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!