Pyrex Around the Clock, or The 1950’s Kitchen!

Some of my favourite Pyrex dates from the ‘Fifties and it seems to me that some of their most timeless (in that they never appear dated but always up to date) pieces were introduced then, such as the Gooseberry Cinderella Bowls and the Gaiety Range.  I began to wonder what ‘Fifties kitchens, the first homes of some classic Pyrex, were like, so I decided to do some research and discovered that the 1950’s really did see a revolution as far as kitchens and their equipment was concerned.

First of all the actual structure of the kitchen workspace began to change with the introduction of fitted kitchen units.  Of course not everyone got a fitted kitchen overnight but the new trend became the norm and the vast majority of homes now have them.  Simply having fitted units must have made cleaning easier but the icing on the cake (naturally whipped up in a Cinderella Bowl) came with the advent of Formica – a wipe clean, heat resistant surface for units and tables.  Now I don’t know about you but I don’t spend a lot of time extolling the virtues of worktops but thinking about it, life in the kitchen must have been much harder without easy to clean heat resistant surfaces – just the thought of all the splinters you could have got while trying to scrub them clean is enough to make me glad I’m a 21st Century girl!

As far as major appliances were concerned, most houses on both sides of the Atlantic had fridges by the end of the decade, although this process happened more quickly in the United States.  This was probably due to the fact that the UK took longer to recover financially after World War II (rather than my mother’s assertion that we had ‘proper’ weather then – i.e. cold – rather than the ‘ridiculously hot nonsense’ we have now, she doesn’t quite date back to the ‘Fifties, so I wouldn’t take her word for it!). Refrigerators in the United States also began to be produced in colours other than white in this decade.  Here in Britain, we seemed to feel that it bordered on the impolite to have something as loud as large coloured appliances in our homes and they took much longer to catch on! Dishwashers were also introduced, again initially catching on more quickly in America.  Obviously they were seen more as a luxury appliance, unlike fridges. You couldn’t put your Pyrex in them, so you weren’t missing much if you didn’t have one!  Microwave ovens also became available for the first time in the 1950’s but were prohibitively expensive on both sides of the pond.

Some smaller appliances were making great strides too.  Electric kettles with thermostats which automatically shut them off when the water reached boiling point were introduced.  As a nation of tea drinkers, this particular development was celebrated in Great Britain, where we all live by the simple rule of “If in doubt, put the kettle on and have a nice cup of tea”.  It’s how we’re coping with Brexit!  The Kenwood Chef was introduced in 1950, quickly making it’s inventor, Kenneth Wood, a millionaire.  Another new invention was the non-stick pan, rapidly taken to the hearts of housewives everywhere.  There, I’ve said it, the ‘H’ word!  I was trying to be non-gender specific but that’s quite difficult when talking about this decade as kitchens were almost exclusively the preserve of women, who in most cases did not work outside the home as well as inside it.

Thinking about it, some of these newfangled ideas must have made significant improvements to the 1950’s woman; the Fridge meant she wouldn’t have to shop so often, wipe clean worktops and non-stick pans made cleaning a little easier and quicker and the Kenwood Chef meant she wouldn’t get a huge bicep on her cake mixing arm!

Of course I’ve left the best ‘til last!  Some of my favourite and in my opinion, the most stunning Pyrex pieces debuted in the ‘Fifties.  It’s ironic really that one of the selling points of early Pyrex, which was all clear, was that cooks could see what was happening through the dishes whilst in the oven because Pyrex only became an object of desire, as opposed to  merely utility, when it was produced in opaque colours.  The first coloured Pyrex came in the form of mixing bowls in bright primary colours towards the end of the 1940’s.  No doubt they were particularly welcome in a drab and depressing post war world, where function had had to be prioritised over form for so long.  The end of the ‘Fifties saw the release of Cinderella bowls, in an array of gorgeous colours and the Gaiety range, also in different colours and different patterns.  Although many lovely colours and designs were to follow, these items seem to be the ones which have really retained their appeal.  As my sister says, you’d never know from looking at them, that these pieces hadn’t been designed and produced yesterday.

It seems to me that the ‘Fifties must have been quite an exciting time to be using a kitchen.  Even if you were a cook through necessity rather than choice, new inventions meant you could spend less time cleaning and shopping, leaving you more time to put your feet up and have a cup of tea, or if you enjoyed cooking, more time to create great new dishes in beautiful Pyrex!

