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Let’s Cook: Pyrex Celebrates 100 Years

By Staff | Sep 11, 2015

Guess what kitchen icon is celebrating a centennial birthday? I will give you a hint: this product has been showing up at weddings, bridal showers, family celebrations, picnics and state fair bake offs in addition to being a true kitchen workhorse. It continues to measure up in most kitchens yet today. It is Pyrex!

Early this year World Kitchen kicked off the centennial celebration by unveiling the World’s Largest Measuring Cup, as certified by Guinness World Records. It was shown first at the International Home and Houseware show in Chicago and featured 3,000 cups of Chicago’s own Garrett Popcorn! That is more than 1,500 times the size of the iconic 2-cup Pyrex measuring cup, which has been their best-selling measuring cup.

Allow me to back up to when the Pyrex story began with a railroad need. The heat-tempered glass that is the foundation for the Pyrex brand was created by Corning Glass scientists, who were given the challenge to develop a glass lantern globe for the railroads. Hand-held lanterns were often used to signal passenger trains, particularly at night. The hot lantern globes were susceptible to breakage in the cold weather prior to the development of heat-resistant glass. It is also interesting to note that with the development of these globes in the colors of red and green, presented by Corning Glass, became the standard for the Railroad Signal Association for all of the American and Canadian railways in 1908.

By 1913, the glass was being used in a number of industrial applications, such as battery jars. These containers protected humans from the dangerous chemicals used in batteries. When Bessie Littleton asked her husband Jesse, a Corning scientist, to bring home some glass to use in place of a broken casserole dish, he brought her some sawed-off battery jars. The cake was baked, and this was the moment that Pyrex “charged” onto the kitchen scene. Bessie discovered that the glass was easy to clean, oven safe, it did not absorb odors while it provided uniform baking-all traits that are still admired today in Pyrex. Plus it could go from freezing to the boiling without breaking.

Pyrex made hundreds of items, such as casseroles with engravings and bread pans. There were reamers, Au Gratin dishes, pie plates, basters, cake dishes, casseroles that featured flat lids that were perfect for pie making, and even children’s ovenware called “The Pyrexette.” That six-piece set that allowed the young lady of the house to practice the culinary arts alongside of her mother, and she naturally would have been wearing a charming apron. The set was available from 1925-1929; it included a casserole with a lid, bread pan, baking dish, pie plate and two custard cups and retailed for $2. It now sells to Pyrex collectors for $250-300.

Did I mention that Pyrex made bowls? Next to two-cup measuring cups, one of the most recognized Pyrex wares has to be the 400 Multicolored Mixing Bowl set, which was first offered for $2.50 in 1946 in the Ladies Home Journal. It was the first colored Pyrex to be offered for sale with their already successful Ovenware and Flameware. It has become known today as “Primary Mixing Bowls” or “Primary-colored Mixing Bowls.” Each bowl is numbered and sized on the bottom. From the largest to the smallest they are: yellow #404, 4 quarts, 10″ diameter; green #403, 2.5 quarts, 8.5 diameter; red #402, 1.25 quarts, 7″ diameter; and blue #401, 0.5 quart, 5.5″ diameter. The original bowls from the 1940’s are thicker than the newer “Primary Mixing Bowls,” but lovers of these bowls are pleased either set.

The red bowl was most used and is often missing from these sets. Many will recall the yellow bowl used during bread baking and as a wonderful harbor for scalloped potatoes. What a perfect color combination- tan crusted scalloped potatoes and a yellow shell. Often used for salad was the green bowl, and when set in the refrigerator and allowed to cool, the blue bowl was perfect for whipping cream.

What were the colors of Pyrex bowls used in your home? What color nesting bowls were given to at your bridal shower or wedding? In recent visits about Pyrex, several brides recalled the colors of their first set of mixing bowls.

Pyrex did create an “Opal Bowl Set” which was produced only in 1954. The period of manufacture was so brief; this totally white nest of bowls is very rare. The market team of Pyrex bowls was ever eager to provide consumers with the latest in style; the 400 bowls were issued in colors that reflected the time. Turquoise, pink, and yellow sets were strong colors in the 50’s and 60’s, so Pyrex made a variety of pieces in these hues. Later on came avocado green, lemon yellow, red and blue and another set featured orange, red, orange and red. Who can recall the “New Dot” bowls coming out in 1967 featuring dots in blue, red, orange, green and yellow?

Before long, patterns were introduced to bowls such as “Early American”, which featured cozy symbols such as the kerosene lantern, tea kettle, American Eagle, coffee grinder and so forth. Cinderella bowls were added to the line in 1958 and are easily recognizable by the two pour spout handles of different sizes. The “Gooseberry” was one of the first patterns and was featured with pink and white or yellow and black. Another treasured pattern was “Butterprint” pattern which featured an Amish theme and was available in several colors. It has been suggested the name Cinderella came about because the Disney movie, Cinderella, was exceedingly popular and also that Cinderella had a glass connection-that being her glass slipper. There was no time limit set on Cinderella bowls; they remained popular for years.

It is unbelievable the number of patterns and colors in which Pyrex bowls were marketed. Enough, I am sure, to reach Jupiter! Their early marketing ads centered on family themes and were creative. Such as showing a young couple each with oars and rowing together in a glass Pyrex Flameware sauce pan with the words “shove off together.” Each time I am at a potluck I check out the vintage Pyrex that continues to drift upon the tabletop. These quality pieces are wonderful to work with and even a joy to wash. Their opal white smooth interior, even after years of service. This once again demonstrates their early motto of “North-South-East-West; whenever you’re cooking, Pyrex Ware’s best!”

Jan recently purchased a vintage piece from the “Oven-and-Table” set. It is a square red bowl and it moves with ease and beauty from the oven to the table. I favor the orange bowls and often they appear at our family gatherings in autumn adding warming to the table. Pyrex can be a family affair. Lately our nephew, Tanner, has started collecting Autumn Harvest which was introduced in 1979 and features the colors of orange, rust and brown with a wheat design done in ivory. His grandmother, Delores, has some of these pieces. As he adds to his collection, they call her pantry home where they are used often. In time, they will move to his home with various memories of wonderful cooking done by his grandmother.

In 1998, Corning began to focus primarily on scientific and technical glass and sold the Consumer Products Division to a company now known as World Kitchen. The Pyrex brand continues to be produced by World Kitchen today. In honor of the 100th anniversary, they have created several pieces including a limited edition measuring cup. As they have been saying at Pyrex, “raise your glass!” After all, there are few companies that can measure up to the quality of the not only useful, but charming Pyrex.

Here is a recipe that can be easily be stirred up in any Pyrex bowl. I received this recipe from a customer when I was cooking at the VFW Club in Underwood. These are perfect for a family gathering as an appetizer and they disappear quickly at a pot luck.

Oh, So Right Chicken Wings

4 pounds of whole chicken wings

cup hot pepper sauce (if you prefer more mild, use ketchup)

cup butter, melted

3 tablespoons cider vinegar

2 tablespoons honey

1 envelope ranch salad dressing mix

teaspoon paprika

Cut the chicken wings into three sections, discard wing tip sections. In a large bowl combine the hot pepper sauce or ketchup, butter, vinegar and honey. Add chicken wings; mix in bowl and cover making sure to coat well. Refrigerate for 4-8 hours. Place the chicken wings on two greased 15-in. x 10-in. x 1 baking pans. Sprinkle with dressing mix and paprika. Bake, uncovered, at 350 degrees for 50 minutes or until juices run clear.

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