Baking Superstitions

Baking Superstitions

BS, 2

BS, 3

Saturday morning pancakes has become a tradition around here. I use a Martha Stewart Buttermilk Pancake recipe I found a few months back. It’s my keeper recipe. I’ve tried several since then, and so far this one is almost everyone’s favorite. Mikey favors one that produces thick, chewy pancakes no one else likes, so his vote doesn’t count.

I make the pancakes in the same thrifted, brown pyrex bowl every time. It’s one of my very few thrifting successes (the color could be better) and I use it for all of my baking. I have other bowls, but this one is the perfect size for mixing baked goods. If it’s dirty and I have other bowls I can use in the cupboard, I’ll wash this bowl.

The speckled mug with the peach and the blueberries and the inexplicable autumn leaf is for melting butter. Always and only. One day I heard a knock on the door, and on my porch were a three members of a new Seventh Day Adventist church going up in the neighborhood. We chatted for a while (Catholic, not going anywhere) and they gave me the peach/blueberry/autumn leaf mug with some literature. I didn’t want them to waste money when surely there was someone on the fence who could use a good mug, so I tried to give it back. They insisted I keep it as a gift. That was 8 years ago, and every time I pull down that mug to melt butter I think of them. I shared this story with the Mister once when I asked him to bring me the “butter mug” and he looked at me like I asked him to mend a rift in time. When I explained to him the origins of the mug he didn’t know we had, he called it marketing well done. I call it a darn fine butter mug. Seriously, perfection. I can melt an entire stick of butter in the microwave without the butter spilling over or the mug overheating. It’s, like, the best butter mug ever.

I have the best bowl for baking and the best butter mug. I’m sure something else would work–maybe even something that wasn’t thrifted or given to me for free–but I’m not willing to try because I’ve convinced myself that if I make pancakes in a different bowl or melt butter in a different mug the world will immediately splinter into sharp, irreparable pieces. And the pancakes are sure to taste terrible. Thick, chewy things only Mikey would like.

I’ve been eyeballing a Dutch oven for, oh, 13 years. I’m thinking it could become another one of my superstitious kitchen items. I would use it for soups, stews, and braised meats. Le Creuset has been out of my price range, but there are lower priced cast iron ovens on the market now. I don’t know how they compare. I bought one two weeks ago (the one from Kohl’s) and it’s still in my trunk. I’m undecided.

It doesn’t help that I made a beef and barely soup last night, only to discover no one really likes barley. Mikey called it “chewy, like tofu.” Nico asked for more bread “because that’s the only way I can eat this soup, mama.” The Mister and I just chewed, and now I have heartburn. I knew I would get heartburn–barley has a similar texture to oatmeal, and I can’t eat that in any form without my esophagus exploding into a fiery rage.

Jules Kendall writes about books, family, and easygoing simplicity.


  1. Anna L says

    If you have one near you at all, my local TJ Maxx/Homegoods usually has some great dutch ovens for good prices – sometimes even a Le Creuset. Worth a look….I drool over them every time! Let us know if you find a good one that is a bit more reasonably priced.

    I also totally have weird baking things: Multiple sets of measuring spoons, and different ones are “best” for different kinds of substances. I’m not sure how this happened in my brain, but it did. Go figure.

  2. Anna says

    I have a very heavy Lodge 6 quart enameled dutch oven that I use and love for soups, stews, etc. You can buy them on Amazon for about $75, although I think I gave less than that in-store. Its been a very good pot, and the company warranties the workmanship for life.

    Some of my most beloved baking/cooking tools are my cast irons skillets. I won’t fry eggs in anything else. And I too had a favorite brown baking bowl. Mine was a pottery bowl from the 1940s or so, and my husband put it in the dishwasher our first year of marriage. The steam shattered it. To this day, none of my other bowls compare.

    • says

      Maybe I should return the one I bought and get a Lodge one. I’m not sure the one I bought has a lifetime warranty.

      That is so sad to hear about your favorite bowl! I bet your husband felt terrible.

  3. says

    I have that same dutch oven Ms Amy linked to above and I love it. It was $50, we use it several times a week and have for years and years. Totally and completely worth it. I mean, it’s just enamel-coated cast iron, it doesn’t need to be Le Creuset and one million dollars, right?

  4. Susan says

    A dutch oven is one of the most useful kitchen items ever. I use ours weekly, and bought it way off price at Home Goods. It is Le Creuset, although I would have easily bought a Lodge as well. This thing will last my lifetime and longer.

    Thanks for the pancake recipe.

  5. Witty Mermaid says

    Cooks Illustrated is one of my favorite publications because of their academic approach to cooking. They had a great review of Dutch ovens in the last year. Their conclusion was that the $40 alternative ovens are “nearly equivalent” to the Cruset, and they highly recommend them. I have a Cruset, mid-size, but it was a birthday gift from my husband–certainly can’t afford to just collect these things, and it is my favorite piece of cookware. I especially like using it for no knead bread, which comes out perfect. I’m certain another oven would also perform with that recipe.
    For what it’s worth, I was floored one day to see Le Cruset in my local Tuesday Morning–$70 for a decent sized oven.

