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Vintage Enameled Cast Iron Cookware (Descoware, Cousances, Etc.)

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cheesemaestro Sep 10, 2010 11:36 AM

I've been looking at pots on eBay and other web sites: Descoware, Cousances, Dru Holland, Dansk Kobenstyle (not sure if this one is cast iron or steel) and early LC. Many of the items I've seen have taken a beating, but some appear to be in really good shape for their age. If you are familiar with any of these lines, I'd like to hear what you think about them, particularly Descoware and Cousances, but also the others. I know that Julia Child thought highly of Descoware and supposedly preferred it to LC. The prices certainly are tempting vs. buying new LC or Staub.

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  1. penthouse pup RE: cheesemaestro Sep 10, 2010 01:03 PM

    Cousances is an old name, now under Le Creuset if I am not mistaken. I have two of their ovens (brought over from France more than 20 years ago) and they work perfectly...

    5 Replies
    1. re: penthouse pup
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      Beckyleach RE: penthouse pup Sep 10, 2010 03:56 PM

      I've got vintage Le Creuset, Descoware, Dru Holland and Dansk. The Le Creuset and Descoware seem to hold up the best--it's easy to find virtually perfect examples on Ebay. It seems that the Dru--although it's lovely; I've got three casseroles in blue, and a large baking platter--chips more easily, as I rarely see a totally unblemished one of these. I have a Dansk paella pan and a sort of lasagne thingie, but they're lightweight and not nearly in the same class as the others.

      1. re: Beckyleach
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        Beckyleach RE: Beckyleach Sep 10, 2010 03:58 PM

        Oh, one more thing: the interior condition really is far more important that if there are a few chips or blemishes on the exterior (lid, handles, etc. ). If the interior is scorched, several scratched from some fool using metal utensils, or deeply chipped, the cooking experience goes out the window, I think...I've got one Le Creuset (a 3 quart round) that I bought even though I knew it had a "rough" interior (it was really cheap, at Goodwill), hoping I could clean it up. Nope. Food sticks to the rough surface and it's such a bitch to clean, I don't use it any more...

        1. re: Beckyleach
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          cheesemaestro RE: Beckyleach Sep 11, 2010 09:09 AM

          Thanks, Becky. A major selling point for Descoware was its lighter weight compared to other brands (about a third lighter). There's a school of thought that says that thicker walls and heavier is better for long oven braising and roasting, but my aging wrists are wishing for lighter!

          One more question: What do you think is the minimum size oval pot to roast a chicken in? Staub's chicken roasters are 5.5 quarts. I've seen some nice Descoware 4.5 quart roasters (about 11" x 8.5" x 4.25", not including the handles). Would that be large enough? There's a larger size Desco roaster, but good ones come up for auction less often.

          1. re: cheesemaestro
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            Beckyleach RE: cheesemaestro Sep 11, 2010 02:24 PM

            I don't have any oval pots! Clearly, I need to hie me hence to Ebay. ;-)

            So, I can't answer your question on that one. Sorry.

          2. re: Beckyleach
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            The Dame RE: Beckyleach Sep 11, 2010 11:23 AM

            Yep once the inside is truly cashed they are no good for cooking but make a lovely planter.

      2. Politeness RE: cheesemaestro Sep 11, 2010 10:20 AM

        cheesemaestro: "If you are familiar with any of these lines, I'd like to hear what you think about them, particularly Descoware and Cousances, but also the others."

        We have a few old Descoware pieces, and they are excellent, at least as good as our later-vintage (May of this year) Le Creuset. In all of the Descoware, the enamel of the inside cooking surface has crazed (but not chipped), but that is probably due to our early youthful ignorance about putting a cold pan onto a hot electric coil burner or putting cold water into a still-hot pan. Overall, the quality of Descoware was very high; it's a shame that Le Creuset killed Descoware and shut down the manufacturing facility after purchasing the company.

        However, for finish quality and cooking properties, the best enameled cast iron we have bears the Copco brand, a vanity line commissioned by the founder of Copco (and later OXO Good Grips), the legendary Sam Farber. Farber commissioned the late designer Michael Lax to design a full line of enameled cast iron, and had the pieces manufactured for Copco on a Danish island by Morsø, a company that is a major player in the cast iron stove industry.

