes, many kinds of hard alcohol, limes and lemons, wine, and the like is a big no-no. (Here is a really lovely chart showing the alkaline and acidic nature of many foods and drinks). Copper is reactive, releases copper molecules easily, and too much of a good thing is never…good.

Copper gets a tricky reputation because we all apparently have long memories when it comes to it (because it was the first metal we really utilized as Neolithic farmers, perhaps…). Some people talk about copper and lead in the same sentence, and that’s also true – back a LONG time ago, copper cookware pieces were held together with solder (“metal glue” as my kids call it) that contained a lot of lead, so people would eventually get lead poisoning. Thankfully, we’re all wiser, and now solder for old cookware repairs are 100% lead free.

And thankfully we’ve learned to line our copperware with something.

The Moscow Mule mugs out there – if they’re silver on the inside – are usually made from stamped/formed/spun aluminum or stainless, with a thin coat of copper on the outside for looks…or even copper paint! Why? Because it’s cheaper and easier to do that than to actually use pure, real, solid copper. These mugs are readily available and relatively inexpensive to make if you’ve got a factory to spin ‘em. So you’re not actually drinking out of a copper mug, but a stainless or aluminum one just dressed up to look like copper.

(How to know if it’s aluminum and not real copper? Pick it up – it’ll be really lightweight! Stainless will be a bit heavier but you’ll also see the circular spinning marks inside so you know it’s not tin or nickel.)

Sometimes you’ll find real, pure copper mugs lined with tin (we do it, but we do it by hand – there’s no other way to tin something), especially vintage pieces. And yes, I know we have the unlined version in the shopping list. I have to tell Bob that he might want to take it off. He has received orders in the past for people who want unlined copper drinking cups – they leave the water (a neutral! no pH!) in the unlined copper overnight and drink it in the morning, believing the copper to have purified the water due to its antibacterial properties.

copper mug, copper cookware

Something else that I want to point out – there are several articles that mention using nickel as a lining. That’s totally true and possible to do as the two metals bond, but there’s a reason most of us cookware makers don’t line the copper with nickel much any more – if at all – (and this is true for American coppersmiths as well as the many over in Europe) and that’s because of nickel allergies. If you have a nickel allergy, make sure your copper cookware is lined with something else.

Nearly all copper should be lined.

It can be stainless steel, tin, nickel, silver, (heck, gold would bond as a non-ferrous metal) and even ceramic in some cases.

And while there are endless debates on which type of lining works best for copper cookware or even copper moscow mule mugs, as long as you don’t see any copper where you’re putting food or booze, you’re just fine.

Bottoms up!

PS – this article on Refinery29 is also really great on this super current topic.