Several ancient cultures lay claim to the invention of enamel, but the Austrians and Germans can be credited for taking this brightly colored, crushed-glass surface out of the jewelry box and into the kitchen. It was discovered that when vitreous or "porcelain" enamel is bonded by high heat to metal, the resulting nonporous, nontoxic, and nonstick surface is not only an excellent heat conductor, but very durable when applied to pots, buckets, ovens, kitchen utensils—just about anything of a utilitarian nature.
In the foothills of the Austrian Alps, the Riess family factory has been making kitchen utensils for nine generations. The factory went hydroelectric in the 1930s, and since then all of its electricity has been powered by the local water source. In the town of Ybbsitz, they produce enamel-coated pots and pans fabricated from single sheets of steel, which makes them much lighter than cast iron. The choice of color is lighter too: many of Reiss's pots haven't altered at all since the 1950s. Perhaps a Riess founding father asked his frau what colors she'd like to cook with, and she replied "rose, blau, grün, und gelb." Riess interpreted these colors as soft deep pink, very delicate blue, palest green, and powdery yellow, all finished off with a clotted cream interior. The Riess palette continues to appeal today; here are some examples:
Above: The Green Milk Pot, 4 inches tall and 4 inches wide, is available for $48 at Provisions via Ancient Industries, my own shop.
Above: The Yellow Omelette Pan, 8.5 inches across and 1.75 inches high, is available for $45 at Ancient Industries. Various pieces of Riess enamelware in white are also for sale online at Rodale's and Potager.
Above: The Blue Enamel Porridge Pot, 5.5 inches across and 2.75 inches deep, is $48 and a sell-out item at Provisions; new stock expected in May.
Above: A more recent design from Riess, The Stackable Canister comes with an airtight ash wood lid. It is 2.5 inches tall and 3 inches wide, and is $44 at Rodale's.
The Blue Roaster, 13 inches long and 8 inches wide, is £40 from Objects of Use in Oxford, England.
Object Lessons columnist Megan Wilson is the owner of Ancient Industries and curator of the Remodelista 100, a collection of essential everyday objects presented in the Remodelista book. Watch for her column every Tuesday, and have a look at her past lessons on the Ercol Stacking Chair, the Trusty Tiffin Box, and the Humble Cotton Cleaning Cloth.