        The new owners of Copco discontinued the cast iron cookware line. However, cast iron cookware using the same Michael Lax designs is still made and sold by AGA, the British stove maker; it is unlikely that the AGA cookware is made by Morsø; but I do not know if AGA manufactures it or merely markets its enameled cast iron cookware. If the new AGA cast iron using the Michael Lax designs is as good as the Morsø-manufactured Copco cast iron -- I cannot tell you whether it is or isn't -- it would be excellent.

        A search on eBay for "Michael Lax" sometimes will turn up Copco cast iron cookware. The prices often are a bargain for very excellent enameled cast iron.

        See also http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/6140...

        3 Replies
        1. re: Politeness
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          cheesemaestro RE: Politeness Sep 11, 2010 01:49 PM

          I didn't include Copco on the list, since I'm familiar with it. I have had a Michael Lax Copco dutch oven for years, and it has seen a lot of use in my kitchen. As you point out, the quality is excellent. The only thing I don't like about my piece is its lid. Lax designed it with two square loop handles that fit exactly over the handles on the pot. It's difficult to lift the lid when it is blazing hot, because the handles are small. You need both hands to do it, plus a place to set the lid down if you are going to give the pot a quick stir. It's so much easier (and safer) when there is a center knob/handle on a lid. Other than that, I would not hesitate to recommend Copco.

          1. re: cheesemaestro
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            ellabee RE: cheesemaestro Nov 13, 2010 01:08 PM

            I've alternately blessed and cursed that Michael Lax lid over the more than 35 years I've been cooking with it (an orange 4-quart size). On the plus side, the lack of a central knob means it can fit into a small oven with more clearance, and the pot can have something else stacked on it when in storage. But you do have to use both hands, well protected, to do anything with it during cooking.

          2. re: Politeness
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            Leolady RE: Politeness Sep 11, 2010 04:40 PM

            ITA!

            I have Le Creuset, Descoware, Cousances, and Copco cookware in my kitchen. I prefer the Copco for the quality of its construction and excellent design. Descoware is 2nd, and Cousances and Le Creuset bring up the rear.

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            themags RE: cheesemaestro Sep 11, 2010 10:52 AM

            AFAIK Cousances is made in the LC factory - it's the same thing. I bought a Cousances 4.8 litre oval roaster about 9 years ago new at a hypermarket in Calais for about 40 euros - quite a bit cheaper than Le Creuset for the same thing! I use it all the time - for stews, it handles the no-knead bread no probs, made a huge risotto the other day etc. Can't see why you'd spend like 5 times more for LC

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              cheesemaestro RE: cheesemaestro Sep 27, 2010 03:44 PM

              I almost forgot to update you all. I purchased a Descoware oval roaster (yellow/citron) on eBay. It's got one tiny chip on the rim of the cover; otherwise the inside and outside are in near perfect condition. It's a bit smaller than I would have liked, but I'm sure it will be put to good use this fall and winter.

              1. kaleokahu RE: cheesemaestro Sep 28, 2010 03:17 PM

                I have a wood-handled Belgique 6" saucepan, a 6" all-cast Descoware saucepan, a wood-handled Descoware 10" skillet, and a Descoware grill pan that qualify under your question. All at least 30 years old and in great shape. Cornflower yellow color on 3 of the 4.

                I also have about a dozen LC pieces from the '90s in the ubiquitous blue.

                I have to say that the enamel on my Descoware and Belgique appears heavier and smoother (and the colors look DEEPER, if that makes sense to you) than the that on my LC. I have had almost no chipping or discoloration on the older pieces, but an unsettling amount on the LC. In all cases, the LC is lighter in weight for equivalent sizes.

                You may find that many of the older pieces have enameled BOTTOMS, my D & B pieces all do, rather than bare cast iron. I actually like that, but for the fact that the skillet has a bottom rim, the enamel from which has worn (not chipped) in places.

                Hope this helps.

