It all began with a telephone call from a friend. Neither of us had much to say. When you don’t have much to say, you make an effort to keep on speaking as if you had a lot to say. Having nothing to say wouldn’t say much about your life. “Hello, have a good day” just wouldn’t do. “What’s going on? How’s Zoulou? [the friend’s always hungry dachshund] What did you have for dinner? Did you watch Oprah yesterday?” That’s what keeps a conversation going. I don’t even have to listen to the answers. Each question gets a counter-question in the same vein. Nothing like trivia as proof of existence.
The punishment that day for a long exchange of trivia: I’d forgotten I’d put a pan of water to boil for a cup of Bigelow Mint Medley. I was eagerly waiting for the warm tea, to be accompanied by one, perhaps two, better yet three chocolate chip walnut cookies from Tate’s in Southampton. If I were a cat I would have been purring. In the kitchen the scene was less idyllic. My good old one-quart Revere — since 1801— was slowly burning into extinction after years of faithful employment. Not a drop of water left for tears. Nothing but the blackened metal and a distant echo of summer’s barbecue fires, this on a January afternoon.
It doesn’t take much imagination to burn a saucepan. To buy one isn’t quite so simple. Pots and pans are the never-failing servants in the house seldom given recognition. At least not in my house. Yet I felt a certain sadness at the sight of the Revere pan brought to its end by my trivial chat. It had served me hot soups, water for thousands of cups of tea, never complaining on top of the flame. This little object of metal had been a silent witness to good days, bad days, happy celebrations and miserable times. Hot water poured in a china teapot, the opposite in its fragility to the impervious stainless steel. One could break in a second, the other be banged around for years. You don’t worry about a saucepan. The china gets all the attention.
In the old days you’d go the hardware store down the road: Wash White in Greenport, Rothman in Southold, whose father played chess and went sailing with Albert Einstein. “I need a one-quart saucepan, Revere, Farberware, fine with me.” Today it’s more like Gourmet Chef at the Tanger outlets or Bed, Bath and Beyond. A world of chrome waits for you. You’ll think you walked into a Harley-Davidson showroom. Curves and polished surfaces where you can contemplate your haggard reflection.
Where have I been all these years? I must learn a new language: Calphalon, Emerilware, All-Clad, the more familiar Cuisinart and the survivor of childhood, Le Creuset, in heavy cast iron where generations of boeuf bourguignon are still simmering.
Calphalon tells me: “Unique fine-satin stainless steel interior gently brushed to naturally mask signs of wear … Flared rim for easy pouring … Triple riveted Cool_V … Professional results …” How professional will my boiling water become? Cuisinart Chef Classic promises: “Tight fitting lids seal in moisture and nutrients for flavorful results …”
Will my modest cooking skills suddenly produce flavor and nutrition when all my life I’ve been content to heat up Campbell’s soups and boil a couple of potatoes? To the distress of friends, even though I was born in France, I have stubbornly confirmed my mediocrity around a stove. The face and smile of Emeril make me nervous with new responsibility. Will my friend Nancy and her dog Hilda wait at the dining room table expecting the aroma of coq au vin to rise above their plates? Will my dog Nina expect “gourmet” in her bowl?
I bought a one-quart pan signed Emeril. They call it an “open saucier” because it has a pouring spout. I love the feature but the saucier is unstable without some water in it, the fault of the heavy handle. Shiny handles, beautifully shaped, sensually smooth.
My old Revere was never unstable with its simple black plastic handle. Warnings from Emeril: “If overheated aluminum could melt — could cause injury or fire … This cookware should not be heated empty or allowed to boil dry.” I knew that. I may not be a great cook but I don’t burn down houses. On that subject, check Charles Lamb’s essay, “A Dissertation Upon Roast Pig.”
No doubt some incredibly good meals have come out of miserable-looking pots and some terribly bad meals came out of the best triple-clad professional saucepans. The old Revere was all I needed. But the fancy chrome handles got me. And water is water, no matter what they say.
Pierre Gazarian is a poet and a writer of one-act plays. E-mail: [email protected]