The saying goes that like tried-and-true recipes, fine wines and well-aged cheese, some things get better with age. Long Island vintage enthusiasts say the same holds true for classic Pyrex, cast iron and other kitchen relics of a bygone era. They say these vintage pieces are far better than their modern counterparts, and they have the collectible cookware to prove it.
Erica Perjatel Stolba, 40, an artist and art teacher who lives in Lindenhurst with husband, Christian, 41, says she collects "any Pyrex I can find." She prefers pieces in pink and turquoise, and when she finds pieces she's not crazy about, she sells them on eBay. She also says she likes pieces by Glass Bake and Fire-King, but Pyrex is her particular favorite.
She started collecting Pyrex after finding a piece she liked at a yard sale. "It just happened, and I fell in love," she says. "I think they're beautiful. They're works of art, and just finding them is such a rush for me." Sometimes she scores a real prize, such as that last piece she needed to complete her set of four Pink Gooseberry-patterned bowls, she says.
"I really do use mine," says Stolba says. "I use the big casserole dish to make my baked ziti." The only pieces she says she will not use are her Pyrex nesting Cinderella bowls, said to be named after the 1950 Disney classic of the same era as well as, like Cinderella's glass slipper, being a perfect fit for the kitchen of that time. "And that's only because my electric mixer would leave marks on them." She says although Pyrex is made of glass, the pieces are surprisingly durable. "I mean they'll break, but they have to really fall and break," she explains. "For the most part, Pyrex can go in the fridge and the oven."
In terms of durability, few materials are as solid as cast iron. "It's been around forever, and you can use a piece that's over 100 years old," says Stony Brook's Lynn Kram, 60, co-owner, with husband, David, 61, of imthebeat on eBay, which sells vintage cookware. "Cast iron can also withstand high temperatures. You use it on the grill, the stove, the campfire, an oven. You can't stick a Teflon skillet in an oven." Common collectible cast iron brands include Griswold, which is no longer manufactured; Wagner Ware, which bought Griswold in the 1950s; Lodge; Favorite Piqua Ware; Vollrath; and Birmingham Stove & Range.
Kram says she prefers vintage cast iron over newer pans because, she says, the older pans are smoother and weigh less. There's also a significant aesthetic value in older pans, she says. "Some of the pieces are so gorgeous, with different logos and styles of the pans," she says. Certain brands, such as Griswold, are prized for collectible logos, such as a specific spiderweb-style embossed on pans' bottoms.
Lynn's inventory consists of more than 400 pieces, with prices generally ranging from $39 to $500. While shoppers may be able to find less expensive cast iron at garage sales and estate sales, the pieces may need significant cleaning, she says. Her complex process involves multiple stages of cleaning, from a dip in a lye tank to scrubbing with steel wool — never Brillo — to another dip in an electrolysis tank. After a thorough cleaning, they're seasoned with oil in the oven before being put up for sale.
The eclectic collector
Wantagh resident Donna Bianco, 60, says she loves all manner of vintage cookware, and collects pieces from whatever brand strikes her fancy, mainly for their style, look and durability. "You can take it from the fridge to the oven to the table," she says. Her collection, which focuses on pieces from the 1950s and 1960s, features colorful Pyrex pieces, mainly in blue and green; Fire-King, which is made of milk glass; and CorningWare, which comes in both white and clear styles.
She says she first became interested in collecting when her husband, James, 58, took her to a Brooklyn flea market. "I had a blast looking at stuff," says Bianco, who works in human resources. "I had started by collecting salt and pepper shakers and lamps. But once I discovered how pretty the Pyrex was, I added it to my collection. And I saw that the Pyrex was really sought after. People were buying it up like crazy, and so then it became a hunt to see if I could buy a piece cheap."
How to care for vintage cookware
— Hand-wash vintage glassware. "I don’t have a dishwasher, so I hand wash everything," says Donna Bianco of Wantagh. "Also, a lot of this stuff is painted, and I wouldn't want to risk having it fade or having the paint peel off."
— Use oven cleaner on glass cookware to get off baked-on crud. "People will sell Pyrex with baked-in areas for very cheap on eBay, but you can use oven cleaner to clean it," says Erica Perjatel Stolba, a Lindernhurst resident. Then use some Bar Keepers Friend cleaner "and little rubbing," she says. "It's tedious to really clean it, but I've bought some pieces and put in the elbow grease and they turn out really good."
— While cast-iron cookware can be used every day, Stony Brook's Lynn Kram says the main thing to remember is not to wash it with soap and water, which will remove the seasoning. "Some people can use kosher salt to loosen what's stuck in there, or a plastic spatula or a wooden spoon to get it off," she says. For tougher rust stains, she says amateur home collectors can use oven cleaner and a 50-50 vinegar and water solution before seasoning pans if a used pan needs a good cleaning.