Imagine you live on North Square in 1780. Your new neighbor, a standup guy named Paul, makes stuff for people, really good metalware. One day you ask him if he would please make you a copper soup pot. He laughs and says: “Sure, but she’ll be small.” Paul explains that the sore losers across the Pond consider rolled sheet copper a vital military monopoly, and that he can only get it in itty-bitty sizes. He dreams of creating his own rolling mill and making a fortune (cladding a Navy), but until then, something like this is the biggest copper soup pot you can get:
House Copper is the brainchild of Sara Dahmen, whom I know to be a true force of nature. Sara, already a noted author of historical fiction, was struck by the immense importance and value that cookware had in homes of the Pre-Industrial Era. Before low-quality cookware became an abundant commodity, cooks cherished their original, handmade copper cookware and lovingly restored it as necessary to keep it in use. She learned about the British copper embargo and Paul’s dilemma, and lamented that new American-made copper cookware was practically non-existent. She soon discovered that the 18th and 19th Century skillsets involved in making traditional copper cookware had all but died out in America.
Sara resolved to work to bring about an American copper Renaissance. She and her husband John formed Housekeeper Crockery and House Copper in 2015. She set about finding some of the last remaining American artisans and craftspeople with whom to collaborate. But she didn’t stop there—she also apprenticed herself to master coppersmith Robert Bartelme of Backwoods Tin & Copper. Sara’s passion, meticulous research and hard-won collaboration has now paid off in the form of this 3-quart stockpot, a shorter 2-quart version, a cover, and a beating bowl.
Basics and First Impressions
Let’s first clear the air: As stockpots go, this one is diminutive. It stands only 6 5/8” (16.8cm) tall and is merely 6” (15.3cm) in diameter. One of my unfortunate foibles is to order something, and while I wait for it, my anticipation causes it to grow in my mind. At the time of unpacking, this pot and its cover seemed Lilliputian to me. The uninformed or incurious might look and call this pot a “salesman’s sample”.
Second, in comparison to most quality copper stockpots, this one is thinner, at 1.5mm (0.060”). The pot’s rim edge looks thicker, maybe 2mm, but I know this to be the result of trimming the curved pouring rim.
Third, let’s all stipulate that its cost is dear: $400 for the pot, and another $150 for the cover. $550 for a very small stockpot is a big splurge. Shouldn’t ‘Mericans get something big for that kind of money? I mean, who makes 2 quarts of stock at a time, and who can justify that kind of cost for a 1.5mm pot?
As you will read below, maybe we all should.
Upon Second Glance
As soon as you look again, you start thinking. For such a small first offering, this pot is awfully well thought out. It has the classic 1:1 height-to-diameter ratio serious cooks expect in a true stockpot—good luck finding many of those. The pot’s loop handles, faithful reproductions of an 1840 design, are mounted high for excellent balance when lifting and carrying.
The inset cover is slightly domed and perfectly sized to eliminate drips and runs. And ever-historical Sara has done your imaginary neighbor Paul one better by adding a pouring rim.
By my measure, the pot’s capacity is 1/3 Cup shy of 3 Quarts. Two and a half quarts submerges the rivets, and that is probably the maximum advisable fill for cooking. Still, that’s enough capacity for a whole chicken’s worth of meaty bones or a bunch of roasted T-bone trimmings and leftovers.
The pot itself weighs just north of 3.5 lbs (56.75 oz/1608g), and the cover weighs almost a pound (13.25oz/375g) more. Total weight is 4.4 lbs (2kg). Filled with water to its practical maximum, the whole thing weighs in at 9.6 lbs (4.3kg).
The pot sits dead flat on my machinist’s slab, as it did on my glass-top radiant cooktop.
The tinning job is first rate, and appears bright and quite thick.
All handles are tightly affixed with two relatively large copper rivets.
The cover’s knob is actually a cast iron disk/finial, into which is cast the House logo. The disk is thick enough, rough enough, and incised deeply enough to make for a secure barehanded or toweled grip.
The pot arrived beautifully polished and packaged, and with several helpful sheets of care, use and other information.
OK, so it’s a beautiful, well-designed little pot. So what?
Look Deeper, Find a Keeper?
I had to handle (actually flyspeck), and cook in, this pot several times before I noticed some of its best features. First, the cover’s disk/finial slides nicely inside either of the pot’s loop handles. The domed cover, thus inverted and perched, sits and stays level. Turn it a quarter turn and it locks in place. This means not only are there no drips, but there’s no longer a need to find a clean place on the stovetop or counter to put the cover. And, perched thusly, there’s still ample room to stir, skim, remove a bouquet, etc. And, you have the perfect spoon rest!
