and sometimes, you find something you thought you’d used up, but you didn’t: Descoware

Like a jar of, um, caramel you burned three months ago, sitting at the way back of the top shelf of the fridge, I found this piece on Descoware which I wrote a couple years ago. I really thought I’d used it, but it seems I didn’t, so I’m putting it out there.

There seems to come a moment in the life of every home cook: you realize you want an enamelled cast iron pot. The circumstances vary. Maybe you were watching Christopher Kimball dipping a spoon into a huge red Le Creuset pot on America’s Test Kitchen, and you thought, “Well, I could make perfect short ribs if I had a pretty pot like that.” Maybe you were walking through a department store looking to buy new towels, and you saw the cookware displays a few feet away: that glossy blue enamelled saucepan would look beautiful filled with lemon curd, wouldn’t it? And you’ve always wanted to make lemon curd, too.

You look at the price tag of that pretty Le Creuset pot, and you blanch. You consider: you could buy a less expensive brand. There are other options. Some of them are quite good, too, even if they lack the snob appeal of the Le Creuset offerings. Sadly, though, you go home to do research, and learn that some of the lines are really not worth their prices. You read, grimly, about enamelled cast iron pots that chip, that don’t heat evenly due to sloppy manufacturing…. and if you’ve already bought a set of these pieces, it means you’ve wound up with a lot of pretty but not useful pots which will only collect dust.

There is another route, and it’s a good, solid solution to the problem. How do you acquire really good enamelled cast iron pots without spending a fortune? You hit the second-hand marketplace, and scare yourself up Descoware pots.

I can actually hear you scratching your head. What is Descoware? Descoware was a company that made enamelled cast iron pots and pans in Belgium. The company started manufacturing in the 1930s and developed quite a following. The goods were high quality — as good as Le Creuset — with one crucial difference, which was that they were not quite as thick, and hence, not nearly as heavy. The weight of Le Creuset (and similarly-made) pots is legendary. Descoware was noteworthy because it provided cooks with the same sorts of designs as Le Creuset, and the same ability to go from stove-to-oven, but without being so incredibly difficult to heft. Julia Child, not someone known for being cavalier about her equipment, favored Descoware. The company’s line grew in popularity in the United States through the 1950s and 1960s — especially after Child encouraged her viewers to purchase Descoware — and Le Creuset knew they had to respond. Respond they did: they bought Descoware, and shut down the line after appropriating some of their glazing techniques. By the 1970s, Descoware was in a lot of American kitchens, but could no longer be purchased new.

Many people would recognize Descoware pieces immediately, if they saw them on a shelf at the local Goodwill — which is where you can, now, often find Descoware for sale, at prices you have to giggle at. The smooth, creamy colors, ranging from a buttery yellow to the familiar orange-red known as “flame,” are as appealing now as they were in 1961. Descoware never developed the range of colors that Le Creuset has done over the years. But the colors they did manufacture retain their appeal. Some Descoware saucepans have wooden handles, which may or may not have worn so well, but the pieces that have contiguous cast iron enamelled handles may well look as though they just came out of the box. On the whole, Descoware has worn extremely well.

I began to cook with Descoware after I inherited pieces from my grandmother. I already owned quite a bit of Le Creuset, and didn’t leap at the Descoware, but I took it because I thought, “This might be useful — I should hang onto this.” That was six years ago. Now, I find that the Le Creuset is a little hard on my wrists: making caramel in a Le Creuset saucepan is a breeze, but lifting the pot to pour out the caramel is not. With the Descoware pot, however, I have no trouble whatsoever.

Finding Descoware today is the kind of challenge that would appeal to those who go for the thrill of the hunt. As with collecting anything — rare books, old 45s, vintage linens — a lot of the fun is in keeping your eyes open all the time. Of course, in this day and age, a simple trip to eBay can net those with little patience an awful lot of Descoware choices very quickly. The cost of shipping cast iron enamelware can be daunting, but comparing overall costs — buying Descoware secondhand on eBay vs. purchasing almost any comparable brand, new, online, and having it shipped — buying the Descoware is obviously the less expensive way to go.

 

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