  6. Jennie says

    My fancy sister-in-law gifted us her old un-used set as she didn’t favor the color (green). What a great gift it has been. I could do without the other pieces (sauce pan, fry pan, grill pan, etc…). Those dutch ovens see it all and they have the battle scars (stains) to prove it. I love it. I’m sure that I could work it over with some special cleaning solutions, but there’s nothing like having proof that great family meals are enjoyed in our home.

  7. says

    I have a Le Creuset on my Christmas list this year. If I don’t receive one, I’m open to an alternative brand, but some of my favorite things in the kitchen are the old things with the stories: my mom’s old sandwich cutting board, my grandmother’s aluminum baking sheet, etc. I like the idea of something classic and iconic that can be used for generations.

  8. Kirstin says

    I was a bit unsure of the cast iron dutch oven too, but I got the $40 Tramontina from Wal-Mart a few years ago after reading that it got a higher rating than Le Creuset in Cooks Illustrated, and I haven’t looked back. I use it at least a few times a week. I am a sloppy stirrer, so it works better for me to have a high sided pot when most people would probably use a sauce pan or a skillet. I have been very happy with how well it holds and distributes the heat – seems much more efficient than stainless steel. I am so happy I took the plunge and I hope you do too. They weigh a ton, though, so pick a sturdy shelf to store it!

  9. Moira says

    We have a marinade recipe that my MIL makes, and was handed down from her mother and some local woman/friend before that. My MIL made it in what I can only guess is an old Metamucial jar (white plastic scrubbed of the label – and the Metamucil, orange top) the first time she sent it home with us. Now I make it (following the type written recipe of the original cook, who lived in the house my now BIL lives in with his family) and keep it in that same jar. We call it Metamucil marinade. Small town, use what you got, if it ain’t broke don’t fix it superstition.

  10. Elizabeth says

    I have both a Le Creuset and a Staub, and I by far prefer the Staub. I could go into detail as to why, but I won’t unless you want to know.

    • Rachel says

      I have a Staub Cocotte that I purchased on Amazon several years ago on a Gold Box Deal, and I’ve been very happy with it. It distributes heat very nicely and evenly, and I don’t think I’ve ever had to scrape burnt bits off the bottom, even when accidentally cooking a recipe too hot. It cleans up well, both inside and outside. It’s insanely heavy, and would make an excellent weapon.

      I bought a Le Creuset stoneware roasting pan, and I’ve not been so impressed with it. I know it’s not really fair to compare stoneware to cast iron, but the stoneware has been difficult to keep clean because baked-on accidental smudges on the handles or sides take serious elbow grease to scrub out, even with soaking, Dawn, and baking soda. Those experiences make me very leery of investing my own cash in Le Creuset wares.

  11. Lisa says

    Hi Jules-
    I read your blog often, and sometimes, when a particular post strikes me, comment. I love this post – makes me think of all the dedicated cooking tools I have and the stories behind them that make baking such an enjoyable task. It also gives me a little more motivation to pull out all the tools and use the ingredients I’ve been collecting the past few weeks to make a few holiday treats to share!

    But I also wanted to share this post on A*T for a book Christmas tree that I saw and immediately thought of you. Funny, but I felt compelled to share … Maybe for the library?

    • says

      I was going to do that in the library! I didn’t, because the tree that was donated turned out to be a table top tree. Thank you for thinking of me. :)

  12. Jodi says

    I also trust the reviews at Cooks Illustrated, and if they say a knock-off brand is as good as Le Creuset, then I believe them. That said, I have two Le Creuset dutch ovens and I love them. They make me look like a genius in the kitchen. I have seen them at TJ Maxx in my area, and it might be worth checking out a Le Creuset outlet store. The southern California locations are Cabazon, Camarillo, Carlsbad, and Commerce. (And it’s weird that they all start with the letter C.)

  13. Richelle says

    Hello! I’ve been reading for a while (ehem. a year), but I’m not much of a commenter generally. A while ago (3 years? 5?) I read a Consumer Reports article that rated Target’s house brand enameled cast iron cookware higher than Le Creuset. Might be worth looking for the article (or the Cook’s Illustrated one mentioned above) if you’re still going back and forth on the Kohl’s one.

    We were gifted a Le Creuset casserole, and it’s great… but if I had to shell out for it, I’m not sure I’d have paid the $200 or whatever it was. One definite downside – the black handle on the lid is not totally heat proof, so you have to watch the oven temp if you’re going to go from stove top to oven. I’m not sure if the dutch ovens have a an all-metal lid, but ours does not.

  14. says

    I have both a Le Creuset and a Staub as well and I like them both. I do prefer the light enamel interior of the Le Creueset for certain things. The Staub has the little dimples on the lid to supposedly make it self-braising, but I can’t say I’ve noticed that. They are different sizes so I use them for different things, but they are by far the most used pots in my house.