                5 Replies
                1. re: kaleokahu
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                  cheesemaestro RE: kaleokahu Sep 28, 2010 03:40 PM

                  Thanks for your response. The Descoware oval roaster that I just bought (see my entry just above yours) does indeed have an enameled bottom. I'm hoping that won't be a problem on my glasstop range, although I expect that the roaster will see more oven than stovetop use. (Glasstop manufacturers recommend against using glass cookware, like the old Visions line, as the glass supposedly can fuse to the glasstop under high heat. Enamel is basically a form of superhard glass.)

                  I'm surprised that your LC pieces are lighter than your Descoware for equivalent sizes. A big selling point for Descoware was that it was claimed to be about 35% lighter than other enameled cast iron cookware available at the time. Perhaps LC in the '50s was heavier than in the '90s.

                  1. re: cheesemaestro
                    kaleokahu RE: cheesemaestro Sep 28, 2010 03:50 PM

                    Sure. I have my older pieces at a beach house that has a radiant glass cooktop, and I've had no problems with glass-on-glass. Nor with the rimmed skillet being up off the deck a mm or two.

                    I have no vintage LC to compare with my vintage Descoware, Belgique as far as weight goes. Maybe there was a modern trend toward lightening. They both work great.

                    1. re: cheesemaestro
                      Politeness RE: cheesemaestro Sep 28, 2010 08:28 PM

                      cheesemaestro: "The Descoware oval roaster that I just bought (see my entry just above yours) does indeed have an enameled bottom. I'm hoping that won't be a problem on my glasstop range ..."

                      Partial comfort and assurance: We have Descoware, enameled on the bottom. It has never performed below flawlessly on our "glass"top cooktops. Mostly, we have used the pieces on induction cooking areas. However, I an pretty certain that we used the Descoware on the ribbon radiant side of our former half-induction, half-ribbon radiant cooktop, and without a problem.

                      1. re: Politeness
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                        cheesemaestro RE: Politeness Sep 29, 2010 06:53 AM

                        Thanks. I'm feeling more confident that I made a good choice. I should point out that there is a thin ridge around the pot's bottom perimeter. Only the ridge rests directly on the cooktop. Most of the bottom is slightly raised above it.

                        1. re: cheesemaestro
                          Politeness RE: cheesemaestro Sep 29, 2010 06:59 AM

                          Yes, ours has that same ridge. It sort of gives a lie to the oft-heard maxim, "the pan must have a perfectly flat bottom," doesn't it?

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                    hnoeld RE: cheesemaestro Oct 18, 2010 11:58 AM

                    Since this is a recent discussion, I'm hopeful all the knowledge here may be able to shed some light on cookware of my own. First let me say I have a Cousances doufeu from the 50s at least that I adore. In my friends' new LC is any indication, the enameling on it is certainly holding up better than the newer LC...or maybe I just treat it better? Who knows!

                    Knowing how I love my Cousances, I was recently gifted a set from a friend. No matter how I try I can't seem to find information that would help with its age. I feel it must be newer, after LC purchased the brand, because it is enameled on the bottom, whereas my original isn't. It consists of a dutch oven, a saucepan, a skillet and a roasting pan/ lasagna pan--all cast iron with a kelly green glaze outside and cream enamel on the inside. The saucepan has a wooden handle, the skillet is cast iron. There is a lid that fit both the saucepan and the skillet. (The skillet is not enameled inside.)

                    I am trying at least to determine how long LC made products under the Cousances name after purchasing the company. I also feel like the wooden handle on the saucepan and the enameled bottoms should be a dead giveaway as to their age, but my sleuthing abilities have yet to uncover anything. Can you all help?!

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: hnoeld
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                      dissaffected01 RE: hnoeld Nov 30, 2011 10:47 PM

                      @hnoeld; Did you ever find out when your gifted set was made? I just got (well, it's on its way) a 5.5 qt dutch oven that sounds an awful like what you have and am wondering myself when it was made.

                    2. erica RE: cheesemaestro Oct 20, 2010 10:12 AM

                      This is interesting to me because I own a couple of c.1970s Dansk Kobenstyle covered enamel casseroles (white inside and out) that I have never used. Doing a bit of research, it appears that these are not nearly as hardy as the LC enamelware..one source advises using only low heat and not using any metal utensils.

                      Can anyone shed some light on usage guidelines for these pieces? Thanks!