How Green Was My Pyrex

My family and I have been trying to be more ecologically friendly for years now.  You know the drill – we recycle as much as possible, have energy saving lightbulbs, A+++ rated appliances, cloth shopping bags etc.  We decided to step it up this year, going over to reusable kitchen paper and bamboo ink pens but it really bugged me that we were still using plastic freezer bags and containers.  Yes, I know – D’oh!

I use Pyrex in the oven and fridge all the time but for some reason, even though I knew it was possible, it never occurred to me to use it in the freezer.  We don’t have a huge freezer, so using bags would probably be a little better space wise but I would rather the freezer held a little less and I contributed much less to the avalanche of plastic which is choking the earth.  I find the Gaiety shallow oblong casserole dishes (or spacesavers) particularly useful, although fridgies are good for smaller things.  I have to say that having one container which you can freeze something in, then cook it without decanting into something else, serve in and then store any leftovers in the fridge is also much easier than fiddling around transferring something from dish to dish.

When you think about it, Pyrex really does have excellent green credentials – if used and cared for properly it will last forever, after all, some of the pieces I use are over sixty years old and still outperforming their modern counterparts.  It is also immune to the plague of plastic food containers; that horrible orange tinge that so many of them seem to develop and which I seem powerless to remove.

Also of course, Pyrex doesn’t leach nasty substances into food as some plastics do, it doesn’t warp or split either.  The sad thing is that even though more people are starting to look towards glass for food storage, the new Pyrex available in the UK is almost exclusively clear and consequently somewhat unattractive!  I have heard some people claim that this is an advantage as “you can see the food cooking”!  This strikes me as the culinary equivalent of watching paint dry and I’m sorry but why would I want to watch the food cooking?  Who has the time, let alone the inclination?!  When you also consider the fact that clear Pyrex, although just as versatile as it’s vintage predecessors, is much less aesthetically pleasing (all those carefully lit, stunning photos of Pyrex on social media would hardly have the same pull if they consisted of clear items – they would look like the ghosts of cookware past), it’s no wonder that so many people are turning to vintage pieces that do double duty as kitchenware and decor.  When you consider that a piece of Pyrex can negate the need for single use plastic freezer bags or rigid plastic containers and will last a lifetime as a tool and an ornament, they are also economically viable.

Whether you opt for vintage Pyrex or new or (heaven forbid!) even another glassware brand, please consider switching to glass containers suitable for use in the freezer – the planet will thank you.

The Little Shop Of Pyrex

Recently I’d been getting a bit depressed about my Pyrex collection – not because I’d lost interest – far from it but because it has grown so large that I don’t have room for any more!  I still live in my family home with my mum and sister and although I have converted them to Pyrex fandom with my missionary zeal, we no longer have any room left to display or use any more.  As I’ve said before, I really love hunting for vintage Pyrex so was sad to think those days were over.  Then a couple of friends asked me to track them down some Gaiety and Butterprint, which allowed me to indulge my vice vicariously!  That was when I had the idea for my Pyrex Party Pixie Etsy shop.  I have a real horror of having a blog which constantly tries to sell things to people who only popped in for a quick read, so although I will put a link to the shop up, I certainly won’t be drawing attention to it!  My shop

I’m not sure I’m really cut out to be a shopkeeper as I’ve discovered that I find it rather awkward as I’m so anxious not to be pushy that I feel almost apologetic that I’m charging for the pieces!  I also worry about them going to suitable homes.   If only it was like an adoption process with home visits and the new owners having to prove they were of good character and pass an exam on how to care for vintage Pyrex before having  the little treasures handed over to them!  

Anyway, there will be no hard sell here although a few tales from backstage at my vintage emporium may escape onto these pages from time to time.




