Since I became a parent, my obsession with the quality of durable goods has really flourished. Once you are budgeting for five people, the amount you spend on yourself plummets, because children need food and clothing. When it’s time to spend on something for me, I don’t want to swing and miss. If I buy something, I aim to buy that something once and only once. Kitchen equipment is no exception.
Despite this ethos, I recognize I can’t know for sure what will last long when I buy it. Even with the proper care and maintenance, some of the things I thought I bought for life flamed out after a few years.
When that happens, it’s really frustrating. One example was a two-cup Pyrex glass measuring cup, which I had been told was a legendary kitchen workhorse. After 10 years of frequent use, some of the red paint faded away in the dishwasher, leaving me with the inability to measure anything less than ¾ cup. I rolled with that for a while, but eventually I admitted defeat and coughed up the six dollars to get a replacement. I stewed over that purchase for days.
It’s embarrassing to admit how mad episodes like this make me, and I’m sorry to everyone who’s been on the receiving end of my vitriol. But, frankly, it sucks to have to replace things. The suckage compounds when it’s something you didn’t anticipate replacing.
Despite the shortcomings of a few items, there are quite a few things in my kitchen that have pretty much lasted my entire cooking life. When I was starting out, my kitchen equipment came as hand-me-downs or gifts from my parents, who took pity on the meager kitchen setup of a college sophomore. Ironically, all of these items were obtained prior to my becoming a durability fetishist.
I’ve highlighted below the members of my “bought it for life” club: the items I’ve acquired within the first five years of living (and cooking) on my own. It’s an eclectic mix of cookware, utensils, and plates. With each item I’ve assessed the likelihood of whether that item will make it another 20 years.
Nylon serving spoons (circa 1999)
When I started looking back at all my kitchen equipment and when I received it, the first thing I remembered were two black nylon serving spoons, similar to this. I received the spoons in an “entry level” kitchen cookware set from my family. I would never think to buy them now, yet they are entering their 22nd year of duty with no issues at all.
Will these make it another 20 years? Probably. The biggest risk factor is my 2-year-old son, who plays with these spoons aggressively when he can reach them. If the spoons can make it past his toddlerhood, it’s clear skies for another few decades.
CorningWare baking dishes (acquired 2000)
This covers two items: a 2.5 quart round casserole (acquired 2000), and a 1 pint saucepan (also acquired 2000). I affectionately refer to the saucepan as the Chef Boyardee dish, as it’s the perfect size and form for microwaving a can of Beefaroni. The casserole is no slouch, having weathered hundreds of rounds in the oven and microwave. By the way: don’t fall for the hype about these being “investment pieces,” because you’re probably not going to get $4,000 for them, despite what certain eBay sellers want you to believe.
Will these make it another 20 years? Yes. Assuming no drop from a tall building, these should last forever.
Corelle dinner plates (circa 1998)
I got three of these when I moved into my dorm and acquired a few more through marriage. These are the plates we still use for every meal every day. Only one has managed to chip, but it’s still in the rotation.
Will these make it another 20 years? I’d take the over on these. This is starting to sound like a Corning informercial, but they do build some sturdy stuff.
Odd cutlery (no reliable date of origin)
Before I moved into my first apartment, I remember taking a few random utensils from my mom’s kitchen drawer. Two that stood out were a finely serrated butter knife (think of a plastic knife, but made of metal) and a Usigner’s sausage knife.
Will these make it another 20 years? The sausage knife won’t. I’m hanging on to that one for sentimental value. The butter knife is a hard yes. Amazingly, its teeth can still cut through plastic packaging, and lordy, how it spreads!
T-fal nonstick rectangular cake pan (acquired 2003)
I inherited this from a departing roommate. I don’t know how long he had it before then, but it looked like it had some miles on it when I first saw it. A safe estimate is at least 10 years. I don’t use it for cakes anymore, given some divots in the nonstick coating. But it’s never peeled, and is our pan of choice for roasting chicken or pork chops.
Will this make it another 20 years? Probably not. But I had that same thought in the late 2000s. I’m taking the under because the existing damage may be amplified by children within the next 10 years.
Lodge 10-inch cast iron skillet (acquired 2003)
This is one of my top-five Christmas presents of all time. It took me a good two or three years before I started using the cast iron skillet frequently. I didn’t get the cleaning right and food stuck to it all the time. But now it has the sheen that comes from three presidential administrations’ worth of seasoning.
Will this make it another 20 years? Twenty? Try 200. I am a zealot about seasoning and caring for this pan, to the point where each of my children will receive a mandatory two-hour clinic in cast iron seasoning before their 12th birthdays (obviously no cake if they don’t complete the class). Eventually a ninth-generation descendent will receive this and love using it as much as I have, probably on planet Zoltex or something like that. This will last forever.