Cleaning Coloured Pyrex

At my last flea market, one of the other vendors (a lovely lady selling the most fabulous knitwear) asked me how I get my Pyrex so clean and shiny. She’d had some issues keeping hers looking its best, and was wondering if I had any tips or tricks. I kind of brushed it off with an, “Oh, I just wash it!” But later I thought about it and realized that I really do have a process that I use. I thought I would share it here so that I can help other collectors.

For the purpose of demonstration, I’ll use the two pieces that came into my possession recently. The top one is a JAJ Pyrex casserole in the Market Garden pattern from 1971. (James A. Jobling’s company produced Pyrex in England from 1921 through 1973, when the patent rights reverted to Corning; after this point, the “Pyrex England” backstamp was used.) The bottom is a rectangular casserole from 1956 by the American Pyrex division in the Snowflake pattern, which is the very first pattern that was ever screen printed onto Pyrex. Given the age and condition of these pieces, I really want to keep the designs intact. Most importantly, when I got them there were no chips or nicks, which is something even the best cleaning can’t fix!

To be honest, these dishes aren’t in the worst condition of the ones that have come into my collection; some good examples of how bad it can get are in my old Cleaning Glass post. As is quite common, the inside of the casseroles were in pretty good shape, since people are most picky about keeping the parts that touch their food in the best shape, but the bottoms were worse off. But do not despair if you see this brown residue on a dish that you want, since it will totally come off with a bit of work!

One of the most important things I can say about cleaning old coloured Pyrex, whether it be solid-colour or screen-printed, is not to put it in the dishwasher. They won’t warp or chip in there — after all, they’re meant for the oven and even the oldest are safe for the microwave if there’s no metallic trim. However, the harsh chemicals and high heat of the dishwasher can fade or even completely erase the beautiful colours over time, so I really would recommend avoiding it! Of course, modern Pyrex and Corningware are dishwasher-safe, so if you’re not sure of the age of a piece, look for the stamp on the bottom that labels it as such.

On the Market Garden piece, the worse part was where food debris had collected in the edge around the rim. This is usually really hard to get out, but I have a technique for that which works for most dishes.

When cleaning coloured Pyrex, one of the things you want to avoid the most is heavy-duty scrubbing. So, no highly abrasive cleaning powders or scouring pads! (Although I’m quite enamoured of Lee Valley’s stainless-steel chain mail scrubber, which is great for cast iron, it would utterly ruin a Pyrex dish.) So your best bet is to fill up a sink with hot water and a generous helping of dish soap, and then let that sit overnight. Yes, the same technique for tackling the roasting pan from the Christmas turkey works with Pyrex, but why wouldn’t it?

When it comes time to scrub the dishes in the soapy water, I like to use the double-sided cleaning sponges with the green scrubber. I find that they’re generally abrasive enough to get rid of stains, yet not abrasive enough to remove designs (unless you scrub for a really long time — always be careful!).

And here you can see my secret weapon: bamboo skewers. They’re perfect for getting into tiny little areas that accumulate grime, but because they’re so breakable it’s really difficult to scratch the finish with them. The wide end of the skewer can even be used to concentrate your effort on areas with a thick layer of baked-on grease; I used them to great effect on my enameled cast-iron pan. As a bonus, they’re not strong enough to go through the enamel on cast-iron either (on which you also don’t want to use anything too abrasive lest you damage the finish).

I was lucky this time in that the Snowflake dish came completely clean with this treatment, even though it looked like it was in the worst shape. So I only had to do the next step on the Market Garden piece: a paste of baking soda and lemon or lime juice. The juice is acidic and the baking soda is slightly abrasive, which makes for a perfect cleaning combination. I left the past on overnight to dry, then added more lemon juice to scrub off the stains the next morning. Then, for a super-shiny finish, I gave it one more good wash in dish soap and water.

Sometimes, with dishes in really rough shape, you have to repeat these steps a few times. One other thing you can try, although only as a last resort, is a sink full of hot water and a single dishwasher detergent packet, left to sit overnight. I only do this when the dishes have resisted every other cleaning method, because the detergent is really harsh and concentrated. But I much prefer using one of the packets instead of giving up altogether! However, this time I didn’t have to resort to such drastic measures.

So here are my cleaning results:

Pristine bottom surfaces.

Edges like new.

And interiors from which you’d be happy to serve any guest.

So next time you see an old Pyrex piece that’s a bit worse for wear, don’t automatically discard it because of the amount of work that’d be involved bringing it up to snuff. It may take a couple of rounds of soaking, but it can look like new again without all that much elbow grease!

