A spanner in the works

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Celia, from Fig Jam and Lime Cordial, has been championing the merits of clay cookware of late.  She is not a fan of cast iron enamel pots because of their weight and the fact that they are buggers to clean.

I am not particularly enamoured with cast iron enamel cookware either.  I must admit that I have looked at it, longingly, in kitchenware shops but the price always put me off. I had never bought any until I spent a month in France some years ago.  I just had to buy a piece of Le Creuset in France.  Luckily, we hired a car so it wasn’t the burden lugging it around might have been.  I do use it, but nowhere near as much as you might think.  It only really comes out when I have a couple of casserole dishes going at once.  I find food sticks to it and it is bloody heavy.

So, I hear you ask, if you are not a Le Creuset woman, what type of woman are you?

I am a Bessemer woman.  For the non-Australians out there, Bessemer is an Australian brand of cookware.  It is cast aluminium, with a vitreous enamel coating and a non-stick interior.

Bessemer cookware came out in the 70’s.  It was, and still is, sold by party plan distributors. My mum must have gone to a party because she bought the griddle, the wok and the three litre casserole dish (in the top photo). I still have all three pieces.

Bessemer ware would have to be the ugliest cookware I have ever seen. It comes in lovely colours like flame, orange, baby poo mustard and lime green – perfect for the 70’s.  Mum struck it lucky getting a cream-coloured casserole dish – mine are all baby poo mustard.

This is a photo from eBay (Oops! It has been removed.  Just imagine a whole set of 1970’s flame coloured cookware).  Someone is selling off their orange set.  I would love to bid for it but where would I put it?  And what would I do with it?  And, oh, … I hate orange.

I had been thinking of doing a post on Bessemer for a while but the impetus came the other night when I was invited to my neighbour’s for dinner.  I noticed a Bessemer frying pan on her stove (they are hard to miss; it was a ‘flame’ one).  I commented on it and my host started telling me, without any prompting, how good it was.  She relayed the story of how she went out and left the stove on with her dinner cooking and that when she came home, many hours later, it was not burnt.  She credits her Bessemer ware frying pan for saving her house.  I have done the same thing, several times.  I was going to relay similar tales in this post.

When I moved out of home, mum gifted me the griddle and wok.  They are still perfect, although not as perfect as the new one in this photo.  Interestingly, the design remains exactly the same.

Sometime in the 80’s, my sister had a Bessemer party.  I went to buy the three litre casserole dish (I wanted one like mum’s) and came home with the baby poo mustard seven litre casserole dish and the sauté pan instead – I later bought a three litre baby poo casserole dish.  I still have all pieces and they are perfect.  The only thing that wears out is the non-stick surface but there is a place in Perth that resurfaces them for a modest price.  I have had each re-coated. The wok and the griddle have a different surface that has not worn out with 40 years of use.

Bessemer’s main claim was, with their cookware, you would never need to use your oven again thus saving in power bills.   At the demonstration, the distributor would bake a pizza in the sauté pan – the lids have a vent to release moisture.  Alas, I have never tried it but until I retired and became more interested in cooking, I rarely used our oven.  Most things we ate were cooked in the Bessemer ware on the cooktop.

Cast aluminium is about half the weight of cast iron.  It is different to sheet aluminium which is rolled or stamped into shape.  Cookware from sheet aluminium is often soft and thin and, hence, easily warps.    Cast aluminium is made by pouring heated molten aluminium into a mould. During this process, microscopic air pockets form in the metal. This means that the resulting cookware holds its heat for longer than sheet cookware. It is also quick to heat up and only needs a low heat source.

074copyThe casserole dish in the top photo was bought by my mum in the 70’s.  When she died, no-one wanted it as the non-stick interior was all but gone.  Knowing the value of this cookware, I took it and had the non-stick interior re-coated.  I have been using it ever since.  This is what the surface looks like after 10-plus years.

I am not advocating Bessemer ware – there are other brands, Swizz Diamond for one.  I just thought that if you were wondering what type of cookware to buy, you should consider cast aluminium, especially if you do not like the weight of cast iron cookware.  I think it is great.

24 thoughts on “A spanner in the works

  1. I remember Bessemer ware, who could forget the colour… but I haven’t seen any lately. I met up with Celia & Pete on Saturday morning and this post continued the pot discussion over breakfast… it’s clearly a topical issue amongst cooks. I love that your collection has history 🙂

  2. Interesting discussion. I love my Le Creuset ware and have learned to manage it. The price has become outrageous though. I also have a couple of commercial non stick pans and all the rest is copper bottomed stainless steel, some of it 30+ years old and going strong. I think you generally get what you pay for with kitchen equipment.

  3. Hi Glenda, I have never seen Bessemer but interesting the school mums are mad for Chef Tool box parties where their main claim is that you cook (pizza, cake etc) on the stove top. Next time I will shout ‘just like Bessemer?’

    • Hi Gail – oh no I had never heard of Chef Tool box parties so I checked it out, it is anodised aluminium and Bessemer is cast aluminium – so close.

    • Anne, I have an amazing assortment too. It is the result of op shop purchases, hand me downs from my mum, extravagant purchases and spur of the moment bargain finds.

  4. Great post Glenda and it follows on nicely from our discussions on cast iron and then clay cookware…. I am still using my mother’s 50 year old RenaWare ss saucepans! I have a collection of other items too, including the Aldi enamelled cast iron, CorningWare (sent to me to try), Morganware ss and other. I have looked at the Bessemer over the years, but to be truthful I have more than enough great cookware already… I think the Renaware might just do me for life! In fact, I see an article coming on….. : )

  5. I love this post! I’d heard of Bessemer, but never knew anything about the brand – I don’t know how you can resist that gorgeous orange set on ebay given that you love the stuff! And wonderful that it’s Australian made! (If you tell me Bessemer can go into the dishwasher, I’ll be straight onto ebay) 🙂

  6. Yes I am a Le Creuset person!!! but enjoyed reading your piece on Bessemer ware that I too considered so butt ugly. I recall Margaret Fulton being an advertising advocate many years ago. As my wrists become weaker I do struggle with Le Creuset but I carry on as I ‘know my pots capabilities’ as you do with your Bessemer. But you really think they would have redesigned them after all these years don’t you.

  7. You’re certainly right about cookware being expensive! I have a feeling that to buy a new set of some of the big brands here, that you could eat out every night for the rest of your life & never need cookware again. When I was married Copco was the rage & I got a number of pieces as gifts but as with Celia, the weight can make me change my mind about using them. The only thing is, when I’ve got something cooking that will be simmering for a long time, I do like the heavier Copco otherwise I just grab the lighter aluminum.

  8. I have been threatening for the longest time to replace my worn out old pots – no name brand numbers. I have decided that I will buy a “name” brand but not sure how far I am willing to go on spending ridiculous amounts of money. I might just be building up a set one pot at a time.
    Have a super weekend Glenda.
    🙂 Mandy xo

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