Love the cookware? Read the book.
Sara Dahmen's Copper, Iron, and Clay
About 3 offices, 2 homes, 1.5 Presidents and 4000-odd pots and pans ago, I received an email from the author of Doctor Kinney’s Housekeeper, a novel of frontier fiction lauded in reviews as impeccably researched, sparely inscribed, colorfully populated and, in more than a few readers’ estimations, a sleeper. Writer cum copperhead Sara Dahmen was writing me to find out how copper cookware could be made by hand in the 21st century.
Right about then BCC was a beat-up husk of its debut stature and scrambling madly to come up with tools, smiths and will enough to continue, with only the rump end of the Hammersmith line and a checkered story to sell. As a storyteller it was this that interested Sara, and while I’d semi-successfully hidden the fact that in 2015 BCC was more gone than going as a concern, talking with someone who was coming at copper cookware with an already well-informed historical curiosity was one thing I could still do.
Sara hoped to engage BCC in the making of a line of copper cookware based on her research into American frontier life, and specifically the cookware that makes an appearance in Dr. Kinney. Over long phone conversations Sara and I talked about the history of American copper cookware, her interests as anovelist, the expanding market for pure metal cooking tools, and problems of 21st century hand-manufacturing. In the course of our many exchanges, and just when I needed it, Sara’s sleuthing pointed me to the small forge in Wisconsin where BCC has since gotten the solid shank copper rivets none of the major rivet foundries could be bothered to make.
Only after that last stone had been rolled did I realize BCC’s resurrection had actually happened.
From immediate friendship to the founding of Sara’s House Copper, she and I have been quietly conspiring to restore pure metal cookware to American manufacturing and kitchens. Conventional thinking would have us be competitors, but our businesses have turned into something like referral engines for each other; there’s very little crossover in our respective lines and more than enough work to go around.
When in the course of our ongoing dialogue the idea of documenting the reincarnation of craft cookware manufacturing in the US came up, it seemed a natural addition to, by then, years of mutual support, encouragement and banging on copper. Sara was an established author, and BCC was a (re)established brand. At the time nothing made more sense.
Almost immediately it was apparent that such a project would have a lot of ground to cover. Rehabilitating as humble and prosaic a subject as a metal cooking pot and telling its story in a manner respectful of its position in the lives of not only all of us who eat, but in the life of the nation, was going to produce a magisterial work or not be worth doing at all.
If it had been just me such a volume would be a life’s work, and I had that work already in the form of BCC. For Sara, it would be no less massive a project, but one that would meet family, House Copper, learning hand tinning, public speaking and probably a half dozen things I have yet to hear about, as naturally as a tributary to a river. Whether it’s learning copper cookware making from the ground up or smithing the authoritative companion to the craft, Sara not only flows, she runs deep.
A few years, a bunch of interviews, a couple of publishers, agents and one pandemic later, William Marrow brought out Copper, Iron and Clay; A Smith’s Journey. This month (April 2021) is the first anniversary of publication, which like so many positive and uplifting things in times of covid, you may have missed. If so, here’s my little effort to bring it to your attention, for if you’re reading this post I’m going to guess you have a connoisseur’s interest in craft cooking tools, and Sara’s book should be in your library.
“Proud” would be a meager way to put how I feel about having played any part in the genesis of Copper, Iron and Clay. Sara has surveyed the lore and long history of abiding companion tools destined to be inherited over and over with a novelist’s flair for imparting what’s interesting in a story; in this case, a story she did not just write about, but wrote herself into.