Anatomy of a Pyrex Collector

Have you ever wondered what motivates a Pyrex collector?  I’ve thought about this a lot and I think we fall into several main categories.  There is the nostalgic collector who likes to collect because the pieces remind them of their childhood or other happy times.  Then there are those for whom the collecting part is key, they enjoy having all of something and that is more important to them than the item collected (hard as that may be to believe as you look at your latest, gorgeous acquisition).  Others simply find that the lovely clean lines and cheerful patterns make their dishes an essential part of the design of their kitchen.  Last but not least comes the vintage lover, who values them for their age and history.  Goodness knows I love a bit of vintage myself but one of my pet hates is the vintage collector who subscribes to the belief that “oldies” must be “golden” simply by virtue of their age.  This is clearly a travesty and anyone who possesses a coloured balloon brandy glass with a Siamese cat clinging perilously to its lip or a doll with a crochet crinoline used to “disguise” a toilet roll should hang their heads in shame – you can label them as ironic until the cows come home, these things could be a thousand years old and they would still constitute a gross offence against good taste.  It’s those sort of things which give kitsch a bad name.  Fortunately if a vintage collector has the good taste to include Pyrex in their collection they rarely make such errors of judgment as to give items such as the aforementioned felines or bathroom fripperies house room.

I suspect that most of us are motivated by a mixture of these reasons, although I myself am not yet old enough to be nostalgic about anything!  People’s reactions to the news that you are a Pyrex collector can vary wildly from “that’s an old people’s thing” (you have to watch people who say this as they are always the ones who you find trying to surreptitiously “liberate” part of your collection after they have seen it, or bidding fiercely against you on eBay on that shamrock chip’n’dip set you’ve got your eye on), to “is that a thing now” (this is always delivered in an irritated tone, as if you’ve decided to collect it merely to annoy them) or, my personal favourite “what’s Pyrex?”!

Personally there is another element to my decision to collect and (I realise this might be seen as somewhat sacrilegious by some of my fellow collectors) that is that I quite like using vintage Pyrex – yes dear reader, on occasion I actually cook with it and put them in the oven!  It has to be said that the design and quality of these vintage items has never been bettered and the fact they look so good while in use is a bonus.  I also find them quite a cheery antidote to the woes of modern living, after all its impossible to be depressed when you’re making a cake in a yellow bowl so bright you need shades on just to think about getting it out of the cupboard.

Desperately Seeking Daisy

The Pyrex I grew up with was always clear and, frankly quite boring, although extremely useful.  I didn’t actually see some patterned vintage Pyrex until a couple of years ago in a charity shop, where it led to a protracted bout of nostalgia on my mother’s part which lasted all the time we were in the shop, all the way back to the car and was still going strong when we got home!  She was bemoaning the fact that she didn’t know where my grandmother’s Pyrex had gone (apparently one of the lesser known attributes of our favourite glass cookware is that it can teleport – either that or my Nan must have been incredibly heavy handed because as we know, Pyrex tends to bounce when you drop it) and that she would “really love” to have some vintage Pyrex of her own.  That is when I began to worry she was coming down with something, as a less committed cook than my mum is very hard to find!  She does it because she has to and I have never known her look at any item of kitchenware before with anything other than thinly disguised contempt or abject scorn.  I’m the one in the house who enjoys the culinary arts and most of the specialist gizmos we own are mine, so I thought I would take advantage of this unexpected maternal enthusiasm for ovenware to try and encourage her to become more adventurous at mealtimes.  I fired up the laptop, tapped in “vintage Pyrex” and several hours later was hooked (and also the proud owner of a pink snowflake casserole and divider, both with lids – thank you eBay!).

Several months later my collection had grown considerably (by the way, I never did get my mum any but luckily she’s happy just to admire mine, as long as no-one expects her to cook with it!) but i was still missing what had rapidly become my own personal holy grail – a blue daisy casserole dish (when I say casserole dish I really mean absolutely anything blue daisy, so obsessed had I become).  I’d seen blue daisy online occasionally but it was way too expensive for an impoverished teenager like me.  Many of my pieces had been gifts from older family members who still had vintage Pyrex in regular use and couldn’t quite see the sudden desirability of their well worn dishes.  Friends and family members also kindly combed car boot sales and charity shops on my behalf and being in foreign parts didn’t prevent them from hitting the Pyrex trail for me.  My paternal grandparents live in mainland Europe and grandma sent me her vintage dishes and then started to make enquiries of her fellow ex-pats. Grandma’s own Pyrex was always white with flowers, not my favourite but still welcome additions to my burgeoning collection.  It has to be said that Grandma was somewhat bemused by my quest and seemed to think that my collection was something to do with making a modern art installation (whether this was due to Grandma’s being hard of hearing and consequent penchant for getting the wrong end of the stick or my father’s allegedly ‘puckish’ sense of humour it is impossible to tell) but she was still gamely searching for me.

