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 also 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 has been making kitchen utensils for nine generations. The Riess company's factory went hydroelectric in the 1930s, and all its electricity has since been powered by the local water source. In the town of Ybbsitz, Riess produces 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 founding father asked his frau what colors she'd like to cook with, and she replied, "rose, blau, grün, und gelb." Riess interpreted these 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 notable examples.
Five to Buy
Above: The Yellow Omelette Pan, 8.5 inches across and 1.75 inches deep, is available for $50 at Ancient Industries, my own shop. Various pieces of Riess enamelware in white are also for sale online at Rodale's and Potager.
Above: The half liter Green Milk Pot is $48 at Provisions via Ancient Industries. It's sold out, but will be restocked as soon as next week.
Above: A more recent design from Riess, the Stackable Canister comes with an airtight ash wood lid and is made in four sizes and five colors. This example is 2.5 inches tall and 3 inches wide; $44 at Rodale's, which also offers Riess Aromapots, loaf pans, and ladles.
Above: The Blue Roaster, 13 inches long and 8 inches wide, is £40 from Objects of Use, in Oxford, England.
Above: The Blue Enamel Porridge Pot, 5.5 inches across and 2.75 inches deep, is $48 at Provisions. It's currently out of stock, but will be available soon.
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 summer staples, including the Adirondack Chair, the Hurricane Lantern, and the Classic Canvas Tote. We featured her Connecticut shop in our post Purveyor of the Practical and the Timeless.
N.B.: This post is an update; the original story ran on April 15, 2014, as part of our Shades of Pastel issue.