Local Business Brings Back Old-World Artisan Cookware
Oct 04, 2016 11:56PM
By Sheila Julson
When Port Washington-based author Sara Dahmen was researching period details for her first novel, Dr. Kinney’s Housekeeper—an historical fiction set during the 1880s in the Dakota Territories—little did she know that the project would spark a new business venture. Housekeeper Crockery, the company Dahmen formed in March 2015, sells hand-forged and vintage-inspired cookware including cast-iron skillets, copper stockpots, pottery and wooden spoons.
Dahmen formerly worked in marketing and public relations, and owns an event planning business, Golden Chic Events. When she got the writing bug, Dr. Kinney’s Housekeeper emerged. “The book just shot out of me within weeks,” she reflects. “It became the catalyst for the cookware.”
Dahmen began studying metallurgy and searched out artisans that crafted cast iron and copper the way that Old-World fabricators had in previous generations. Her intention was to offer goods made by small American companies, not realizing the added bonus of the products’ organic nature. True metals, clay and wood do not have synthetic chemicals added, nor are artisan goods treated with them. She notes that while some inexpensive cookware may be advertised as being “green”, many of those items are not made from sustainably sourced materials and can leach chemicals into wholesome, organic food. “It soon became a passion to include cookware as part of our conversations about food,” she says.
The eight-inch, cast-iron skillets offered through Housekeeper Crockery are hand-poured by a small business in Kaukauna, Wisconsin. Dahmen then seasons the skillets with organic flaxseed oil over an open fire. She frequently consults her uncle, a blacksmith for 30 years, for advice on the science of metals.
Dahmen reports that the raw copper for the stockpots originates from House Copper, in Texas. The material is then sent to Ohio, where it is cut and formed into two-quart and three-quart stockpots. Handles are made with rivets from Wisconsin and then hand-tinned in Ohio.
Dahmen notes that there is a small learning curve to cooking with pure copper because it conducts heat differently than the copper-clad stainless steel pots commonly available in today’s markets. Less heat is needed, which adds an environmentally friendly advantage. “Also, the tin interior is naturally a nonstick substance. It’s like nature’s Teflon,” she says. “Hamburger meat won’t stick, even without butter or oil.”
The wooden spoons are whittled by a husband-and-wife team in Indiana that specializes in making reproductions for historical reenactments. Like the cast-iron skillet crafters and the copper pot makers, their art harkens back to the days before mass production. The spoon makers use locally sourced wood and do not treat or coat the spoons with any substances.
Rowe Pottery, a woman-owned business in Cambridge, Wisconsin, makes the mixing bowls offered by Housekeeper Crockery. Four potters individually hand-throw and spin all the clay for the mixing bowls; every piece includes the Housekeeper logo and a potter’s mark. Dish towels handmade by a New York woman that embroiders and pre-shrinks the 100 percent cotton towels round out the kitchenware offerings.
Dahmen often encounters people that are intrigued by the handcrafted items and the stories behind the kitchenware. She hopes to add new products to the line, including other pottery pieces and larger cast-iron skillets. She has participated in events at Rustic Palate, in Cedarburg, where Housekeeper Crockery’s products are sold, and at Blue Heron Artisan Marketplace, in Port Washington.
Dahmen stays motivated by the challenge of recreating Pre-Industrial Revolution kitchens in today’s world of outsourcing and discount stores. “Copper pots had not been made in America in almost 90 years, and people had to relearn how to make them,” she says. “It’s a long process to learn what can work, but it’s the challenge that drives me.”
Housekeeper Crockery in located in Port Washington. For more information, call 414-534-6943 or visit HousekeeperCrockery.com.
Sheila Julson is a Milwaukee-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Natural Awakenings magazine.