Wednesday, July 11, 2007

The Unheralded Lid Plus a Cooking Class Tip

Since I'm on a nostalgia thing at the moment, thought I'd tell you about this lid. Funny looking thing, isn't it? Doesn't look at all like the trendy All-Clad or Calphalon heavy lids you're used to viewing. I think cooks take lids for granted. You just think they all have to match and look pretty. Am sure some of you have grabbed a lid that really didn't fit that pan, but it worked. It performed the job for which it was intended. Maybe it didn't fit tight, that's all. And they certainly do vary in composition, though. There are stainless ones, aluminum, fancy alloys, copper, glass, bamboo and even some homely variations like the one above made of thin tinny aluminum. And lids have so many uses. They can sit squarely (hmm, roundly?) on their corresponding pans, they can sit slightly ajar to allow steam to escape. Or they can sit widely ajar and consequently drip condensation from the cooking pot onto your counter or cooktop (oh, joy). A lid can be used as a weight (like in a large, tall pot on top of the stuffed cabbage leaves with a brick sitting centered atop the lid, covered in foil) too. I suppose this lid I have could be used as a frisbee as well since it's so light weight. The photo doesn't reveal to you the dents around the outer rim. This baby's seen a few rides - from cooktop to floor.

And its culinary uses, of course, are endless, but what a lid does best - what a lid does for a living is help us cooks retain heat and moisture in whatever we're cooking. So, here's to the lowly lid!

So back to this particular lid. It's precious to me because it was my mother's - we use it nearly every day. I don't actually know how old the lid is, but I would guess it's from the 1930's, maybe the 20's. My parents both grew up during the Depression and were children of farming families in and around Turlock, Modesto and Ceres in the San Joaquin Valley (Central California). My grandfather raised tomatoes and a variety of other salad bowl foods. He tried nuts once, too. Money was very hard to come by and my mother quit college to work so she could send money home to keep the farm from going under. How many of our kids would do that today?

My DH cooks breakfast most mornings (that was one of the new jobs he got when he retired - oh happy day - breakfast was never a meal I loved to prepare anyway), and we cook up a single sausage link for each of us. The lid fits perfectly in our Farberware Millenium nonstick pan (that came sans lid) that is used for said sausage. As an aside, the Farberware pan was recommended in Cooks Illustrated some years back when they did a test of nonstick pans. This pan won for the budget category, but they highly recommended it, even if you have to replace it every few years, since it cost a mere $19.95 at Bed, Bath & Beyond. There are two sizes and I have both, but the smaller one is the workhorse in my house. If interested, click on the Farberware link above to view.

So, after my mother passed away, when I found this ugly-duckling lid in the miscellaneous mish-mash of ancient pots and pans in my mother's kitchen (all put to good use, I assure you), I put it aside for me. You can never have too many lids, right? That's what I thought. But this lid had one additional problem - other than its age. That is its funny little handle ring. Barely big enough to put a finger through. It's more like what we'd now buy at the hardware store for 49 cents as a key ring. And gosh-darned difficult to lift up, especially if the lid is HOT. And with today's big, plushy hot pads, it was impossible.

So now we get to the second part of the story. The other day I wrote a long story about why I attend cooking classes, and one of the items listed was that even though I go to a class based on the menu, or an interesting technique to learn, I almost always learn something, even if I don't come away with ground-breaking recipes.

A year ago May we had a small group of friends who spent a week in a gorgeous farmhouse in Provence. During our stay, a few of us gals attended a cooking class nearby in St. Remy. We met the chef/wife at the local market in town and for over an hour we paraded through the stalls, where she pointed out better vendors, showed us how to choose the freshest of fish, the best of the spices, and shared her favorite food and non-food artisans of the region. Then we exited to her lovely home a mile or so away and helped prepare a meal for the group which was served as the twilight waned, when some of the husbands arrived to partake of the day's labors. It was a very, very expensive class. Far more than I would normally have spent for a cooking class; albeit, this went from about 9:30 in the morning until about 9:30 at night. And I didn't really come away with a single recipe that I've made in the interim, because I'd made most of the menu items before. But the class was fun. She was engaging and entertaining.

But in the process of the class she pointed to a lid on one of her pots and what was there, but a cork. It was a very nice, elegant lid, with a similar flat Calphalon handle that I have on several of my Calphalon pans. Nowadays lots of the upscale manufacturers make cool (not hip, but non-heating) handles. Mine are older and don't have that added convenience. So, she or her husband had whittled a wine cork (note that the bottom 1/5 has been sliced off to lay flat and slide ever-so-snugly inside the handle ring) to tuck under the handle and that's what she grabs
when she wants to remove it. That little tidbit stayed with me until I got home and the first bottle of wine we opened, a Mayo Merlot, the cork became the new handle for my favorite old lid. So, you see, you never know from whence wisdom will come. The most unlikeliest of places, perhaps.


Anonymous said...

mom - you are so funny! That was a cute story.

Anonymous said...

As someone who took the class with Carolyn in France, I agree that the class was very memorable, very expensive and we didn't take a thing away as far as recipes that we wanted to prepare. The one thing that I learned from the class was how to crack eggs....against each other instead on the side of the bowl. A pretty expensive lesson for $265! However, we did have a marvelous day, with a lovely luncheon in the garden, a nap in the afternoon under the trees, a hands-on cooking class with interesting people and a cocktail hour and dinner with the men in our group. It was a fun packed day. I thought that shopping in the outdoor market with the instructor in the morning was the best!!