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: erica
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                        Chanteuse_ar RE: erica Oct 27, 2011 10:11 AM

                        You can use them for normal cooking if you like but keep in mind that the enamel is glass based and can chip. I purchased a piece on eBay and a huge chunk of the enamel broke off and shattered in shipping. Personally I feel the thin bottoms of the older cookware would produce poor heat distribution on a stove top...a very hot spot directly over the heat source and uneven heat everywhere else.

                        Also, if you look for them on eBay or Etsy, you will almost 100% of the time see what people call a Kobenstyle Paella pan. These are not paella pans (most Americans weren't making paella in the 50's and most didn't even know what it was). These round pans are buffet servers and were not meant to be cooked in, though normal cooking/baking probably won't harm them most of the time. You should use utensils that have been made for non-stick cookware as the interiors of the cookware can become severely scratched if you use metal ones and once they're scratched, it's impossible to get the pans white again.

                        Newer pieces of the cookware were made with a heavier bottom and you can identify these by looking for a black outer bottom.

                        I have a very large collection of Kobenstyle and I use them all as serving pieces only.

                        1. re: Chanteuse_ar
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                          AsperGirl RE: Chanteuse_ar Nov 1, 2011 04:54 AM

                          It's my understanding that under the porcelain enamel, the Kobenstyle are not cast iron, but sheet iron. It's so beautiful, tho, that I'd love to get some, and as you say, use them as serving pieces.

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                        iliria RE: cheesemaestro Oct 30, 2011 06:13 AM

                        I had a Cousances frying pan (with grey enamel on the inside) and it was a nightmare to cook with and clean. My new Staub pot (with black interior enamel) is an absolute joy to cook with and clean in comparison.

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                          blondelle RE: cheesemaestro Nov 1, 2011 07:06 AM

                          My concern regarding vintage enamelware would be the lack at the time of the more stringent controls on harmful chemicals in the enamel that we have now. Older flame, yellow and red pieces contain cadmium, and LC had to reformulate their enamel to a stricter code. Those colors still contain cadmium, but supposedly LC's updated enamel keeps it from being released when heated. Some of the older pieces might also contain more lead than is allowed now.

                          Enamel has improved over the years so today's enamel might hold up better. I had a set of Flame 30 years ago that didn't hold up well at all. The interior enamel thinned and lost it's shine quickly, and the matte black interior fry pan rusted under the enamel. The saucepan rim chipped badly too.

                          6 Replies
                          1. re: blondelle
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                            cheesemaestro RE: blondelle Nov 1, 2011 08:04 AM

                            As the person who started this thread over a year ago, I've since acquired two pieces of Descoware: a 4.5-quart oval roaster and a 6-quart round pot, both yellow and in excellent condition. The colored enamel, is, of course, on the outside of the pot. It isn't likely that the cadmium, or any other dangerous chemical, could get from the outside into the food. Are you concerned that, once heated up, the enamel might be sending dangerous fumes into the air? Is there any evidence of that? So far, both of my pieces have held up very well, as has an orange Copco pot that I have owned for many years.

                            1. re: blondelle
                              Jay F RE: blondelle Nov 1, 2011 02:03 PM

                              Blondelle - Do you know when LC changed their formulation on Flame? Would pieces bought in 1979 be toxic, or at least more toxic than ones bought in 1999 or today?

                              Thanks, Jay

                              1. re: Jay F
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                                blondelle RE: Jay F Nov 1, 2011 08:12 PM

                                Jay, I'm sorry but I don't know. Why not call LC and ask. 877-CREUSET.

                                1. re: blondelle
                                  Chemicalkinetics RE: blondelle Nov 1, 2011 08:49 PM

                                  Well, except a person cannot just ask the question "Are the cookwares toxic?" What company believe and answer "Well, our cookwares used to be toxic, but not anymore." They always say their cookwares are safe and have always been safe. Specific and meaningful questions need to be formulated.

                                  Cadmium has always used in these enameled or ceramic cookware as you mentioned. The enamel process probably ramp up to a higher temperature to seal the cadmium and lead inside the enameled porcelain. All enameled cast iron cookwares have to follow the California Proposal 65. So they are all the same in that respect.

