Nothing Says Grandma Like Club Aluminum

My maternal grandmother was a good baker and a good cook of meats (usually beef) and vegetables. Her use of Grandpa’s garden vegetables in stews and ratatouilles came from being raised on a farm by a mother who was a good cook. She loved her Club Aluminum pans, and the one I most remember was the Dutch Oven. Since my grandmother’s father and my grandfather (her husband) were Dutch, as a kid, I thought it was a pot that was original to the Netherlands, not realizing that is its official name. Her pots were “silver,” the color of aluminum. My mom had Club Aluminum, too, and as I got a little older I realized that she had probably gotten the pans from her mother. She also thought they were the best type to cook in, but her pans didn’t seem to work as well as Grandma’s ;). Or, at least, more anxiety made its way into those dishes.

When I became engaged at nineteen, I had never thought about a wedding or wedding gifts. The only thing I ever imagined was a white velvet dress with a red hooded coat like Mary wore for her wedding in Babes in Toyland. Instead, to save my parents money, I wore my mother’s wedding dress that my other grandmother had made, but that’s another story. I know it sounds blasphemous to American wedding tradition, but I didn’t even register for gifts.

My bridal shower was a family affair, to which I wore my favorite outfit, a teal corduroy pantsuit. Everyone had a very similar pantsuit, but mine was special because of the color. When I arrived at my aunt’s house, I discovered that the person I most wanted at the shower, Grandma, was home sick. The whole event paled after that news, but I do remember that her gift was the biggest and splashiest–an entire set of Club Aluminum pans in yellow. Instead of a metal handle like my mother and grandmother’s Dutch Ovens had, mine had a plastic knob.

I still have my Dutch Oven and a couple of the other pans with lids.

You can see the yellow exterior is pretty banged up after all these years, but the inside is still pristine. My pot has seen some really yummy dishes, but it also was what I used to make Kraft mac and cheese in (for the kids), too, I’m sorry to admit.

This link has a little history of Club Alumimum. It explains that it is cast, not spun. So it is cast aluminum, kind of like cast iron.

Eventually, a report came out that aluminum is dangerous for cooking. If I remember correctly, it was supposed to cause some sort of brain trouble. I guess that has been mainly proven wrong at this point. But it was asserted so strongly that the gardener bought me a set of Calphalon pans. Gosh, I hate those things. Everything sticks to them. Grandma knew what was a good pot! I’ve since added some All-Clads to the mix, and those are ok. But nothing is as good as Club Aluminum.

Or a well-seasoned cast iron frying pan. Funny how much less expensive ($14.88 at Walmart) those are than all the fancy frying pan brands sold today!

By my current kitchen standards, Grandma’s kitchen was a little too small, with not enough counter space, a small persnickety stove/oven, and a ridiculously crammed smallish fridge. She didn’t have granite counters, hardwood cabinets, or stainless appliances. But to me it was a wonderland of magic commanded by my gentle, smart, warm, and loving grandmother.

More about Grandma in “Grandma and the Purple People Eaters.”

 

79 Comments

Filed under #AmWriting, #writerlife, #writerslife, Creative Nonfiction, Essay, Family history, Flash Nonfiction, Memoir, Nonfiction, Vintage American culture, Writing, Writing prompt

79 responses to “Nothing Says Grandma Like Club Aluminum

  1. A great gift, Luanne. During the aluminium scare we were given a friend’s entire set of pans. We weren’t worried.

  2. Never heard of Club Aluminum pans. I have a large aluminum Dutch oven, but it has an enamel coating inside. I agree about Calphalon. Was not happy with them at all. Overrated!!

    • I am so glad to hear somebody else say the same thing about Calphalon. I don’t have any idea why people seem to like it so much. Well, I should say, at least the type of Calphalon I have.

  3. Val

    That’s lasted well! I don’t use uncoated aluminium anymore, but do have a non-stick frying pan with aluminium beneath the non-stick layer as it conducts heat better than the stainless steel type. I’d love to be able to use cast iron pans but they are too heavy for me.

    • Cast iron pans are very heavy, whereas cast aluminum pans are not heavy. That and the way heat works with them and how they are relatively easy to clean is probably the main reasons they are so great. Yes, it’s lasted amazingly well!

  4. What wonderful memories you must have of time in the kitchen spent with your grandmother. I have similar memories with my own, and while I don’t have her pots and pans, I do have her dishes. I put them in our one cupboard that has glass doors so I can look at them every day. 😊

    • Her actual dishes? That is so cool. It must be such a wonderful reminder of your memories! Do you use them? I have some glass cupboards in my kitchen, too. I love the transparency of glass.

  5. My mother had a set of thick aluminum pans that made the best foods. They became pitted inside so eventually we replaced them with stainless steel (big mistake, everything sticks in those). I loved her Dutch over. It was just the right size. She also had a small frypan just for eggs. I have no idea what metal it was but eggs never stuck and this was long before Teflon!

