From its first known uses as beautifully patterned jewelry to famous Fabergé eggs, enameling as a craft started artsy. From Ancient Egyptians to Chinese and Anatolians to British, enamel was an expensive but darling adornment material for jewelry and pottery.
3000 years later, charmingly utilitarian and attractive enamelware serves as a sustainable and safe material in the kitchen and graces your tablescape with a modern, unisex aesthetic.
What exactly is enamel?
Enamel is an organic coating material in the form of powdered glass. Fired at very high heat in a kiln, this powdered glass melts, flows and finally hardens on any material that can survive the process. Although Stone, pottery, and glass are the age-old materials that could withstand this heat, metal - cast iron, steel, and aluminum became the ideal base materials after the Industrial Revolution. The fusing of the glass is applied layer by layer, and the design is applied via a ceramic decal, permanently sealing it as a result of being fired at such high temperatures. The final product is a smooth and durable porcelain veneer palette decorated with artwork that will never peel.
Made by the same centuries-old methods, enamelware is still handmade through a multi-step and a very hands-on process. Due to this organic nature of production, it is only natural for enamelware to have small imperfections without affecting the piece's integrity. This element of uniqueness frees us from a perfectionist, mechanical uniformity, and adds character to our kitchens and tablescapes.
How did enamel cookware become a household staple for the modern kitchen?
Enamel is not only a universally used material, but it also has a centuries-old pedigree. The origin of this robust material as a utility staple for the home goes back to the Industrial Revolution. Vitreous enameled cast iron was first used to produce sinks and bathtubs in the mid-1800s.
Craftspeople were already searching for a material that would enable a cooking surface that wouldn't rust and leach harmful substances to the food. Can you imagine tomatoes were thought to be poisonous for about 400 years because it was believed that pewter plates leeched lead causing lead poisoning? Enamel became the perfect solution.
By applying enamel to the inside of cast iron pots and pans, they created the first non-stick surface ideal for baking, cooking, and tableware to safely sustain the taste of their food. No wonder why enameled cookware became a viable commercial product that so quickly.
From the late 19th century on, enamel began to be applied to steel instead of cast iron and was a success that heralded mass-market cookware. Enamel kitchenware stamped from thin sheets of steel was then in every household as pans, pots, kettles, baking dishes, ladles, cups, bowls, plates, and biscuit cutters, becoming primary kitchenware. Soap dishes, pitchers, and bowl sets were popular as bathware.
This new cookware was not only easier to clean and scratch-proof but also lighter in weight. As an incredibly durable material, enamelware was also famous because it was less fragile than china and needed minimal effort to care.
The versatile yet straightforward kitchenware is the first mass-produced American kitchenware, sold from stores to mail-order catalogs. It was the mainstream kitchen utensil until it saw a decline in popularity after WWII when stainless steel and plastic came into favor.
While enamel has been around for centuries, enamelware is built to last for many years in the home. Today, these unassuming items have become collectible antiques - vintage enamelware is all around, proving their time-tested staying power while plastic is unforgivably ditched to landfills.