    I got my Le Creuset at the Le Creuset outlet store – it’s a factory second but the imperfection doesn’t affect the performance at all. I have also seen good deals for them on ebay and every once in awhile amazon will have a killer deal on Le Creuset. I try really hard not to buy stuff from China (while acknowledging that it’s virtually impossible to do that completely) and this is one area where I’ve found a little scouting and patience pays off.

    fyi: (website for the factory outlet stores)

  15. says

    I don’t know about superstitious, but we have 5 kitchen items that we use so often that they rarely get put away: the 5qt cast iron french oven, the 10″ cast iron skillet, the 5qt stand mixer, the 7-cup food processor, and restaurant quality jelly roll pans. All were gifts in some manner or we’d probably still have them on a “someday” list.

    My original comment became quite lengthy so I just made my own blog post about what we have determined to be our most essential kitchen items. Suffice to say you should stop waffling and just use it. You’ll be sold on it within a month with all the cooking you do – assuming you actually use it.

  16. says

    I have a Lodge one. I’d been coveting a Le Crueset, and my husband bought me a Lodge on Amazon. I bitched about the color (a red/orange) and he returned it. 6 months later, we still needed a Dutch oven. He bought me a blue Lodge, I decided to embrace “cabin rustic” over “French chic” and we all lived happily ever after. My blue Lodge is great, heavy, BIG, no issues and it makes me feel like I know WTH I’m doing in the kitchen whenever I bust it out!

  17. HeatherL says

    We had been debating getting a Dutch oven for the same reasons. We didn’t want to spend the money on Le Crueset, but we don’t like to buy cheap things that will end up in a landfill in five minutes. It has been so long though, that I think my husband has decided that if we have lived without it for all this time, we really don’t need it. He cooks more of the things that you would use a Dutch oven for than I do, so he might be right. Maybe if we ever live somewhere with more than 2 cabinets. . .

  18. Karen F says

    Jules – the paragraph about the butter mug killed me – so funny!
    I have a tupperware mixing bowl that, if my house was on fire, I might try to grab it on my way out. I also have 2 identical mugs from the Black Dog Tavern in Martha’s Vineyard that are my butter mugs.
    I actually have a pancake recipe (Jamie Oliver) that requires no measuring other than using that bowl and mug. Perfect every time!
    I (sadly) don’t do a ton of cooking, but I have been contemplating a Lodge cast iron skillet. It’s not a huge investment, so I’m not sure what’s holding me back!
    I love the idea of a quality dutch oven, but I’m not sure how often I’d actually use it. I’m enjoying reading everyone’s feedback in the comments!

  19. Shannon says

    Your post reminds me of a story I read online somewhere about a woman whose grandmother had died. When they went through the kitchen found her handwritten recipes and wanted to keep them. But they couldn’t understand the measurements. All the recipes said things like, one blue of flour, one green of salt, two roosters of sugar. It wasn’t until they went through the cabinets and found a blue tea cup, a green plastic spoon and a rooster coffee mug that they realized what she used for measurements. I thought that was so charming it inspired me to use some alternatives measuring cups. I now have a white tea cup perfect for flour and a small wooden spoon for measuring.

  20. says

    I have the Martha Stewart enamel dutch oven and love it. It is about 3 years old and it has a few scratches on the inside, but not a single chip anywhere. I wouldn’t think of using any other pot for soups, stews, or chili and it is great for oven chicken recipes.

  21. says

    My mother has had her Le Creuset for 35 years, wait, maybe longer. It was a wedding present someone gave her and my dad. I think mine was worth every penny. The casserole dishes are great too.

    And of course you have a favorite mug for butter. Of course you do. :)

  22. says

    Cast iron is my best friend for breakfasts! My husband got me a giant griddle, and now I can’t make pancakes any other way. I, too, have a special mixing bowl for baking; it’s a crockery bowl I picked up when my grandmother moved to a retirement facility. Couldn’t imagine cooking without it. So I totally understand! Oh, and for a Dutch oven, I love cast iron. I would love a Le Creuset, too, but we’ll see what happens. I definitely need another big pot… and enameled sounds lovely.

  23. Jeannej says

    Roast some veggies in that Dutch oven. You will love it. I have the Macy’s Martha Stewart one. Eyeballing the smaller version but can’t justify the purchase. Like you I coveted one for a decade. It was a great addition to the cooking arsenal. When you have a fridge of vegetable scraps it’s a great way to use them all up and feel good about not wasting!

  24. says

    I have a Bean Pot from Celebrating Home which seems to be less expensive, and I’ve used it a couple times and it’s fun. I don’t like the ridge on the inside though, because it makes it difficult to clean out. I’d be interested in a real dutch oven, if it doesn’t have that ridge…

    Also, are they dishwasher safe? (I am not a cook….I’m a bit scared of big things)….

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