Yesterday, I received a package that I’d been waiting for since last week: the blaze-colored Le Creuset 7.25 quart Dutch oven and two French onion soup bowls, those lovely stoneware bowls with the handle that you see in any brasserie attempting authenticity (favorites here in NYC are Pigalle and Les Halles.
I had seen a Le Creuset store before, in the Woodbury Commons outlets over Thanksgiving with my mom. I admired the vivid colors, the sheer weight of the cast-iron, the quality of even the “second choix” merchandise – only marked by a slight ding on a lid, no bigger than the size of a pinprick. I don’t even know where the flaw is on mine.
Even though my mom offered to get me one over Thanksgiving, I couldn’t imagine bringing another pot into my already well-stocked-for-an-unmarried-woman-who-just-began-to-really-enjoy-cooking kitchen. I especially couldn’t imagine bringing a piece of cookware into my kitchen that cost over $100, much less $200.
Some people who see my kitchen (who don’t cook themselves), wonder how I could possibly have amassed this much stuff. Stock pots, multi-pots, saucepans, skillets, saucepots, cakepans, cookie sheets, roasting pans, slow cooker, wok. I tell them that they were all bought over the years, as my recipes called for them, as I needed them. And usually, Curt and I have tried to be as thrifty as possible – buying on sale or on the last chance shelf at Bed, Bath, and Beyond; making do with the cheap, thin-bottomed cookware at our local East Harlem catch-all store (Jack’s), where you can also get toilet paper, paper towels, synthetic sheets, moldy bath mats (we returned those), sanitary napkin packages that have been labeled “not for individual sale.” Needless to say, the cookware in there is not of the highest quality, and is priced to be almost disposable.
I do have some nice things in the kitchen. Mostly gifts from my mom: a 16-cup Cuisinart food processor for my 30thbirthday, an adorable (and heavy) saucepot shaped like a bell from Thanksgiving, a cast-iron grill pan from the restaurant supply store on Bowery and Houston. A multi-pot from years ago that is my go-to for steaming or boiling pasta. Curt picked up a fantastic stainless steel pasta roller a few years ago, after we came back from the Cinque Terre and had ambitions to make our own pasta. A massive stockpot (you can, and I have, fit a whole 18-pound turkey carcass in it!) that I bought for Curt to make tinola (Philippine chicken soup with ginger), when we lived separately and he only had a saucepan to make soup in.
What we didn’t have was a Dutch oven – I always just used my smaller stockpots when a recipe called for a Dutch oven. But with the 16-cup Cuisinart and disc/blade holder on one counter, and an already full cabinet of pots and pans that piss me off every time someone throws a pot or pan in there without bothering to stack it properly, I literally couldn’t visualize a space for any piece of cookware that didn’t collapse and couldn’t stack neatly with the other pots and pans. The Le Creuset couldn’t be thrown in the cabinet with the other pots and pans. It would need its own space, and with its weight, I didn’t want to put it the top “shelf” (on top of our cabinets) where we stored some of our smaller, less-used items. I told my mom, over Thanksgiving, that there was just no way we could fit it into our kitchen. I didn’t need it. I was doing fine without it.
Then I visited my older sister for Christmas. In the one week I was there, she pulled out her Le Creuset at least twice: once to make arroz caldo (Philippine chicken rice soup with ginger, like congee), and once to make gumbo. I watched her make the gumbo, as her recipe essentially said, “watch someone else do it.” I kept an eye on and stirred the browning butter until it was the color of peanut butter. I stirred the “trinity”: onion, green pepper, celery. Even keeping a watchful eye on my own dishes at home, I still get some burned bits on the bottom that I have to scrape at with my steel wool, or just prepare myself for the pot’s overnight soak. Here? As I stirred the trinity into the butter (butter! the finicky beast that always burns and smokes long before the vegetables are properly sautéed), no smoke alarms went off. No having to turn on the fan and open the door to ventilate; no having to disconnect the damn smoke alarm (these jobs usually being delegated to Curtis, when he emerges from our bedroom and realizes the whole apartment is filled with smoke). And then all the vegetables were done, at the same time.
I was officially enamored of the Le Creuset. Almira’s is flame-colored, a darker red-orange at the bottom, flowing into a truer, vivid orange at the top. When my mom and I were at Woodbury Commons, I was taken by the crimson pieces, the deep purple-red hue that’s been one of my favorite colors for a long time. Just sitting here at my desk, I spot several deep red/crimson/burgundy items: cardboard drawers that hold my desk items, the background on my mouse pad, the background on my computer desktop, a magnetic holder for paperclips and small items of the like. I thought that when I finally did decide to bring a Le Creuset into my home, it would certainly be of the crimson persuasion.
But when we were at Ellenton Outlets last week, I fell in love with the flame-colored one, the same color that Almira has. Some people say that cooking and eating is all about memory. We fall in love with things we have nostalgia for, things that are imbued with memory.
My mom tells me that she has the same colored Le Creuset. I don’t know when she got it, if I’ve ever seen her cook with it. I don’t know if the nostalgia from watching my sister cook gumbo could develop within two weeks. What I do know is that my mom, one of the most generous people I know, will not give up kitchen items that have seen many years, many trials and errors, that have, as she jokes, “carry a piece of her soul.” She will, however, track down similar pieces for me and my sisters, like boat tart molds, our own Cuisinarts, and now our own Le Creusets so we don’t bug her anymore about wanting hers.
I wondered about my excitement last night, when I received my very own Le Creuset. I’d never been this excited about a piece of cookware before. When my mom and I bought it in Florida, I told Curtis that we were “expecting” – a bouncing baby 7.25 quart, 12 pound Dutch oven (and two French onion soup bowls). When the pieces arrived, I immediately unpacked them (something I don’t frequently do with packages) and found places for them in our already crowded kitchen. I called my mom to thank her and tell her they had arrived. Curt came home a few hours later, and I showed him the newest addition to our family. As he and his friend watched a basketball game, I went out to the kitchen and took pictures of the Le Creuset family, and posted them on Facebook with the following caption:
Welcome to the newest addition to our family – the magnificent Le Creuset enameled cast-iron Dutch Oven! She’s 7.25 quarts, and can take up to 450 degrees in the oven. She’s joined here by bouncing baby French Onion soup stoneware bowls, which can withstand heat up to 500 degrees. We’re very proud of her and can’t wait to see what she’s capable of! Welcome, Le Creuset (and thank you, Mommy)!
I received numerous responses and “likes,” and realized that I wasn’t alone in celebrating this momentous occasion. Perhaps it’s the beauty of the Le Creuset cookware, or its stunning 86-year reputation. Maybe this piece will be the first one that I imbue my own soul into, the piece that I won’t give up until I will it to my kids. Maybe this single piece of cookware will mark the official beginning of my own explorations into the links between memory and food, soul and cooking, love and eating.