Cathy’s Cooking Corner: Selecting Pots and Pans

By Myron Horst

Cathy and the girls do the cooking and the boys and I take care of most of the farm work. One of my priorities is that Cathy’s workshop (the kitchen) is properly outfitted with the tools and equipment that she needs to work efficiently and provide good-tasting food. Before we started farming, I worked for 14 years in the Washington DC area in high-end houses, observing people’s kitchens and the pots and pans that they had in their kitchens. Actually, I was a carpenter and cabinet maker, and worked for months at a time in different houses and would see what kind of pots and pans that they were using. It was very interesting seeing firsthand how wealthy people lived. That lifestyle was not as appealing to me viewing it from the inside as it looked from the outside. One of the things that amazed me was the poor quality cookware that many people had. Some did not know how to cook, and felt a certain amount of inferiority because if it. Cathy’s pots and pans were better quality than what many of those people had, even though they had many times the level of income that I had.

Pots and pans do not make a good cook, but poor quality cookware makes it much more difficult to achieve good results. Poor quality cookware burns the food much more quickly and requires closer attention during the cooking or frying process. If the food doesn’t burn on the bottom of a pan, it is much easier to wash up. Price is not necessarily a good indicator in buying good cookware.

One of the most important things to look for is a thick, heavy bottom. You can see that the skillet on the left and the pot on the right have extra metal attached to the bottom. A thick bottom is important to distribute the heat evenly and prevent “hot” spots that burn easily. The center pan is a Farberware pan and is a good choice also. It has received a lot of use. It has a layer of aluminum to distribute the heat evenly over the bottom. Handles on pots and pans are attached by welding or with rivets. The best attachment is heavy rivets like what is on the skillet on the left.

The stock pot on the right is the best designed with a thick bottom and riveted handles. The glass lid is a nice feature also. I purchased it at the Asian grocery store, H-Mart, in Gaithersburg for a very reasonable price.

The stock pot on the left is a piece of junk as cookware. The bottom is very thin. I bought it at a thrift store for $3 and it had a spot of burnt food tightly stuck to the bottom. I bought it as a stainless steel container for making cheese and uses other than cooking. The stock pot on the right has spot welds that hold the handles in place. So far they have held up well, but it is a weak point that is not as strong as rivets.

This is Cathy’s favorite roaster pan. The lid can be used as a skillet. Both the pan and the lid have thick bottoms. It is also attractive enough that it can be set on the table to serve from.

This is Cathy’s favorite non-stick skillet. It is a cast iron skillet with a wood handle. The wood handle is nice because you do not have to use a pot holder to handle it. It is probably over 50 years old and will last many more years of hard use. We have tried many kinds of non-stick skillets. Some were guaranteed to last 25 years. Before long, they got scratched and the coating started coming off. After hearing about the dangers of the chemicals in non-stick pans, we abandoned them. To make a cast iron skillet non-stick, “season” it by coating it with oil and let the pan get hot until the oil starts to smoke a little before you put food into it. Do this any time the cast iron gets the oil washed off. It has to have the oil to make it non-stick. A cast iron skillet is so easy to wash. Do not wash it with soap, because it will remove the oils in the metal. Just scrub it with a stainless steel scrubbing pad while running hot water over it. Dry it with a paper towel.

We do not have a microwave because of what it does to the food when it cooks it. To cook things quickly, Cathy bought this new style of pressure cooker that is much easier to use than the old style of pressure cooker, and it cooks food in a short period of time. If you buy one, get a cookbook that explains how to use it. One that we recommend is Cooking Under Pressure by Lorna Sass.

When it is hot, Cathy sometimes uses this large electric roaster and sets it on the porch. That way, she does not have to use the oven and heat up the kitchen.