Rabbit Hill Copper
Each month you might notice our steady increase of copperware in the online shop. I have to admit that I am smitten with the look of beautiful and history filled copper pots in my kitchen. Heavy and substantially made, full of long standing French cooking tradition. Searching for and restoring copper cookware has become a true passion. If you are new to using copper cookware and particularly vintage copper in your kitchen, you are probably starting from exactly where I did a few years ago.
My father-in-law was a chef. When we moved to France he was long retired, but still cooking. My husband's parents owned and operated a restaurant and hotel in Trouville sur Mer for many years and over time he had of course acquired cookware, which was given to us after we moved to Rabbit Hill. I hung it in the barn. Yep. It was pretty, but surely not cook-worthy. I was one of those people that thought that vintage and worn copper cookware was not safe -- and absolutely dangerous to use -- right?! Wrong. What I learned, was that properly restored, it is ready to be used and loved for many, many more years. Evidence of that is the 19th century French pots I have in my kitchen now that I use almost every day ... because they have been restored!
Which leads to part two of the story: restoration and tinning. More than just polishing up the exterior, often the interior needs to be refurbished too. We knew of only a few 'ateliers' that did this in our area, lead-time and turnarounds were significant, sometimes as long as six months, and the tinning was costly.
Tinning and restoring is a complex process and is labor intensive. It requires acid baths, heat and molten tin, grinders, polishing wheels. Truly it is amazing. So much that it fascinated my husband. Maybe it was that he could not stand to see the beloved pots of his dad or his grandmother and mom -- hanging as decor in our barn. Or maybe it was that he knew how much I would love (and become obsessed with) cooking with high-quality and authentic copper pots and pans (and gratins and 'fait touts' ...). He was right. When he is right -- he is RIGHT. So he learned restoration and tinning. Just like that. Well not entirely 'just like that'... It took many, many hours and trial and error and persistence and lots (LOTS) of Ibuprofen --- to fill my kitchen with a 'batterie' of cookware, I could only dream about.
So there it was, the birth of Rabbit Hill Copper. Right away, when we started to look for pieces to restore, we educated ourselves on what to look for in quality and craftsmanship that makes the difference.
For my kitchen and for the online shop here is what we look for.
French made brands; Mauviel - Villedieu, Havard, Allez Freres ...and especially my personal favorite E. Dehillerin (copper cookware that was made exclusively for Julia Child's favorite cookware shop in Paris). Good cookware is stamped with a brand, size or chefs initials or restaurant name. Occasionally really great cookware is not stamped, either because it is very old or just wasn't stamped but was still made by a known maker, in which case look for ....
Wall thickness: Because in most cases this is the best indicator of quality. Good quality cookware will range from 1.5 - 3mm thickness. However, certain types of cookware will sometimes be under that for reasons of functionality, like a skillet for example that is meant to be lighter in order to be efficient.
Related to this is the concept of 'balance'. Have you ever bought what you thought was a great pan only to find that it tips on your burners? Sometimes that happens when the handle is heavier than the pot -- and this makes the pot tilt when not filled. A good pan should sit well and this is easy to test before you purchase by setting it on a flat surface.
Unfortunately, not all cook-tops work for copper pots and pans. Copper works wonderfully on all types of gas and electric, however cannot be used on induction tops, unless it has been made specially to do so or you have purchased an adapter plate made for this purpose.
If you are just starting a collection, I always advise you start with the type of pot that you use the most; small sauce pots come in so many sizes, a 'gratin' is great if you do a lot of oven dishes, and many pieces work so well for oven to table or stove top to table service. One thing that many do not know about tinned-copper is that if cooked with correctly, it is essentially non-stick, cooks beautifully and is easy to clean. It is no wonder that it is the preferred cookware for professional chefs and accomplished cooks.
And finally, the topic I am most commonly asked about is .... polishing. There is so much I could share here and even more information on the web, so I will just leave it at that for now, with every piece of copper that I sell, I always include a 'Use and Care' sheet with a few tips!
Hope you can come take a look at our favorite copper pieces this month when the shop opens on the first Saturday of every month.