This is a timely article in an uncertain time (ahem, election week). No matter what happens, we are still human beings, we still need one another, and one of the most important things we do together – enjoying meals in community – is still as important, if not moreso, as ever. This is why I’m truly excited to share this guest post with you today from Sara Dahmen of Housekeeper Crockery. She makes beautiful, quality, authentic, safe cookware right here in my state of Wisconsin.
See below for more info on Sara and an exciting GIVEAWAY (scroll down to enter)! Here’s Sara:
Asking the Questions
A video was circulating Facebook a few years ago, and this video changed my entire paradigm of cooking and eating healthy. In the video, Swedish scientists tested families for a variety of pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides. They found hundreds in everyone from fathers to children. After having these same families eat exclusively organic food for two weeks, these levels dropped to nearly zero. One of the scientists said something that resonated with me deeply: “We know very little about the long-term effects of eating food treated with pesticides, especially if you consider that chemicals can be much more harmful when combined together than they are on their own.”
After this, I dove head-first into co-ops, growing a bigger garden, and sourcing as much organic as I could afford. Oh, to go back to the days when we all lived off our own plots of land and chemicals were nowhere to be seen.
Around this time, I wrote a historical fiction book that required a lot of research. Through this research, I realized that much of the cookware in our great-grandmother’s kitchens was quite different than what we use today. It did not abide by our current “buy-and-toss” mentality. In this time, cast iron skillets were passed down the matrilineal line. Cookware pieces were treasured as heirlooms. Everything was made locally, by hand, and was meant to last generations.
You are what you…cook with
Upon learning how our relationship with cookware used to be, I realized that amidst all the discussion and clamor about eating sustainably, organically, and locally, I had been missing a key point: What am I cooking all that organic food in?
We are becoming hyper-aware of the food we put in our bodies, but we tend to not give nearly as much consideration to what we use to prepare this food, which is just as important. There are many varieties of cookware on the market that we should be giving a second thought before using in our increasingly mindful kitchens:
Fortunately, the negative effects of Teflon are becoming more discussed in mainstream health circles. Teflon contains PTFE, a chemical which has been shown in studies to cause acute, flu-like symptoms upon inhalation of overheated non-stick pan fumes in the kitchen (source). Also, there is risk in ingesting the Teflon if it begins to scrape off the pain – not exactly what you want as a seasoning with your dinner, am I right?
Stainless steel cookware is a tough one. It certainly holds up and can last a long time. However, it is not a great heat conductor and is very sticky/difficult to clean up. Because of its weakness in conducting heat, using stainless steel cookware can increase someone’s carbon footprint and also decrease energy efficiency by almost 400x compared to a metal like copper.
We should be questioning stainless steel cookware not simply due to its poor conductivity rate, but also because it can hold bacteria for over three weeks after use (source). This means that unless you’re completely sanitizing your stainless steel cookware every time you cook, you’re imparting germs all over it, which can multiply on your shelf for several weeks. And how many of us re-wash our cookware right before using it, after we thought it was cleaned thoroughly and stored safely in our cupboards? In comparison, the copper cookware we make holds bacteria for mere minutes (source).
Finally, there are no standards to what makes up stainless steel cookware. In fact, there are no requirements to list off any metals at all. How can we demand transparency from our butcher, our egg farmer, our vegetable stands and not ask for the same from our cookware manufacturer? Stainless steel cookware can be made with a plethora of metals mixed together – likely an un-checked mix of chromium, iron, carbon, nickel, aluminum, and silicon. Without the right amount of chromium, the stainless steel cookware will rust. Without the aluminum, it has even poorer heat conductivity.
Much of the ceramic-coated nonstick cookware touted as healthy and green is not so. In fact, some of these brands are not actually ceramic (clay), but are made from glass-based substances mixed with other undisclosed materials (source, source).
“Ceramic-coated” is essentially a chemical sprayed on energy inefficient stainless steel – and even if there is some clay in the mix, it’s certainly not conducting heat well!
Is Your Cookware Grass-Fed?
Our beef is grass-fed, what about our cookware? (just kidding; just wanted to make sure you were still paying attention). Now that we are beginning to consider more what we are cooking with and on, it is time to expand our thinking, including the questions we ask when making choices about cookware. Let’s go from asking these questions:
- Is it affordable (aka cheap)?
- Is it easy to clean up?
To also asking these questions:
- What is the provenance of the metal?
- How is it treated?
- Where is it sourced?
- How is it made?
- Who makes it?
A Better Way
So if we don’t use the common cookware like Teflon, stainless steel, and so on, what do we use? Is there a better way?
Through all my research and passion for what we cook on, incorporating all the questions above, I decided to take matters into my own hands and create the better way by making my own healthy cookware at Housekeeper Crockery and at House Copper.
