Ah, World Kitchen, the company that purchased Corning's consumer products division in 1998 which, incidentally, included Pyrex. Don't you fret, I will be touching on the original Boro-Pyrex in the future because World Kitchen changed it's formula from Borosilicate to cheaper Soda Lime when it moved production to China. (That is another post)
What exactly IS real CorningWare?
CorningWare was a happy accident, or rather the product of a malfunction. You see, it was way back in 1953...... (Queue flashback music here)
Mr. S. Donald Stookey of R & D was testing a type of glass plate used in early TV production..... The furnace malfunctioned and the temperature rose from 600C (1112 F) to 900C (1652F). Surprisingly, the glass plate didn't melt into a glowing viscous pool, though it DID turn a funky shade of white. Which doesn't make for satisfactory television viewing. Convinced that the test was a failure, Mr. Stookey attempted to removed the tile of milky white glass from the furnace, but had a butter finger moment and dropped the tile on the floor. To his utter surprise, it did not shatter into a million pieces. On further inspection of this strange material it was discovered that the abnormal conditions within the furnace had crystallized the glass.
What does this mean? Normally glass is an amorphous "mix", meaning there is no organization to the molecules, thus light passes through. Once crystallization occurs, the order to the molecules begins to make the glass cloudy. Thus the white color. Another characteristic of normal glass is thermal expansion, meaning it expands when it is warmed and contracts when it is cold. Some forms of glass, such as Boro-Silicate (Pyrex) have much less expansion, meaning that the glass will not shatter or break during temperature changes such as oven baking. One of the advantages to this partial crystallization of glass is that thermal expansion is reduced to almost zero. This is why Pyro-Ceramic glass (Old CorningWare) can be taken directly from the refrigerator and placed on the stove, or moved from the freezer to a hot oven without shattering. Don't try that with the modern stoneware.
This material was so completely awesome that Corning began manufacturing missile nose cones out of it. Suddenly, in 1958 it was realized that this new "space age" material would be a great cooking receptacle.
And so was released the first piece of "CorningWare" from the plant (I think it was the New York plant, but it might have been the West Virginia plant)
1966 - An "Amber-transparent" Pyro-Ceram is developed, but not released in the US for fear of reducing sales of both Pyrex Ovenware and Pyro-Ceram white CorningWare. This product would eventually become "Visions", manufactured in Avon, France in the late 70s.
1966 - My parents received a bunch of the Cornflower printed CorningWare as wedding gifts (some of which I now use today along with pieces my grandmother has handed down to me as well - testament to it's durability and long life)
1972 - The dishes became slightly more straight sided and had larger side handles. But I will get into specific printed patterns at a later date, for there are many. And each one of us kids have amassed different patterns in our collections.
1975 - Merry Mushroom pattern released to coordinate with the "Merry Mushroom" collection sold only at Sears & Roebuck. The dishes were round like the buffet servers, but had lids from Pyrex's "Sculptured Ovenware" line.
1978 - My favorite pattern was introduced.... French White. I know, this is the pattern that World Kitchen is still producing in Stoneware, but it's a sloppy reproduction in an inferior material. The edges are not as crisp and clean as the original Pyro-Ceram version and they are not as gleamingly white, having a slightly "off" tinge to them. But I digress.
1981 - "Visions" Amber by Corning (Avon, France) is introduced to the American Market due to slumping sales of White Corningware. It becomes so popular that the Martinsburg, WV plant begins production of Visions as well.
1982 - 1984 a French Bisque was introduced which was a beige and brown stippled design painted onto the outside surface of the French White. (There was a French Bleu produced as well, but the production run was EXTREMELY short. Thus they are REALLY hard to find)
1987 - The original Cornflower design was retired (until 2009, but that is another post)
1989 - Non-stick surfaces added to Amber Visions in order to boost sales.
1990 - two new and exciting things hit the market, first was the French Black which was a black, not white, version of French White. The first time that CorningWare came in a different color. (All previous "colors" such as the avocado and gold buffet servers had been painted on.)
1992 - Cranberry Colored "Visions" is released.