    • I wonder what caused the pitting? I wonder why we never got pitting in any of ours? Didn’t it sometimes feel as if the Dutch oven was the source of the goodies?! No way is any pan as good as a Dutch oven!

  6. exiledprospero

    I don’t remember much about my grandmother’s pots and pans. She did, however, teach me how to sow zinnia seeds–and I’ve been planting stuff ever since. Great picture, Luanne.

    • Oh, what a marvelous memory! I love that. I can just see the packets of zinnia seeds. My grandmother used to like the weird stuff like money plants and strawberries in her backyard. It was grandpa who always had a vegetable garden where he managed to plant flowers, especially marigolds which I know help a garden. Thank you re the picture!!

      • exiledprospero

        People used to have gardens and wait anxiously for the latest seed catalog. Now people have smart phones and anxiously await their monthly bill. Anxious for different reasons! I’ll stick with the zinnias.

        • Well, the old way was like the song “The Wells Fargo Wagon” in The Music Man–people being so excited to get what they had ordered! Our sense of healthy excitement is fading.

  7. It’s always great to start Monday with a fresh post from you, Luanne. Nice memories, charming photo of you and Grandma. I have an aluminum ice bucket from my parents that just might inspire my next blog post. I’m heavily into decluttering, as my next-door-neighbors have invited me to join in their June 30th yard sale. I’m even selling my (very nice) bicycle. After the back injury, I doubt that I’ll ever ride a bike again. Not that I couldn’t, but drivers around here are inattentive and I can’t take a risk on being hit (yes, it does happen here in Santa Fe) re-breaking the back. Just returning, after nine months in recovery mode, to mild hiking.
    Have a great week!

    • OK, I am already intrigued by the aluminum ice bucket. I can hear some clinking. Yes, no bike riding for you, Elaine! But I am glad hear you are back to some hiking because I know it is what is your zen place. Have fun with the decluttering. Remember to take pix before you get rid of anything with memories!

  8. I love this post–family history/memories and cooking! 🙂
    I don’t think registering for wedding gifts was really a thing when I got married–maybe people did for china, but we got a full set of china from my mom. My bridal shower was also a family affair–no goofy games.
    I didn’t know about Club Aluminum. We had some pots that were pretty, but didn’t last long, and then I asked for Revere Ware (copper bottoms) like my mom had. Has. She still has them–they’ve lasted her through marriage, divorce, and many moves. I have some cast iron skillets, too–my husband gave me a set of small ones last year as a present, and it was my favorite gift. 😉
    The photo of you and your grandmother is wonderful!

    • Revere Ware! I remember those. They were a status symbol, if I recall. In those days brands and “designer names” were everything and became even more so into the early 80s. That’s interesting about you viewing the time you got married as kind of pre-registering, but I remember being bummed out that I didn’t as I had ended up returning a lot of stuff and pooling the funds to get a fewer better items. And my friends all registered. That’s how my best friend ended up partial sets of everything because she was too ambitious and put down both everyday and good china, everyday and good flatware, etc. So she kind of went to the other extreme.
      Thank you re the photo. I think so too :).

      • We were the first of our friends to get married, I think, and none of my siblings were married, so perhaps I was just unaware of the registering thing. And I guess it’s different now, too, when you can just go online.

  9. Terrific post, Luanne. I have never used Club Aluminium but know that it was good.

  10. This is fascinating! I didn’t even know the aluminium declaration had been reversed. I’ve been a bit wary of these things ever since the day we were told coconut oil was poisonous to our health and to use synthetic fats instead. I might have been young, but even back then something seemed wonky to me in that thinking! Love your ode to ‘aluminum’ – and dutch ovens!

  11. What a lovely post, Luanne! Such a warm tribute to your Grandma and her cooking. My mother still uses her aluminium pans that she got when she married in 1956. I have no idea if they are cast or spun aluminium and they don’t look much like your Club Aluminium ones which look really good solid pans.

  12. Nice tribute to grandmas and their kitchens everywhere.

  13. Like Pauline I didn’t know the aluminium fatwah had been rescinded. We too own an iron frying pan and have had our whole married life. Beats the heck out of every other frying pan in the house. Your grandma’s kitchen sounds like man which I love because it doesn’t take much upkeep or time to clean. Small is good.

    • I love my cast iron frying pan! Makes such good fried patties of any kind. Crispy and with a tinge of brown! My kitchen is fairly good size, but not huge as it’s mainly long island with range and then long seating area. So it’s not hard to keep clean except that the cats live on the extended part of the island. And both sides of the sink. Nothing but what a bottle of Mrs. Meyers can’t handle.

