You are a Seattle writer I admire greatly but do not actually know. You recently wrote a great story on tea kettles. It had everything—what to look for in a kettle, wary warnings, and a reminder of the ultimate goal. A tea kettle, you said, should boil water. It was funny. The thing you article failed to address, however, was what to do when you already own the wrong one. I’m writing you for advice.
The most significant problem with my cast-iron kettle is that you can’t touch it. Sure, if the thing is stone cold, you can do what you want. But if it’s hot, well, it’s iron. You only have to accidentally touch it without oven mitts a few times to remember the smell of your own flesh searing. The first time, not thinking, I just tried to pick it up without protection. The second time, it was just the lid, which doesn’t have any sort of heatproof material its knob. The third time, I picked it up after it had just been on the stove while I was cooking dinner, and didn’t think hard enough to realize it would be hot. I should hope I’ve finally learned my lesson, but you never know. At teapot is, as my brother Josh says, a tool you use to do dangerous things before you’ve had coffee.
It has other problems. You can’t pick it up, for example. Correction: When it’s cool, you can pick it up, as long as you have strongish arms, which I sometimes do, and two hands free. But it’s not the type of item you can sling across the stove willy-nilly on the way to the toaster. It requires planning and conviction and oven mitts. And two free hands.
Another thing: that damned lid. It’s a disc of iron that fits nicely into its home in the top of the pot when the pot is upright. But it doesn’t stay attached to the body of the kettle, so it’s forever clattering off when I forget to remove it before pouring out the water. I do that when I realize, in a huff, that the water has been boiling for 4 minutes while I sit on the couch without coffee. See, the kettle doesn’t have any sort of whistling mechanism. When the water boils, the best sign you get is steam coming out of the open spout, so if you’re not standing right there, it could go on forever. That spout is also slightly lower than the lid, so if you fill the kettle more than about three-quarters full, water explodes out of the spout at the boiling point. (Spoiler: It’s hot.) Sometimes I just stand over the kettle and the open flame, waiting for the water to stop bubbling out so I can pick the thing up with my protected paws.
And then there’s the question of keeping water in it. Since iron rusts, you can’t keep water in a cast-iron kettle. So every time, when you’re done making coffee, you have to empty it out. (Don’t forget the oven mitts.)
The kettle is the antithesis of perfect. It’s not just that there’s something wrong with it. It’s that besides how it looks, and the fact that it does indeed boil water when put to a flame, there’s nothing actually right with it.
However, my husband gave it to me for Christmas. My husband, who is generally style-blind in the kitchen, noticed our old yellow Le Creuset had begun to take on the wear and tear of age, and had started to acquire an even drip of yellowish grime around its widest part, from so innocently lounging through dinner preparations too close to pans spluttering out stray droplets of hot oil. And he bought me a cast-iron kettle that is, at face value, extremely sexy. He bought me a kettle, when I hadn’t asked for one, and he took the time to find something beautiful. His face even got all blushy when I opened it.
So you see, Bethany Jean, buying a new kettle isn’t really an option. In fact, as I wrote this, at 5:32 a.m. on a Friday morning and filled with teapot angst, I poured myself a fresh cup of coffee and slugged it own, only to spray it all over it couch, because it was too hot. This is a teapot that can sense infidelity.
You wound up steering clear of the stately $200 number William and Kate got for their wedding (what a handsome thing!), opting instead for the $29.99 grocery store version. But what, pray tell, would you do in my position? For the record, though our kitchen isn’t small, it’s not large enough to use and hide an alternate kettle for use when my husband isn’t looking. (I’ve tried.)
The only option I seem to have now is to live with it, and let my husband make the coffee in the morning. To make cookies in the afternoon, feeling very sorry for myself the whole time, and heat the water for afternoon tea in the microwave.
Yours in crisis,
11 responses to “Dear Bethany Jean”
I suggest, after almost forty years of marriage, that you let your husband read your wonderful post, and tell him that you will find a safer use for the wonderful, if dangerous, cast iron teapot. Suggestions (sans lid) include a holder for small utensils on the counter, or a vase for a favorite seasonal dried flower or evergreens arrangement, or even a receptacle for your favorite pens, pencils, writing and editing implements on your desk. Could the lid be a weight to hold a cookbook open while cooking?
Then you will go to the store and get a teapot that is ultimately more useful, and safe, and vow to make tea or coffee whenever requested.
Through the blasted thing out like I did with our old one and our ten year old one is also headed to the trash. And, since we have so few plugs in our rental an electric kettle is out too.
Another option should you chose to explore it, is/are slicone potholders you could gorilla glue around the handle and the knob….
I am filled with delight that you referenced zabars.
I would encourage you to show husband the Teavana site as the cast iron pots like the one you show are tea pots to make tea in and not kettles to be used on the stove. . .and then he can let you get a new kettle with a whistle to use. 🙂
Use it as a decoration piece somewhere in your home. It’s beautiful. Then go buy an electric kettle because those are the best.
Yes, kettle becomes a fine vase or utensil holder. It still presides and you get a handsome electric kettle. Life’s too short and he loves you and will understand. I am right now grateful to never have little burns on my hands or a clattering heavy lid!!
I had one of those cast iron kettles. “Had” is the operative word here.
Hi! Just found your wonderful blog & while reading down the messages I found the kobocha recipes. Love the stuff but have only eaten them from okazuyas (Asian delis) simply prepared and delicious. Would love to try a dessert. Can you help: is white rice flour the same as mochiko; millet flour (?); is arrowroot starch the same as cornstarch; where is FRESH ground allspice purchased; xanthum gum (like in chewing gum?)? The only specialty store here is Whole Foods. And smaller health food stores.
I just found a very old note to myself to answer your lovely letter about your tea kettle. Truly, I am an ass. Apologies! Did you arrive at a solution? At the time, I thought your husband would read your letter, and he’d hug you, and you’d move that damn (but lovely!) cast-iron thing to a nice shelf, and you’d go back to your old yellow kettle, if you tend to keep such stuff around like I do, or get a cheapo new one that works fine. (Or an absurdly expensive one that is amazing! After I wrote that column, a person who read it who didn’t want their ROYALTY KETTLE for unknown reasons sent it to me! It is beautiful and perfect and would be worth the money.) Or I thought you could just boil water stealthily in a small saucepan for your tea.
Anyhow, again, sorry, and I hope you are hot-beverage-enabled while also unscalded and also not divorced!
My grandmother used tea pots as plant pots. Perhaps some fragrant herbs could grace your kitchen in this beautiful pot.