In playing with it, I also discovered that the disk/finial can also securely hook over the pot’s rim vertically, giving the cook 100% access to the contents.
Second, the inset cover is cut to exactly the same outer diameter as the pot’s pouring rim. I initially thought this would be a demerit, because there is about 2mm of slop ‘twixt cover and pot. However, after cooking in it several times, I discovered this was a huge boon. Slid to one extreme end of the slop (i.e., as far off center as you can get it and still have it seated), there is a ready-made vent location. Basically, this means you have one place you can watch for and assess escaping vapor; with a little practice, you can tell without removing the cover what your level of simmer is. This is a deft touch I wish all my other stockers had.
Third, that 1.5mm foil thickness, which can feel flimsy and actually flex on larger pots, feels rock solid on this one. Part of that happy result is the sheer scale of the pot—1.5mm is the structural equivalent of 3mm in a pot half the size. Another part is that pouring rim, which stiffens the whole pot at least as well as the old trick of forming a thin wall around an iron hoop at the rim, as Ruffoni does. This pot, despite being only 1.5mm thick, will stand up better to dings and rivets loosening than would larger 1.5mm or 1.8mm pots.
Fourth, the cover itself is also made from 1.5mm foil. This is as heavy as it usually gets for covers of any size, and the two bends imparted to the cover also stiffen it considerably. This, plus the very short lip that rests of the pot’s rim, means the cover will take a lot of drops, bangs and abuse without affecting its fit on the pot.
Fifth, I find the surface texture of all three handles to be Goldilocks ideal—neither too smooth nor too rough. Sara tells me all handle surfaces are treated with old-fashioned stove blacking to guard against rust.
I knew before even firing up any test hobs that this pot would be very even-heating. After all, 6’’ is the perfect diameter for the ubiquitous “small” home hob—you know, the ones seldom used because they’re too small. A perfect match on an electric hob makes for pretty even heat with any construction, and the House 3Q copper stockpot was no exception. With no overhang, there’s no abrupt temperature gradient requiring thick, conductive material to move heat laterally out to unheated areas. So, fine, if that’s true, why pay $400+ if you can find a crappo 6”-diameter stainless stockpot for $25?
Well, two big reasons.
One, being copper (and proportionately thick copper), this pan allows sufficient heat transfer up the sidewalls to positively affect the convection currents that are crucial in stock that cooks at the barest of simmers. My tests convinced me 1.5mm foil in a pan of this scale is actually a good choice. On a gas hob, there will be enough hot combustion gases flowing up the sides that this should be self-evident. But on 6” electric hobs (both coil and radiant), I consistently measured significantly greater temperatures high up the outside wall of this pot than in the liquids inside. Clearly, the sidewalls were contributing heat to the contents until the time the system reached equilibrium. Contrast this with what happens in a disk-base, SS-wall stockpot: effectively all heat transfer is through the base, and therefore all convection currents emanate from the pot’s floor; SS walls serve mainly to contain the contents.
In my tests using just water, bubble nucleation was relatively uniform everywhere beneath the water’s surface.
Even at the point at which the water began to simmer in earnest (165F measured in the pot), the pan’s rim was 5F hotter. Subsequent tests cooking stock confirmed that the pattern of convection currents, even at a very low simmer, was more complex and multidirectional than what happens in a non-conductive sidewall construction. This phenomenon is no surprise in a large, 3mm copper pot, but I was impressed to see it so clearly in one only 1.5mm thick.
Two, this House Copper 3Q is the Usain Bolt of stockpots. I expected it to be quick to heat because of the small volume of liquid it holds—no surprise or special advantage there. But what shocked me was how fast it came down in an ice bath. This is partly the 1.5mm thickness at work, but also the low (2.5Q) volume. My 13.75Qx1.5mm Ruffoni, with its vastly larger surface area, takes nearly an hour (and a lot more ice) to safely cool to room temperature. This House Copper pot? Try nine minutes to shed over 100F-- from 180F to a fridge-ready 72F. This puts some fun back into (and allays some food safety concerns about) the process of making stock. Added bonus: The handles sit so high they stand clear of the icy water.