613flea Saturday July 7th

This coming Saturday I’ll be bringing my vintage kitchenware booth to 613flea at Aberdeen Pavilion at Lansdowne Park. You’ll be able to find me in the northwest side of the building, one row north of center. As there will be 110 vendors there and the amount of sights to see can sometimes become a bit overwhelming, here’s a handy map:

The organizers of the market have started a contest among the vendors for most creative social media post. The winner receives their booth rental at the next event for free! I would love to win this prize, but I’m really not a graphic artist like Carabara Designs or Scatterbee. I had to make do with my photography editing skills. I worked on this for hours, and in the end I came up with two designs that I thought had promise. The first featured some my my colourful vintage Tupperware:

And the second a selection of my Blue Cornflower CorningWare coffee pots and percolators:

I’m honestly at a loss for which one I prefer, although I rather like how the high contrast makes the CorningWare one look like a vintage magazine advertisement.

Which one do you prefer?

Work in Progress

Still working on costumes! (This will remain a constant for the next week and a bit.) Hence, not a lot of cooking going on around here. But I do have some progress to report:

Thing 2’s costume is mostly done. I need to make two more pouches (why does this character have so many pouches?) and a bit more detail work. Oh, and a mask. But it feels almost complete, anyway. If you know the game, by now you’ll be able to recognize what it’s supposed to be, anyway.

In thrifting news, I was looking for costume parts the other day when I stumbled upon a food mill for $7.99. It’s pristine, in great working order, and has a total of three different sized disks. I’d been considering buying one of these new for ages, mostly for applesauce and apple butter, but I’d put it off because I really couldn’t justify the expense. But for that price, I wasn’t going to wait! Hopefully it will speed up the process come autumn.

Russell Flea on Saturday

It’s my second flea market at Russell Flea this coming Saturday (9:00am to 3:00pm), and I am super excited. I think I’m starting to get the hang of this booth set-up and tear-down thing. I’m really looking forward to meeting all kinds of new people and hopefully chatting about cooking, collecting, and handicrafts.

This Saturday my booth will be in the cafetorium — that’s essentially the cafeteria with a stage at the back that’s to the left of the main entrance. You should be able to see me off to your left as soon as you go through the cafetorium doors. (Am I the only one who thinks that the word “cafetorium” is kind of silly? I mean, it’s no worse than the “gymatorium” in the elementary school that I grew up with, which is an even sillier word, if you ask me. All of these combos just mean that the sports groups and performing arts groups have to compete for time and space, anyway.)

This very much not-to-scale map shows you where you should be able to find me. I combined two layouts that were done to different scales so that I could draw that red arrow. But I hope it’s clear enough.

One of the items I’ll be bringing back this week is the footstool/table that I upcycled from a vintage suitcase. It hasn’t found a home yet, so this might be your chance to snap it up.

I did hope to make a few more items in time for Saturday, but I’ve been experiencing technical difficulties, namely that I keep snapping drill bits. I’ll hit the hardware store tomorrow and try to pick up a stronger bit. If all goes well, some all-new upcycled items (if that’s the proper term) will be ready for the weekend.

I’ve also added a bunch of items to my vintage kitchenware lineup — I wish that I could keep them all, but I just don’t have the space! These sweet 1980’s Pyrex mixing bowls have a clear bottom. With the practicality that one expects from this brand, the colour is on the outside of the bowl, with clear glass inside so the colour shines through. This means that you can use a hand mixer or similar tool without having to worry that you’ll scratch the finish off. These things are definitely built to last.

Hope to see you there!

My First Market!

Tomorrow will be my first ever flea market as a vendor, and I am so excited! It doesn’t matter that I’ve worked retail off and on since I was old enough to get a job, or that I’ve worked in a second-hand shop, or that I’ve put together what seems like dozens of successful garage sales. This is the first time I’ve run what is essentially my own little shop. I’m both excited and nervous, as if I’m prepping for a really important job interview. I really, really hope I don’t mess it up!

I’ve set up a trial run of my booth in my half-finished basement so that I can be sure that I have everything together that I’ll need. At the same time, I have to make sure I don’t take more than I need (although I’ll need a bit of overstock to replenish the table as the day goes on), since I have to cram everything in my little hatchback. It’s really a balancing act.

My first market is at Russell Flea, which runs this Saturday, March 24th from 9:00am to 3:00pm at Russell High School (982 N Russell Rd, Russell, ON). I’ll be in the atrium this week, straight down the hall from the main entrance, on the right (in an classy spot directly across from the bathrooms).

Basically, I’ll be taking my passion for found, free, and flea, and turning it on its head to work behind the counter. I’ll even be bringing a few upcycled creations of my own to put on the floor. (No pics of those yet, since they’re small furniture and I don’t have an appropriately large area to photograph them at home free at the moment.) So please wish me luck!

