Books

The Joy of Pyrex

I have always liked older things, particularly older kitchenware, but it wasn’t until I logged on Etsy recently that I got into trouble. Page after tantalizing page listed loads of vintage Pyrex. I was in the gip of a nascent mania.


Pyrex: The Unauthorized Collector's Guide, Fourth Edition

Publisher: Schiffer
Price: $29.99
Author: Barbara Mauzy
Format: Paperback
Publication date: 2008-03
Amazon

Twenty years ago, when I set up adult housekeeping, my mother gave me a blue Pyrex mixing bowl.

The bowl is a turquoise four-quart capacity mixing bowl with white scrolled trim. Such bowls, often in nesting sets of three or four, were commonly found in most American kitchens from the '40s through the '80s. My blue bowl is approximately 40 years old, special not for its age, but because it belonged to my mother’s mother, who died when I was 13.

My grandmother was an uncommonly gifted cook. I realize many people say this about their grandmothers. I can only offer it was the truth. At my grandmother’s funeral, relatives milled around, muttering “Belle sure could cook.”

My grandmother did not fetishize kitchen equipment. Her silverware was stainless steel. She cooked in Farberware pots. And she had Pyrex bowls, a nesting set of three, one of which, the blue four quart, came to me.

The blue bowl has always been imbued with a certain talismanic status. I allow nobody else to handle it. That way, if it breaks, I cannot blame anybody else. During the many moves of early adulthood, the blue bowl was never packed with the rest of the kitchen equipment. Instead, it rode shotgun with me, tenderly tucked beside the tranquilized cat.

Because my grandmother used it, I consider the bowl especially good-natured. Foods prepared in it are likelier to come out well than if I used another, equally serviceable bowl. Muffins, scones, bread doughs, hamburger, chicken, a new recipe: down comes the blue bowl. But I never prepare pork in it. My grandmother kept strictly kosher. Thirty-two years after her death, I will not desecrate her memory by desecrating her bowl.

Perhaps you, too, anthropomorphize certain possessions and can empathize with my feelings about my bowl. Or you think me mad. Either way, I will reiterate: this bowl is Pyrex. I have a newer Pyrex bowl, a three quart in clear glass, useful for the pork or salads. I also have a nesting set of four bowls, purchased at an antique shop for $50.00. This set, like the blue bowl, is in constant use.

I have always prided myself on not being a collector. My small house has virtually no tchotchkes. Because I am a cat lover, people tend to give me cat things, figurines and jewelry and vases, which I promptly give away. I love cats, not representations of cats.

Growing up, I had a friend whose mother was so obsessed with penguins that she bought a ten-foot penguin restaurant icon and installed it in her yard. Her guest bathroom sported a wicker penguin garbage can. Another woman, a friend of my parents, overran her exquisite home with ceramic frogs.

I have too many books, and a collection of bookmarks to keep their places. I am fiendishly picky about my cookware, but have only a few select pieces. And the blue bowl, and its friend the nesting set, which is brown, patterned with a cream wheat sheaf.

I have always liked older things, particularly older kitchenware, but it wasn’t until I logged on Etsy recently that I got into trouble. Page after tantalizing page listed loads of vintage Pyrex, the kind our mothers and grandmothers used. There were platters, plates, mugs, a complete set of dishes including the serving pieces, bakers, butter dishes, casseroles, and, of course, bowls. Dozens of bowls.

Most pieces were shockingly cheap, ranging from $8 for a single bowl to $50 or $60 for a rarer set. I lit on a one-quart pink bowl with a flat glass lid, recognized the grip of a nascent mania, and set about educating myself.

I trolled the internet and was naïvely stunned to realize each Pyrex pattern had a name, and that I was far from alone in my enthusiasm. Two excellent websites, Pyrex Love.com and Corelle Corner.com, set me straight on pattern names and dates of manufacture. A visit to Pyrex.com, the company’s official website, offered a brief history of the company, while Barbara Mauzy’s Pyrex®: The Unauthorized Collector’s Guide offers an in-depth excursion into all things Pyrex.

Pyrex began in 1864, when Amory Houghton, Sr. founded Corning Flint Glass Works. The company manufactured “tablewares, thermometer tubing, and conventional glasswares.” Houghton, Sr. lost controlling interest in the company, but his son, Amory Jr., regained it. With brother Charles, Amory Jr. manufactured railroad signal glassware, pharmaceutical glassware, and the first light bulbs for Thomas Edison.

Pyrex glass went on the consumer market in 1915. Developed by Amory Jr.’s son, Alanson, the product was valuable then for the same reason it is now: the extremely durable glass has incredible tolerance for temperature variances and is nearly indestructible. Pyrex glass moved from railroads and pharmacies to kitchens, where it remains.

