House Copper, Sara Dehmen
Handmade Copper Cookware
Sara Dahmen, The Ultimate Renaissance Woman
– A writer, coppersmith, apprentice tinsmith, mom and wife, not necessarily in that order. She is also the only professional woman making copper cookware whereby she creates her own product line, does copper restoration and custom products.
We asked Sara a few questions about her passion and the science about using copper cookware, its benefits and why it can last for generations.
How did you get started with coppersmithing and what inspired you to start working with metals?
Becoming a coppersmith was pure serendipity! I had written some historical fiction novels, and the research took me to what was in a pioneer kitchen – and to fully research how that kitchenware was made, I found a local tinsmith and coppersmith, Bob Bartelme, who invited me back to his shop to learn so many times that I ended up becoming his apprentice. From there, I slowly took on copper work, and filled my garage with tools and suddenly was a full-fledged coppersmith! I was desperately afraid of working with metal (and getting my hands hurt) in the beginning. But I loved how powerful I felt when successfully building a piece of cookware, and the rest is history!
What’s it like being a coppersmith?
Coppersmithing is a dirty job – there’s metal dust, buffing compound, fire, flux, smoke, fumes, and everything else. I divide my time building cookware using modern tools like drill presses and air compressors, and building cookware using traditional methods and tools from the late 1700 – and mid-1800s. Both kinds of cookware making are difficult in their own way. I particularly enjoy making large pieces of cookware 100% by hand with the rotary hand machines from the early 1800s.
What’s your favorite product to make?
I enjoy making my huge, heavy 12" copper skillet. They are really big pieces, but built to echo the original coppersmith skillets made in the 1800s.
What are some of the benefits of cooking with copper?
Copper is incredibly fast – it’s 25x more conductive than stainless steel using less heat to be faster – so it’s energy efficient and green all in the same sentence. The cooking process is extremely precise because copper reacts to heat so fast – so when you shut off the stove, the food stops cooking in seconds. It’s also, if lined with tin, naturally non-stick. And of course, it can be repaired for hundreds of years, keeping those landfills emptier!
How do you recommend people keep their copper cookware and products in good shape?
I recommend polishing with natural options as much as possible (like ketchup, or vinegar and flour, or lemon) every couple of months or after every 10 uses, especially if you are using gas. Don’t use metal utensils if you have tin-lined copper, and don’t heat the pan empty (and don’t cook or bake with it over 425F), and keep it out of the dishwasher (just like cast iron). Basically, treat your copper exactly like a prized seasoned cast iron skillet, except for the heat – cast iron can deal with lots of heat while empty and copper doesn’t need that heat to perform anyway, but don’t rev it up – and you’ll be set!
In addition to your crafting, you’re also an accomplished author and a mother! How do you balance it all?
Ha! Who says I balance it?!? Well, I sleep very little in order to get everything done, and my kids are in the copper shop with me often, so they are part of it all. I’m also a firm believer in detailed lists for every single day, which keeps me on task. I’m not good at sitting still. 🙂 Plus, writing for me not only pays the bills, but is a stress reliever. Writing comes very naturally, but it’s also way less physical, too. Obviously.