For every item we create, we know exactly where the materials come from and go so far as to personally connect and work with those making each component. This way, we can be sure that our ceramic bowls, crocks, pie plates are made in the most sustainable, low-impact, and healthy way possible.
We source our clay from the US, it is mixed in Wisconsin, and then hand-thrown by four potters near Madison at Rowe Pottery. I am in constant communication with the owner of Rowe Pottery and can stop in and see the progress myself. I am proud to be able tell my customers that I personally know how each product is made – that it’s food-safe and pure.
Ceramic is an insulator, which is why I use it for pie plates and mixing. It keeps things cool and controls the baking temperature slowly and carefully so you don’t burn that apple crisp. That’s the irony of all that “greenware” and “healthy ceramic” out there.
It is also important, when working with American family-owned and operated companies to not only reproduce the wares of our grandparents’ kitchens, but to use the right materials. I can tell anyone who asks that my copper is pure, unalloyed, and how it is deoxidized. I know where it’s smelted, where and who forms it, and who lines it with pure, food-safe tin that won’t chip off like Teflon (but is non-stick like Teflon!) because of the molecular bond it has with the pure copper. I know, because it is pure, that it will conduct heat and be extremely conductive and efficient in a way that a stainless-steel lined pot will never be. I know that when I say that my copper pots come tried and true, 500 years use of tin-lined copper cookware can back me up.
A lot of people ask about the cast iron as well. Cast iron is certainly becoming more popular these days thanks to the rise of healthy & food-related blogs. I turned to my uncle, a vintage blacksmith of 30 years, for advice when it came to handling my pieces. It was not only extremely important for me to season the pieces with pure, organic flaxseed oil from North Dakota, but also to make sure it was done properly so the skillets wouldn’t rust. That means doing a lot with fires myself, but at least I can say that I know exactly how each piece was handled and treated – that what is on that iron is nothing but organic oil.
What I want in my kitchen is what I want in everyone’s kitchen. If we all had a few pieces that would last many lifetimes that were made pure, locally, and in the ways of our forbearers, we’d all have safer, purer, cleaner cooking tools that would maybe save us, in more ways than one.
Sara was kind enough to send me one of her beautiful cast iron skillets. I was already an avid cast iron lover, so in that way I didn’t need to be convinced of its wonders. However, her skillet stood out for a number of reasons. Not only did it provide an even, reliable heat that I could cook anything in, it cleaned up well, and most importunately, I felt at peace knowing and trusting the source. She also includes information on how to maintain the cast iron, as well as how to season it, which is really helpful for even a “seasoned” (get it?! ….) cast iron user like myself, as I learned new info from her care guidelines.
It is clear that Housekeeper Crockery is an authentic, trustworthy business that makes quality products. Sara’s business really is one in a million. It is rare to find a company that a.) Makes beautiful product that WORKS, b.) Is so transparent about their process, c.) Is run by a woman, and, d.) Can trace every piece of the product from start to finish. Also, watch this amazing Ted Talk of Sara’s in which she talks about her industry, heavily dominated by men, and I think you’ll agree that she is a bad@$$:
And because I love her creations so much, I’m happy to be able to share a giveaway with you! Sara & Housekeeper Crockery are kind enough to offer one of my readers a cast iron pan and handmade wooden spoon. Enter below! Also, even if you don’t win, Sara is offering 10% off her goods with coupon code “THISOOL” at checkout!
GIVEAWAY: Enter to Win!
Terms & Conditions:
This giveaway is open to residents of the United States. You must be 18 years or older to enter. This giveaway will end on Friday, November 18 @ 11:59 pm central time. When the giveaway ends, the randomly chosen winner will be contacted via email by Sara Dahmen of Housekeeper Crockery to redeem your gift and **will have 48 hours to respond**. If the person does not respond in the given time, another winner will be chosen. Good luck!
About the Guest Author:
Sara Dahmen is a metalsmith of vintage and modern kitchenware in tin, copper and iron. Her debut novel, Doctor Kinney’s Housekeeper, won the Laramie Award Grand Prize for Western Historical Fiction, and inspired her lines of American-made cookware created with pure and/or organic materials, House Copper and Housekeeper Crockery.
Dahmen has published more than 100 articles as a contributing editor for Veil Magazine and writes for Edible Milwaukee in addition to many book & review blogs. She has spoken at TEDx Rapid City, the Historical Writers of America inaugural conference in Williamsburg VA, and has co-chaired the Port Washington Literary Festival since its inception. Prior to her writing gigs, Dahmen was a print, radio, and TV producer in Milwaukee and has owned and operated a nationally award-winning event planning company since 2006. When not writing or sewing authentic clothing for reenactments, she can be found hitting tin at her tin and coppersmith apprenticeship with a master smith, reading the Economist and reference books, or playing with her three young children.