Martha and the Art of Collecting Copper Cookware
Martha is a collector, and one of her favorite collections is her amazing trove of copper cookware and bakeware which includes antique English, French, and American pieces she has amassed over the years. From lidded copper saucepans in many sizes to ornate bakeware and many gorgeous copper bowls, Martha's collection is on display and in regular use in the kitchen of her Bedford home.
There are giant pieces, like the copper pan on the surface of her kitchen island that Martha now uses to hold the eggs from her chickens, and tiny pieces, like the doll-sized copper pans also on the island surface; these are butter warmers, and if you look carefully you'll see a lip for pouring melted butter. The kitchen island has open shelving providing many storage places to display her collection, including copper beakers, pitchers in a variety of sizes, and trays while keeping them all within reach.
Most of her vast array of copper pots and sauté pans hangs from a custom-made pot rack over the island. And the pride of place on her stovetop goes to the copper kettle used to boil water for her green tea. "It's all so beautiful to look at and easy to use," Martha says of her cherished collection. The copper casts a warm glow over the entire room.
Here, Martha whisks egg whites in a copper bowl to make meringue for a favorite recipe, Lemon Meringue Pie. A copper bowl is the traditional vessel French chefs use for this task because copper is considered the best material for whisking egg whites for meringue; the reaction between the metal and the egg whites makes for a loftier meringue.
Cooking with Style
Many 19th-century English households had one or two copper pots, but sets like these six graduated saucepans with flat lids and iron handles would have been found in stately homes and royal residences.
This pair of exceptional French 19th-century molds, each is more than a foot tall and features a dramatic swag design, is very rare. It's difficult to know how they were originally used, but Martha has adopted them for spectacular molded ice creams. Perhaps she'll also use them for her Cranberry-Pomegranate Gelatin next Thanksgiving?
Form and Function
A few items from Martha's collection show the variety of shapes and sizes of copper cookware. The huge hammered stockpot (it's about 30 inches tall!) on the left is a favorite of hers. The large antique English skimmer, right, is a rare find.
The responsiveness of copper makes it a dream for quick sautés. Martha likes to make the classic Sole Meunière in one of her copper sauté pans. Her recipe is inspired by the version in Julia Child and Jacques Pepin's Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home ($28.99, amazon.com). The fish is dredged in flour, cooked until crisp and golden, and served in a nutty brown-butter sauce with capers and lemon.
Kettles to Whistle At
A trio of antique kettles, from left: likely English, Scandinavian, and Welsh, the last one is an early example, circa 1780.
A Mold for Every Occassion
Martha's collection of copper molds spans centuries—she buys what she likes more than focusing on one era or origin. She uses fish molds for "huge displays of salmon mousse," she says. The crescent fish, top, with an iron ring and stabilizing "foot" for steadying the mold once filled, and the lobsters, bottom, date to the late 19th century. The fish swimming between them are more recent, from the 1960s.
Heating sugar for caramel or candy requires precise, even temperatures, which is why a copper sugar saucepan, with its superior heat conductivity, is often the choice of pastry chefs. Most copper cooking vessels—like this charlotte mold—are lined with a nonreactive metal, but copper sugar saucepans are unlined (and should be used only for sugar, not general cooking).
More Antique Molds
These two molds are likely French. The top one, circa 1900, may have been used for ice cream. The bottom one may have been used for the classic dessert charlotte and is a few decades older (the iron ring is a clue to its age).
A Copper Keeper
Shallow pans like these are "great for galettes," says Martha.
Ale pitchers were used in English pubs during the 1920s and '30s. Martha is more likely to use her copper pitchers for flowers.
Many of these pots and pans also hung in Martha's kitchen at Turkey Hill, her former home in Westport, Connecticut. When she moved to her Bedford farm, Martha displayed or stored pieces in different rooms then decided to move everything together and display her entire collection in the kitchen.