Vintage Cookware Holds History

Vintage cookware can be a holder of family history. This repurposed antique cast iron kettle is a prime example of the secrets such pieces keep.

antique cast iron kettle
My friend’s family has owned this piece of vintage cookware – an antique cast iron kettle – for decades. It is well worn, but the true value of this vintage cookware is the remembrance that it triggers. My friend sees his parents, grandparents, and great grandparents involved in the sharing of family meals everytime he looks at it.

Vintage cookware that travelled

He says this antique cast iron kettle “came over the mountain” when his great grandfather moved his family from rural Virginia to rural Maryland with a horse and wagon. His great grandfather farmed in Maryland and this vintage cookware was often used for butchering hogs. I imagine this wasn’t the most pleasant exercise but that was what people did before they bought protein on styrofoam trays.

The kettle was also used for many other purposes such as rendering the fat that was needed to make soap.

In fact, so useful was this vintage cookware that when the family moved to slightly less rural Northern Virginia in the 1920s they took the antique cast iron kettle with them.

Vintage cookware delivered the harvest

His great grandfather was an early builder in the area and purchased his land to construct the family home in 1929. That area of Northern Virginia was then full of farms and sleepy fields as opposed to beltways and townhouse developments. Families had huge gardens, raised chickens, and lived an organic, green type of existence that was mostly powered by thrift.

His family was no exception. They had a small orchard and planted a half acre vegetable garden. They largely lived off of the produce so high volume food processing and preservation was key. The large antique cast iron kettle naturally played a starring role during harvest season.

My friend remembers his grandmother and mother making apple butter in that vintage cookware. Because the antique cast iron kettle was heated over a fire he said his grandmother used to throw pennies into the bottom of it. As long as she could feel the coins moving as she stirred she knew the apple butter wasn’t sticking.

I don’t know what that did to the family’s copper levels, not to mention making acidic apple butter in vintage cast iron cookware, but his family has been healthy and reasonably long lived.

vintage cookware cast iron

Antique cast iron kettle recycled

One day the kettle cracked. My friend can’t remember how, but this rugged piece of vintage cookware didn’t end it’s useful life there. His great grandfather just repurposed it later.

In addition to being a farmer and professional home builder, my friend’s great grandfather was also a water diviner, or douser, who was able to identify water sources. The family says he had pinpointed sites for many wells, including the one that he provided for his own family. But wide, hand-dug, brick-lined wells fell out of favor due to safety concerns. The well was closed and a smaller diameter, deeper well was dug in another location.

That was when the cracked antique cast iron kettle was recycled. It provided a decorative cap for the well and still stands as a reminder of his great grandfather’s divining skills, thriftiness and inclination to be green long before it was called that. Kind of a personal family monument that is filled with exuberant lillies in late spring.

For my friend it is a daily reminder of his family’s history. He is a builder just like his great grandfather. He lives in the house that his great grandfather constructed. He also continues the family’s tradition of a large garden. Everyday he arrives home, sees the antique cast iron kettle and it reminds him of his roots. Not a bad role for a piece of history-filled vintage cookware.

For me, such history is what makes the collecting of vintage cookware so special. It has lived.