It was then that my sister and I went over to visit our grandparents.  Grandad drove us back to their house and was busy telling us about their garden and the little village they’d recently moved to, from a nearby busy town.  We noticed an elderly lady with a small ball of fur on legs standing by their front gate.  Grandad explained that most houses in the village put a bowl of water out by their front gate for passing dog walkers to use (or more usually their pets!) as it was always so hot.  I expect you’ve guessed where I’m going with this…as we passed through the gate en route to grandma, I happened to glance down at the dog bowl and it was the blue daisies I’d been tearing the south of England apart to find!  Despite having been used for several months as the canine equivalent of Starbucks it was (once washed) in perfect condition and it’s lid was found hiding in grandma’s ‘odds and ends’ cupboard.  When I told her that this was the highly prized dish I’d been looking for, she told me, in all seriousness that it couldn’t possibly be as all Pyrex is either clear or white with flowers or vegetables!  Since then my grandparents have retired back to England and she’s seen my collection many times.  She thinks it’s all very pretty but she’s still not convinced it’s really Pyrex!

NOTE:  The animal lovers among you need not be concerned, no animals were harmed in the making of this blog as I did replace the water bowl with an old plastic bowl.  The vintage Tupperware collectors among you might want to pop over to my grandma’s old house…

The Origin Story – why I first donned my apron…

They must have the stealth of a cat, the vision of a hawk, the patience of a spider, the agility of a gazelle, the tenacity of a dog, the cunning of a fox and the wisdom of an owl.  Whose job description is this; an emergency room doctor, the leader of the free world, a semi-finalist on Strictly?  No, these are all essential attributes for every Pyrex collector (and if you doubt that the average Pyrex addict needs the agility of a gazelle, I can only assume you’ve never been in the midst of a pack of little old ladies at a garage sale when a pristine turquoise daisy space saver has just been put out on the stall – I carried the bruises for weeks!).  Faint heart never won fair Pyrex and if you’re not in it to win it, you might as well go home.

I’ve been a card carrying Pyrex fanatic for some time now and I have to say that the majority of Pyrex collectors are lovely, always willing to share their knowledge or pass on tips about where to find that elusive piece you are desperate to make the crowning glory of your collection but there are a few who have sharp elbows, sharper tongues and wouldn’t look out of place auditioning for a remake of ‘Mean Girls’ and don’t get me started on the secondhand shop owners who have read in the Daily Mirror that vintage Pyrex is worth a fortune and slap huge price tags on every clear Pyrex bowl that crosses their path!

It was in order to deal with the more challenging aspects of Pyrex collecting that I adopted my alter ego of Pyrex Party Pixie (that and I’ve always wanted to be a superhero, with my superpower being an ability to defeat evil geniuses with my baked goods – I’m still working on the finer details!) and it is in this guise that I act as a kind of borosilicate glass Sherlock Holmes, tracking down brilliant pieces of vintage Pyrex for myself and others.  It’s a tough job but someone has to do it.

In the interests of full disclosure I should confess that I am way too young to remember patterned Pyrex in it’s heyday, so it has no nostalgic grip on my heartstrings.  I just think it’s beautiful and a masterpiece of design which has yet to be bettered and of course I love the thrill of the chase, nothing gives me more pleasure than running to ground a new gem for my own, or someone else’s collection.  My eternal quest for this most stunning of ovenproof glassware has led to some amusing adventures, which I thought might be enjoyed by other members of the Pyrex community and hence this blog.  I love the Pyrex blogs already out there, they have helped me so much in building up my collection but I thought there was room for a less learned guide, which could pass on the do’s and don’ts of collecting from my hard won experience (I’m especially good at the don’ts, having managed to make most of the mistakes in the book when I first started out!) and hopefully some fun and some recipes, after all, it was cooking that got me into this but that’s a story for another day.  Any fellow collectors out there, please say “hello” and let me know if there’s anything in particular that you think hasn’t been covered in the usual Pyrex gathering places and I’ll see what I can do!