Saint Patrick’s Day Thrifting

This past Saturday I spent the day with a good friend of mine down in the Glebe. We started with a Saint Patrick’s Day lunch at Patty’s Pub, where we had great food and conversation while we listened to the live band playing Irish folk music. Then we headed out to 613flea (a great urban flea market) just up the road in the Aberdeen Pavilion in Lansdowne Park. When we finished there, we browsed the Ottawa Antique Market, and then we rounded out our day by perusing a second-hand charity shop. I know it’s not the kind of thing that everyone’s into (heaven knows my husband has no interest whatsoever), but my friend and I had a fabulous time!

Of course, I did return home with a few treasures. I think my favourite one of the bunch is a copy of the 1889 (seventieth edition) printing of the 1877 volume The Home Cook Book, which was compiled by the Ladies of Toronto and Chief Cities and Towns in Canada as a fundraiser for the Sick Kids Hospital. From what I understand, this is the very first Canadian cookbook that was compiled by an organization to be sold in order to raise funds. It’s such a common thing to do these days (especially as it gets easier and easier to self-publish inexpensively) that most of us who like to cook have at least one of these in our collection — and have probably contributed to a few.

I’m really looking forward to diving into this book and trying to recreate some of the recipes. It’s going to be interesting, because the instructions are sparse and often vague as so many old cookbooks often are, since they assume a great deal of previous experience on the part of the reader. The book also refers to culinary techniques, measurements, and ingredients we don’t use any more. I mean, what is a quiet oven? Or a quick oven? Do we even grow Spitzenberg or Greening apples any more in Canada? When they talk about currants, do they mean dried or fresh? How much does a wineglass hold? Or a teacup? I’m going to be doing a lot of Googling, I tell you.

Now, I love the feel and smell of old books, but this is the digital age after all and the book is well out of copyright. It was actually archived online by the University of Toronto and the Toronto Public Library; you can check it out in all its glory here. Or if you’re like me and you don’t want your old books contaminated by kitchen spatter, when you’re cooking you can always pull up the digital version on your phone or tablet.

The fantastic old cookbook wasn’t my only find, though! I picked up an 8×10″ print of Carabara Designs‘ hand-lettered print of the “Do you want ants?” quote from the TV show Archer. I am constantly amazed by my kids’ capability to utterly destroy the kitchen with two pieces of toast, so I’ve been thinking this a lot lately.

The print has pride of place on the side of the cupboard above the kitchen counter peninsula, hopefully where the kids will see it. But kids being kids, they probably won’t even notice. Ah, well. I think it’s perfect, and it even matches the paint job. Now all I need is a coordinating print to go underneath.

Last but not least, I picked up some Fuzzy Navel Jam from Tastes of Temptation. This jam tastes just like summer, which is exactly what I need right about now. Honestly, I liked everything they had on offer, but this was the one that made me smile the most. Spread on a piece of fresh homemade bread, it makes a divine snack with a cup of tea!

Cleaning Glass

Because I am passionate about thrifting, a lot of second-hand items come my way from friends and family, garage sales, thrift shops, charity stores, estate sales and moving sales. I’d like to say that everything that I get comes in tip-top shape, but unfortunately that’s not the case. A certain amount of wear-and-tear is expected, especially when it comes to vintage or antique pieces that have seen everyday use. That doesn’t bother me at all. What I will not condone the level of filth of some of these items.

That isn’t to say that I won’t work with something that is scuzzy. On the contrary — but I won’t keep an item that I can’t get clean. Luckily, a lot of kitchen items are metal, glass, or plastic, which can all be recycled in this area if I can’t bring them up to an acceptable level. But I much prefer to put some elbow grease into it to get things spic and span again if I can. Reuse before recycling, if possible, as it were. If you factor in the time it takes me to clean pieces like this, it’s probably not cost-effective, but to me it’s still worth it to keep something perfectly serviceable out of a landfill or recycling center. Those teachers who repeated, “Reduce, reuse, recycle!” to me as a child should be happy that something stuck.


Before and after cleaning of some glass cookware that I came by recently.

Clear glass, especially Pyrex and Anchor ware, are some of my favourites when it comes to bringing things back up to snuff. The heavy, clear glass is impermeable, so even long-standing coatings of dirt and grease don’t sink under the surface. This glassware is dishwasher-safe, so often I can get the machine to do a lot of the work for me. I mean, there are all kinds of tricks online to help remove different kinds of gunge, but in my experience a lot of soap, hot water, soaking, and scrubbing usually does the trick. I’ve discovered that one of the best things to use to scrape off stubborn, caked-on food is bamboo skewers. You can put a fair amount of pressure behind the wood, but it’s still fragile enough that it will break before scratching or etching the glass.

There’s just something terribly satisfying about seeing what was once a shamefully dirty dish become something you wouldn’t hesitate to use to serve your grandmother.