1994 - Corning's consumer division is in trouble.... Pattern after pattern is released in an attempt to boost sales. But CorningWare is a victim of it's own success. Due to it's durability, CorningWare simply doesn't break. It's designed for a lifetime and that is the ultimate problem. It rarely needed replacing, so sales continue to fall...
1995 - Shane, that would be me, buys his first 2 pieces of Corningware (Though I had grown up with my mom using the CornFlower from her wedding in 1966) For me, it was a French White "set". The 1.5 liter Souffle dish (without a lid) and a 10 inch quiche/tart dish. Love at first bake.
1998 - The consumer division is up for sale and subsequently purchased by Borden, Inc.... The beginning of the end for Pyroceram cookware in the United States.
2000 - Borden, Inc declares bankruptcy and reorganizes into World Kitchen, LLC. World Kitchen begins manufacturing Stoneware facsimiles of "French White" constricted out of stoneware produced in in China. (Christmas of 2000 and 2001 saw the last "back stocked" F-3 French White Quiche dish pieces sold with an applied "Holiday" design on the inside bottom)
2007 - In a panic, Shane, that would be me again, runs to the store to purchase a 4 quart CorningWare dish to make a humungous casserole for some function which I cannot remember right now. Upon opening the box, Shane is completely dumfounded by the fact that it appears to be Stoneware instead of "Corningware". To make sure that insanity has not settled upon him, he checks his Souffle dish and Tart dish and several of the older Cornflower dishes that his mom passed on to him (cause they are still going strong after 40 years) and finds that they are completely smooth on the bottom, aside from the glass pour ripples. Annoyed, Shane calls World Kitchen to ask where he can purchase Pyroceram French White Corningware. Customer Service politely calls him a liar, stating that Corningware never produced French White (from 1978 - 1998) and it has only been produced in Stoneware since World Kitchen purchased the Corning Consumer Division. (Which brings me to the angst I hold towards the company)
2007 - Present - Shane has, and still does, obsessively comb through countless St. Vincent DePaul's, Salvation Army's, Good Will's and antique stores as well as perusing eBay, Etsy, Classic Kitchens & More, Ruby Lane and Replacements.com to hunt down Original Corningware pieces pre-1999 for both myself as well as friends and family members. (This is how collections start, right?)
2009 - To my surprise, World Kitchen re-released the CornFlower version of Pyroceram Corningware under the name of "Stove Top" which is funny, cause the original stuff (before they tampered with it) was always able to be used on the stove, in the microwave, in the oven and under the broiler as well as storage in the refrigerator and freezer. Evidently enough people have been screaming for it. I have no idea if this is a limited release or not, but it is available on their web site in both Retro Cornflower, European Herbs, White Swirl (which is limited edition), Sakura (cherry blossom), Simple Lines (black line swoops), Shadow Iris and and Just White. AWESOME!!!!! Though alas, still no return of the original French White.
But I have much less angst towards them for calling me a liar.
September 2011 - I decided to start this Blog in an effort to get any information I may have that might be helpful to fellow Corningware-ophiles out onto the Internet.
As far as pattern preferences are concerned.... I, technically, am a French White guy, but it's forte is really in the oven, not so much on the stove top, due to it's lack of handles. Because of this, I have several (OK, many) pieces of traditional "square" Cornflower and I am always looking for more pieces of Wheat... (All of which are P-series, prior to 1972 and have the smaller handle lugs)
From Casseroles to Sauce pots with clip on handles.....
Look forward to interesting pieces as well as some great recipes utilizing Corningware for it's intended purpose... On the Stove top as well as in the oven.
Incidentally, I use my big 5 quart Pot to make Boeuf Bourguignon, since I do not have an enameled Cast Iron pot big enough. Works like a charm... In fact, it's very similar to cooking in cast iron... Slow to heat, but once hot, it holds the heat well. From the stove top where I brown the beef, and right into the oven for 2 1/2 hours...
I am also interested in any Corningware stories any readers may have. I personally have dropped many pieces onto my Kitchen floor, which is tiled... Not a single piece has broken (Except for the stoneware one I bought on accident)...Would have served better as a boat anchor anyway.
Where is Your Corningware?