                                  1. re: blondelle
                                    Jay F RE: blondelle Nov 2, 2011 09:11 AM

                                    Blondelle, I've been thinking about buying a used 4.5 qt. I traded mine in years ago for new LC, and IIRC, I liked the bare cast iron bottom better than I do the coated one (though it *is* nice to be able to leave the coated ones in the sink to soak). I think I'll take the chance anyway, as I cooked in Flame for years with no ill effect.

                                    1. re: Jay F
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                                      blondelle RE: Jay F Mar 25, 2012 03:30 PM

                                      I don't think the bottoms without the colored enamels are raw iron. I believe they are just the base coat enamel that's sprayed all over before the glossy, colored topcoat of enamel is applied to the rest of the pan

                                      Chemical, I didn't mean to ask them if their older cookware was toxic. I agree that no company is going to admit liability. I meant to just ask them when they changed over to their newer enamel and if there was any way you can tell the newer pieces.

                              2. Kagemusha RE: cheesemaestro Nov 2, 2011 09:20 AM

                                My late Mom had a sizeable collection of Descoware. Like most, she used some pieces regularly, others occasionally, some hardly at all. It's tough stuff. Like most older consumer goods on offer, much of it is beat from long, heavy use. Sometimes, though, you'll find items that are nearly NOS or barely used from 30-50 years ago. Next to photographic gear, cookware is what I like to buy in that condition. It's out there but requires patience and fortitude to track down. Descoware is my fave.

                                Also have several older Dansk enameled steel and cast iron pieces that have taken us through thick and thin with minimal wear.

                                1. Delucacheesemonger RE: cheesemaestro Nov 2, 2011 09:46 AM

                                  Sorry l am late to the party. l have @ 15 pieces of Descoware, all in flame, so we do not compete on Ebay, obviously love them. Also have a LS doufeu , the largest made and a Staub cobalt blue 3.5 Qt. saucepan from WS. All work well, all look like new. You might want to look for a Descoware 10-11 inch skillet with the screw on wooden handle. Also with the top on the Descoware oval and round roasters, l put a wine cork under the height of the handle and it allows me to remove and replace the top without pot holders by picking the top up with the cork alone.

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                                    AsperGirl RE: cheesemaestro Dec 1, 2011 05:56 AM

                                    This thread is wonderful. It taught me a lot. I ordered quite a few pieces off ebay, mostly Descoware, and I'm happily using them, one by one.

                                    I do have a question: I ordered a couple of vintage saute pans where the pans are in beautiful shape, but when they arrived it looks like the screw-in wooden handles might need to be replaced if I use them regularly. Does anyone know of how to replace them? Or should I get out my whittling knife?

                                    2 Replies
                                    1. re: AsperGirl
                                      kaleokahu RE: AsperGirl Dec 1, 2011 09:04 AM

                                      Hi, AsperGirl:

                                      It depends on how the handles are attached. IME, older pans simply had solid wooden handles that were threaded to mate with the pan's handle socket--for these, you just unscrew. Newer pans may have handles that have no threads at all, but are center-drilled to accept a threaded metal rod--these you unscrew the end pommel, slide the wood handle off, and then unhook the rod from the pan's socket.

                                      As far as *where* to get them, if you have LC, chances are they offer replacements. But if your maker is defunct, you either have to scrounge/cannibalize or have a woodwright make you one. This latter option will cost you, but not a fortune. Pretty easy actually.

                                      No, don't whittle yourself one. That way lies madness and the hospital.

                                      Aloha,
                                      Kaleo

                                      1. re: AsperGirl
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                                        cancooktoo RE: AsperGirl Jan 20, 2012 09:47 PM

                                        I personally LOVE Descoware, and I like and use my French makers' pieces as well. There is an artisan on Etsy.com who makes replacement handles for the screw in handle pieces. I haven't needed one yet, but they are out there, should you need one.

                                        http://www.etsy.com/listing/68947145/...

                                        Happy Cooking!

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                                        TobysNewCreation RE: cheesemaestro Mar 24, 2012 04:10 PM

                                        I use Descoware as it seems to be fairly easy to find at thrift stores - of course the handles are usually missing. I was able to find a store on Etsy that sells replacements so I'm finally able to use my collection :-) http://www.etsy.com/shop/UnboxedHunte...

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