Ironically, the only issue I have with this pot’s performance is also relates to its thickness. That is, I found I had to be more watchful over my mirepoix so that it would not scorch. This happens with my 14Q Ruffoni as well, so it’s nothing about this particular pot that’s to blame. In fact, this pot is so small that evenness/stirring is not the problem. But if you’re careless with the heat, you will brown and scorch all your mirepoix, not just that portion above the hob-sized hotspot. In other words, the hotspot in this pot would be the entire bottom. Honestly, though, you can wreck mirepoix in any thickness of pot.
I should also say—without yet trying it—that this size and geometry would also make an excellent small deep fryer, steamer or pasta cooker. House Copper would be well advised to offer a non-scratch insert for those purposes. If it does, I’ll permanently retire my Le Creuset fondue pot.
OK, OK you say, nice versatile pot, classic shape, great features and performance, someone’s “marrying” kind of pot. But is it The One for you?
A Paradigm Shift?
I confess I’m a cookware polygamist and a size snob. I have been fortunate enough to have a lot of latitude to size my pans to my portions, rather than the other way around. For example, 1 or 2 small mushrooms alone get a 5” sauté, and I would never fill any saucepan beyond about 2/3 capacity or dilute braising liquor by using a too-wide pan. I know having a range of sizes is an unaffordable luxury in many households, but I know, too, that many home cooks of modest means keep skillets galore. So, conceptually, why should a cook not be at least a stockpot bigamist?
The only non-price reason I can imagine not to consider a small stockpot such as this is bulk preparation. We home cooks who make stock commonly think only in terms of occasionally preparing—and then preserving—large batches. And upon reflection, in so doing we go through more involved gyrations than we appreciate. We save bones, carcasses and scraps until we have “enough” (read: enough freezer-burned remnants to fill our one large stockpot), we make special trips to market buy larger quantities of herbs for bouquets garni and aromatics for mirepoix. We take hours cooling, refrigerating, portioning, freezing or canning, and storing what we preserve. And then what happens? We maybe use one fresh bit, and the rest is put away—slowly degrading—until we think of using it. If we ever think of using it.
This House Copper pot suggests a different way of thinking. Stock needn’t be prepared in bulk, certainly not at home and not necessarily even in restaurants. How much stock do you need for the prep or sauce you’re cooking for yourself or a few guests today or tomorrow? If you had a pot that was always out and available to quickly make fresh stock from ingredients you already have on hand and are continuously using, for immediate or next-day use, would that be a bad thing? In the winter, having a small pot like this on a back burner at a once-a-minute burble sounds like something I want. Why should stock- and soup-making be a special occasion thing?
Oh, and one more thing. The single, the aged, the empty nesters, those of weak back or wrist, what of them? My largest stockers, filled, are essentially immovable, and I’m a former powerlifter. Needless to say, 10 pounds is more manageable to lift and pour than is 25 or 40. For the cook with limited strength, if the choice is between a 1Q box of anemic Swanson and rich, fresh homemade, it isn’t much of a choice, now is it? Or, if you’re a Tiny House or small apartment dweller, you might have room to store this (8.5”T x 9”W x 6”D overall) whereas you’d be constantly tripping over a fullsize stocker.
My thinking is that unless these advantages don’t appeal to you, or you can’t afford more than one stocker, or you know you’ll only ever make stock in large, preservable batches, you probably should at least open your mind to this size stockpot. Whether investing $550 is wise is up to you and your investment counselor.
In no special order: (1) The loop handles stand proud above the rim, meaning the pot will wobble when it’s inverted for cleaning/polishing. (2) The high handle location, while excellent for lifting and carrying, does not make for ideal leverage when pouring (This would be a big deal in a large stocker, here not so much). (3) There are faint lathe tool marks on the exterior walls, in the form of concentric rings, from spinning the pot.
Small-batch stock makes sense. This is a very fine product that has already found a practical place in my kitchen. It is unique (in this combination shape and size) in my experience, beautiful, durable, well-conceived and –executed. Amortized over time (the average life of mass market cookware is now only 5 years!), the price is not unreasonable. Made in America by a small company intent on a copper artisan Renaissance, too. Paul Revere would be as impressed as I was.
(1) As an epilogue, it should be noted that Sara’s design and manufacturing philosophies of excellence, purity, artisan- and American-made, and historical integrity extend to all of Housekeeper Crockery’s wares, which include cast iron skillets, crockery, utensils and textiles.
(2) Sara is applying her prodigious writing talent to what will probably be the best book-length treatment of traditional cookware, including copperware, written in English. We all should hope for its release in 2018.
(3) Sara tells me she expects her list prices for copper will eventually fall as she tweaks the manufacturing processes.