Home & Garden

Something for the little missus

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Move over, Julie and Julia. Meet Andrew Martin and Damon Kirsche. By profession, a screenwriter and an actor-graphic designer. By avocation, cooks and collectors of vintage kitchenware. They recently shared morsels about a must-have of any collection: Guardian Service, manufactured in the San Fernando Valley when "Father Knows Best" was on the radio Thursday nights.

Guardian Service's stove-top pots branded with a helmeted-knight logo were the products of Century Metalcraft, a Chicago-based cookware company that came to Los Angeles in 1938. The timing was perfect, with post-Depression crash U.S.A. demanding home innovations that helped mom do it all, on a family budget.

The mantra of modernity was efficiency through good design, and Metalcraft delivered. Its service was invincible, manufactured with Bakelite, glass and heat-preserving, pressed aluminum. The styling was campfire gothic meets streamlined Art Deco. Hammered finishes, crested handles and polished edges gave the weighty casserole tureen, the Guardian roaster and breakfast fryer a cartoony, Flash Gordon sleekness. With her Guardian Service, the American housewife could ride the range and rocket to the moon while frying the morning eggs.

Like Tupperware, founded in 1946, Metalcraft marketed directly to the consumer. Through its "Give me a big man!" ad campaign, the company recruited strapping Lotharios to fill the role of the dashing knight who rescues suburban damsels stressing in Formica and stainless-steel kitchens.

At lunchtime parties in Southland neighborhoods, the local Guardian hunk took charge. He whipped up recipes from Metalcraft's bonus cookbook and offered assuring tips to housewives hovering around Westinghouse stoves. His pitch was that Mrs. Homemaker could ditch grandma's china and serve a sizzling, healthy Sunday roast in a cooker right to a table set with Melmac, not Limoges. For Mr. Houseowner, Guardian service was a fine investment affordable through factory finance plans.

Cooking right meant protecting your family's health. With memories of the food-starved 1930s, modern Americans had malnutrition on their minds. Century Metalcraft capitalized on the national anxiety and published moralizing ads in home magazines warning mothers they were duty-bound to preserve the vitamins lost in "thoughtless, ignorant, outdated cooking." For side column endorsements, the company hired food guru Adelle Davis, a founder of California cooking, synonymous today with Alice Waters and her followers who promote holistic meals made with fresh, organic foods.

A biochemist graduate from UC Berkeley, Davis launched a 30-year career in 1947 with her landmark book, "Let's Cook It Right." She defined the well-organized kitchen, suggested menus and, like First Lady Michelle Obama, warned against high-calorie, low-nutrition diets. A waterless method, promoted by Guardian Service as unique to their glass-topped caldrons, was essential for preparing healthy meals the Davis way.

Experts and food historians recommend that we return to eating our grandmother's food. For many, that means cooking the Guardian way — slowly and gently, with minimal energy and maximum care. Century Metalcraft closed shop after its factory burned in 1956, and pots don't come cheap anymore: A chicken fryer landed on eBay for $1,999. But Martin and Kirsche, huddled in their preserved postwar kitchen, keep the Guardian legacy alive, sautéing and steaming through dozens of recipes, stacking pots designed for cooking multiple dishes simultaneously, and keeping the heat "low, low, low."

And what are some of their savory successes? A snooty beef Wellington and a humble shepherd's pie, served with corn on the cob, broccoli with all the parts and garlic-roasted potatoes. For a gooey, ‘50s finish, there's a stove-top pineapple upside-down cake.

Eating like Ozzie and Harriet — who knew it could be so good?

Watters' past columns can be found at latimes.com/lostla. Comments: home@latimes.com

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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