Various company mergers and buyouts led to Corningware and Pyrex separating. Pyrex is still manufactured in the United States, at a plant in Charleroi, Pennsylvania. Since its debut, Pyrex has been widely licensed other manufacturers, leading to Pyrex parts in coffee and teapots, filigreed servingware, baby bottles, and plates. In the '40s, the company released its first set of nesting bowls. The Colored Bowl Set, from largest to smallest, are yellow, green, red, and turquoise.

These bowls remain one of the most coveted collector’s items: an intact set can cost over $100. Single Colored Bowls are far cheaper, often less than $20. A patient collector could assemble a relatively inexpensive set over time.

My blue bowl is a Cinderella four-quart, so-called for its handles: one is a regular “ear”, while the other can act as a spout. The pattern is Snowflake; it was manufactured in 1972. My four-piece brown set is called Autumn Harvest. It debuted in 1979. My most recent acquisition, the one-quart lidded casserole in Pink Gooseberry, dates to 1958. It set me back $8.

During my childhood, my mother had a nesting bowl set in Amish Butterprint, so called the for stylized farm couple depicted on the bowl. They are dressed in old-fashioned clothing; He wears overalls, she, a bonnet. The man holds a shovel, the woman, a rake. Between them they hold a basket of what appears to be wheat and corn. As a child I thought of these as “the rooster bowls” for the rooster also appearing on the pattern. They are most commonly found either in turquoise with a background white or vice versa.

If you are a certain age, you know exactly which bowls I am talking about.

Over the holidays I had the opportunity to rummage in my sister-in-law’s kitchen cabinets (I asked first). There I found an incomplete Colored Bowl set—green, blue, and red, and one small Early American refrigerator set piece, minus lid. They had belonged to her mother-in-law. Those pieces, casually mingling with more recent kitchenware, made me realize Americans take Pyrex for granted. Given the numerous mentions of it in my English cookbooks, it may be the British share our casual attitude.

Bee Wilson mentions Pyrex measuring cups in her Consider the Fork: A History of How We Cook and Eat, while Simon Hopkinson, writing about his father’s Sunday morning kidney breakfast in Week In, Week Out, mentions “A small, special oval Pyrex dish that was brought out (only, but only used for Dad’s kidneys)” (italics Simon’s).

Stateside, Pyrex remains ubiquitous. It seems that everyone’s mother had the Amish Butterprint bowls and matching refrigeraterware, squared off for ease of storage. Those square storage containers with their ridged glass tops went from fridge to oven, important before microwave ovens became common. None of this was especially long ago.

Even now, totting up my growing bowl collection, I realized I had plenty of Pyrex I never considered. Three glass bakers, a lidded glass casserole, and three glass mixing cups are in constant use. It made me wonder how many of us have stray pieces of this indispensable cookware, tossed indifferently into the cupboard, hand-me-downs from parents or picked up from the drugstore.

Pyrex is breakable only by hurling it with all your might or placing a blazing hot dish in icewater. When we were small, my sister accidentally broke one of the Amish Butterprint bowls. She was standing on the counter to reach a high kitchen shelf and dropped the bowl. It's the only time I have ever seen Pyrex break.

I now find myself in the grips of obsession, and am limiting purchases to once monthly. I am jonesing for an Amish Butterprint butter dish, and hope to eventually invest in a set of Royal Burgundy dinnerware, as it matches my '50s red Formica kitchen table.

Mind you, I fully intend to use my finds. The folks at Pyrexlove.com suggest using all but the rarest pieces, which I am unlikely to purchase. I live in earthquake country. To collect breakables is to anticipate their demise. Besides, I don’t want a stiff, untouchable wall of collectibles, mounted purely for dusting. If the collector’s bug must bite, let it bite usefully.

The official Pyrex website happily notes the heirloom nature of their cookware. And although today’s Pyrex remains sturdy and practical, aesthetics have given way to expenses: the colored bowls and embossed designs of yore are gone in favor of clear, cheaper glass that will never acquire the vintage patina of its ancestors. Lacking in personality, individuality, or even color, today’s Pyrex does not engender emotional attachment. That Sandra Lee, she of the “semi-homemade” foods, is the official Pyrex spokesperson, does nothing for their status.

We’re a long way from Pink Gooseberry and Amish Butterprint.

Collecting Pyrex is like any other collecting, a niche activity that, if left unchecked, can border on insanity. I’m not suggesting you take up hoarding items from the past. I am asking you to appreciate a thing well-used, perhaps well-loved, in reach of everyone, so well-made that 50 years later, you can pick up a piece online for under ten dollars, admire the bright, undimmed colors, then tuck your onions into it and place it on your hideous modern granite countertop.

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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