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Beloved And Broken: The Search For An Exact Replacement

Winter Holiday Cobbler made in the newly acquired replacement Pyrex casserole dish. Credit: Copyright 2016 Barbara Haber

Winter Holiday Cobbler made in the newly acquired replacement Pyrex casserole dish. Credit: Copyright 2016 Barbara Haber

I recently broke a favorite Pyrex covered-glass casserole I’ve had for years, and I was surprised by how upset I was over the mishap. Things break, and every cook has dropped and smashed dishes and glasses or ruined frypans and other kitchen tools from time to time, so I was confounded that I experienced this incident as nearly tragic.

What was it about this humble dish that immediately led me on a hunt to replace it? It certainly had no intrinsic value like a unique piece of pottery people own and are afraid to use. Nor was it especially good looking — kind of corny, really, with its snowflake pattern and its shade of blue that can only be described as insipid. No, its value to me was completely connected to how much I used it and how I came to acquire it.

It was a gift from my mother-in-law, who was not generally known for hitting the mark when it came to presents — think hand-knitted sweaters with arms so long they could only fit a gorilla, that is if the animal had narrow shoulders, or a cuckoo clock that never cuckooed. So her giving me this small, covered casserole was a happy memory because I loved it and used it regularly. It was just right for warming up leftovers or cooking a packet of frozen vegetables that fit neatly into its chamber. In other words, it was the perfect tool for the microwave, and nothing else I owned could do the job as well.

The long search for a replacement dish

An identical dish to replace the original was found on eBay. Credit: Copyright 2016 Barbara Haber

An identical dish to replace the original was found on eBay. Credit: Copyright 2016 Barbara Haber

So off I went to Bed Bath & Beyond to find a replacement. Everything I saw on the shelves was too big and heavy, the wrong shape or had plastic covers. I didn’t care that those covers were described as microwave-safe; I wanted glass. I was approached by an affable salesman who became interested in my quest because, as he told me, he had been to a market looking for simple crackers and could only find ones that were oily or had seeds or sharp flavors when all he wanted was something plain. He led me to a computer, where he searched through what seemed to me endless images of unacceptable covered casserole dishes.

At one point, when one item looked better than the rest but was unavailable at this particular store, he offered to pick it up at a store in a neighboring state where he happened to be going the next day. Knowing I would feel obliged to buy it after all his trouble, I thanked him kindly but said no.

By then I realized I was not merely looking for a functional replacement for what I had lost but for something identical, so I turned to eBay. After plowing through streams of vintage items made by Pyrex, Anchor Hocking, Fire King and Corning Ware — names that hadn’t crossed my mind in years — I found it.  In fact, I found two. One was available for bidding for several more days and the price was then at $9.99, and the other was immediately available for $14.99. I snapped up the latter and was informed it would come by priority mail, and indeed it did.

Meticulously secured in Bubble Wrap within a box full of plastic peanuts, my purchase arrived safely and was perfect — no chips and no fading. Its mint condition made me think it had never been used, and I was immediately reminded of my Great Aunt Sarah, who never returned to a store a gift she didn’t need. I know this because after she died, her family found things they had given her over many years — sweaters and scarves and small kitchen items still in their original boxes and piled up on closet shelves. She must have thought that returning gifts was disrespectful.

I wondered if my new Pyrex casserole had been owned by someone like Aunt Sarah or perhaps it came out of one of those dark storage lockers rented by people who move away and stop paying fees and so lose possession of their stuff, which is usually sold at auction. Many items I dare say wind up on eBay.

In any case, I took great satisfaction in having solved my problem with such dispatch, but soon after that initial rush I began to feel let down. The thrill of the hunt was over too soon.

I used to wonder about people whose houses are jammed with such popular collectibles as lunch boxes or salt and pepper shakers, the results of haunting antique shops, flea markets and yard sales. They must enjoy the innocent thrill of constantly yearning for and seeking objects, but I have to say I have no intention of piling up more Pyrex, unless I again break the one I just bought.

Winter Holiday Cobbler

To celebrate the recovery of my beloved casserole, I made a festive holiday dessert from an assortment of fruit I found in my freezer along with a red apple I had on hand. Any combination will work, as long as you have 6 full cups.

Prep time: 15 minutes

Cook time: 25 minutes

Total time: 40 minutes

Yield: 6 servings


For the filling:

6 cups of fruit (I used 2 cups of frozen cranberries, 2 cups of frozen cherries, 1 cup of frozen strawberries, 1/2 cup of frozen raspberries and a large red apple, with skin on, cored and chopped into ½-inch pieces.)

3/4 cup sugar

1/4 cup water

3 teaspoons cornstarch

For the topping:

1 cup flour

4 tablespoons white sugar

2 tablespoons light brown sugar

1 teaspoon baking powder

3 tablespoons butter

1 egg

3 tablespoons milk


Preheat oven to 400 F. Grease a baking dish with butter. (An 8-inch square dish works well.) Cook filling ingredients in a 2-quart saucepan until thickened. (Total time will be 10 to 15 minutes, depending on whether the fruit is frozen.) Cook and stir until thickened. Pour filling into baking dish.

Using a food processor, stir together the flour, sugars and baking powder. Add butter and mix until it is crumbly. Beat together egg and milk and add to flour mixture and mix just until it is combined. Drop tablespoonfuls onto the filling. Bake for about 25 minutes until golden and bubbling.

Zester Daily contributor Barbara Haber is an author, food historian and the former curator of books at Radcliffe's Schlesinger Library at Harvard University. She is a former director of the International Association of Culinary Professionals, was elected to the James Beard Foundation's "Who's Who of Food and Beverage" and received the M.F.K. Fisher Award from Les Dames d'Escoffier.

  • Susan Brooking 12·27·16

    Been there, done that! Unfortunately it was not my final eBay purchase! Oh, to have a bit of your discipline to not accumulate items for their esthetic qualities, but only for their functional use…

  • terri 12·28·16

    Oddly enough, we recently acquired that exact casserole dish. My mother-in-law was downsizing, so my husband brought it home…

    • Barbara Haber 12·29·16

      I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

  • Barbara Haber 12·29·16

    You give me too much credit for having discipline. I have surplus sets of beautiful dishes and serving pieces and such that are not exactly functional. It’s just that in this piece I was trying to explain to myself my attachment for this humble casserole, and figured out that it was not only because it was hugely useful, but that it was a cherished gift from my mother-in-law.