Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Forging Health and Heritage

We unwittingly ingest a lot of plastic. Aside from hidden amounts that leach into every pore of our petroleum-based lives, the stacks of peeling non-stick cooking utensils in any thrift store are an obvious visual confirmation.

Too convincing to ignore, evidence about the hazards of consuming synthetic polymers is reviving an appreciation for all-metal cookware that endures, and can even improve, through generations of use. Of course, ingested metal is not always benign.  A classic example is the likelihood that lead leached from water pipes and pewter wine goblets caused the insanity that helped to end the Roman Empire. And everyone today should be aware of hazardous mercury levels in seafood.

Parmesan Cheese Kettle - Bra, Italy
Many common metals, though, are proving to be the best choice for use in the kitchen, especially those that are a natural part of the human body. A growing food safety awareness is polishing the gleam on copper cookware for its inherent microbial properties which is old news to traditional Parmesan and Gruyere cheesemakers who may still be using the same copper production kettles their ancestors forged generations ago.

Credit: Blu Skillet
Blending art with utility, hand crafted metal cookware casts its beauty on everyday life. For artisan level producers, such as Blu Skillet Ironware in Seattle's Ballard district and Brooklyn Copper Cookware in Brooklyn, New York, the greatest challenge has been keeping pace with customer demand.
Credit: Brooklyn Copper

Brooklyn Copper Cookware (BCC) was deluged with orders soon after it opened near the abandoned site of America's last great copper cookware manufacturer, the Bruno Waldow Company.

In response, BCC expanded its business model through partnerships with other artisan coppersmiths and expects to soon launch a new chapter in the history of hand made American cookware. The BCC website is brimming with reverence for the art of heirloom kitchen tools.

For those looking to try their own hand at working metal, the Farm to Table concept outlines a logical path for learning the craft. Start with simple (and forgiving) garden tools before taking on the more demanding pots and pans.

Every Summer in Montana, brothers Mark and Dennis Van der Meer of Bad Goat Forest Products offer affordable workshops on forging your own garden tools.  The Van der Meers are thorough but entertaining instructors with a contagious passion for metal work. Even the distraction of earning advanced degrees in various sciences didn't pull them away from the hammer and anvil. The Farm Hack video below is an overview of a typical workshop experience.

Durable handcrafted metal tools for the kitchen and garden are a bridge between preserving our heritage and sustaining our future. In the present, they are the essence of timeless pleasure.