  14. Oh my goodness. Did everyone’s grandma have the same blue kitchen with the red checkered valance? Fabulous photo. I love it way, way lots.
    I had some cast aluminum dishes, they are now owned by my MIL who actually uses them. I’ll get them back sometime, and then I’ll find someone else who will use them. They’re small. I cook big.
    I use my cast iron regularly. Skillets, muffin pans, dutch oven. Yes. Cast iron for me, please.
    I did, however, just recently replace my old, huge Calphalon skillet with a new iron? anodized? aluminiron? (I dunno really, I forget the words lol) one because Sassy broke the lid on the old one. My new big deep skillet was $40 and I prefer it to the Calphalon. My curry, my stir-fry, my gravy — all good in that pan. I now have only one non-stick, for omelets 🙂

    • Calphalon and sucks always belong in the same sentence, to my mind. I am so glad to hear that other people still use cast iron!!! Shows we haven’t all lost our minds quite yet. Omelets are best in a nonstick. Do you make them where you slide them out of the pan and flip them over onto the plate?

  15. Wonderful post and great memories, Luanne. My grandmother also had aluminum, but I’m not sure if it’s Club Aluminum.

  16. Great story!! I had Club pans too, as did my mom. I agree that they had a superior cooking surface. Cleaner that cast iron, more nubbly than stainless steel. (I keep getting these squiggly red lines telling me that nubbly isn’t a word. Well, what is it then?)

    • One of the two obvious problems with cast iron is that they rust so you have to do your dishes very quickly or plan on polishing the pan. No big deal, obviously. The other is that they are very heavy. Club aluminum (or cast) is not as heavy as iron, although very durable. LOVE the nubbly. Yes, more nubbly, most definitely!

  17. Old times! Something good, something not so good. It’s all a learning experience.

  18. You know how much I loved this one, Luanne! And the picture of you with your grandmother is fabulous!!
    I remember my uncle Marion in one of his many failed careers sold cookware – something called Guardian aluminum? Does that sound right? At any rate, my grandmother bought an entire set of these very shiny aluminum pots and pans out of her hard earned money that she couldn’t afford and never used. My uncle used to cook using them just to try to get her to make the change. No luck.
    Thanks for this story!

    • It was probably Guardian Service. When I was growing up, we had a Guardian Service griddle that my parents received as a wedding gift – it was the best cooking surface EVER, and the only thing my sisters and I squabbled over when my mother downsized. My dad’s mother had a full complement of Guardian Service cookware, which came to me after my grandfather died. I confess I haven’t used it, though, because I already had my own pots and pans and have been a little leery about the reported health concerns. :-/

      • Thanks so much for this info! I can’t remember what I had yesterday for lunch, but I somehow came up with Guardian cookware. Go figure.

      • Jennifer, thanks for letting us know the answer! Re the aluminum, I just commented below on my own post (hahaha) that this morning AOL posted one of their stupid slideshow stories about aluminum foil is dangerous for cooking. Same old thing all over again. They talk about Alzheimer’s. I know this is anecdotal info, but my grandparents lived to be quite old, using that Club aluminum the whole time, and they never got Alzheimer’s or even dementia.

    • Love the anecdote about Uncle Marion! Guardian? I don’t know if I’ve ever heard of it or not. Did he go around house to house? I remember the Fuller Brush man well, the Avon lady (always called lady, not woman), and the Rexair vacuum (water, not bag) man. Also, an encyclopedia salesman at one point, too. And the man who sharpened the scissors and knives :). And the milkman. Gosh, it was a regular Grand Central Station at our house!
      Kind of too bad she wouldn’t use the pots and pans!

  19. Commenting on my own post. Good grief. An article popped up from newravel.com on AOL today. All about how we shouldn’t be cooking with aluminum foil because little flecks of aluminum get into our food and we ingest them . . . . SAME STORY ALL OVER AGAIN.

  20. What treasures! The picture, memories, and the pots!

  21. I love your article about your pans! Yes… I had a set of aluminium pans that got thrown out when they were supposed to be one of the culprits in the steady increase in dementia and now I cook with stainless steel. I love the photo with you and your Grandma – another era:).

  22. Nice tribute to Grandma – and her pans!! ❤

  23. I think this blog post could be sent out as a flash memoir piece, Luanne. Lovely! I was close to both of my grandmothers, so I can easily imagine the warmth and fun in your grandmother’s kitchen.

  24. You have landed on a topic I could talk about forever: pots. Not because I’m the cook but because I’m the dishwasher. I hate non-stick—everything sticks to it. I like our All-Clad, but, of course, my favorite is a cast iron. We don’t have any yellow, but we do have orange. I am soooo glad you have your grandmother’s pots. And that you’ve shared them with us. ❤

  25. Hi Luanne! I’m not sure if I’ve already made my comment on this post! (been away a bit!). But if so, I’ll comment again, I really enjoyed hearing about the heritage aspect of your grandmother’s pot. It reminds me of the idea that objects are such a great starting point for.a historic setting, or for a memory; thank you, Luanne! Love hearing your story. Thank you!

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