Pyrex® revolutionized home cooking and gave bakers and chefs a new tool to fill with ingredients and throw in the oven. Home cooks’ lives were made easier by the efforts of those who developed and tested Pyrex. Dr. Lucy Maltby ran the Pyrex Test Kitchen at Corning Glass Works. She was a pioneer in the 1930s with a PhD in the growing field of home economics, a specialty that sought efficiencies in the modern household. Maltby helped bridged the gap between product developers and Pyrex users.
She also helped Corning Glass Works sell a lot of Pyrex to consumers, and, as a woman, was paid much less than she was worth. According to the book, Rethinking Home Economics: Women and the History of a Profession, by Sarah Stage and Virginia B. Vincenti: “In comparison to male department heads, Maltby, like the members of her staff, was poorly paid.”1 By the time Maltby retired in 1965, women in the U.S. were being paid about 60% as much as their male counterparts.2
For this blog, I wanted to dive deeper and learn more about her, but with limited access to print materials in the Rakow Library’s archives (thanks a lot, coronavirus pandemic) I was largely out of luck. However, I did find newspaper articles from all over the country that published Maltby’s recipes, and that got me thinking. What if I got to know Lucy Maltby better by stepping into her shoes and testing out some of her recipes?
I thought about how important the Pyrex Test Kitchen was in the 1930s, ‘40s, and ‘50s, and how test kitchens are still “a thing” today. (Full disclosure, I watch more than my fair share of videos from America’s Test Kitchen.) And in the spring of 2020, I was cooking a lot more at home since restaurants were closed and time at home was abundant. I needed inspiration for my next quarantine baking project, and this was it. So, I got my hands on the Pyrex Prize Recipes cookbook (available here) and I started reading. (All I have to say is wow, recipes in the 1950s were WEIRD. “Tuna-Stuffed Eggs on Rice with Curry Sauce,” anyone? Will someone please pass the “Frankfurter-Corn Bread Shortcake”?) I found this recipe for Dixie’s Orange Bread and decided to give it a try since I already had all the ingredients in my kitchen.
As the Science Educator at the Museum, I’m interested in experimenting with glass, and it seems like that’s what the Pyrex Test Kitchen was all about. I wanted to do a side-by-side comparison of Pyrex and metal to see what the differences were and get an idea of what things might have been like in the Pyrex Test Kitchen.
I pulled out my trusty metal loaf pan and set it down beside a Pyrex loaf pan I borrowed from a friend. I took out every mixing bowl I could find (all Pyrex!) and all the ingredients in the recipe.
I followed the recipe to a T. I sifted flour, cut in butter with my pastry blender, juiced and shredded four oranges. I dirtied a TON of dishes and loaded them all in my dishwasher. Then I carefully placed the loaf pans into the oven.
I kept every variable the same except for the baking dishes. The loaves baked side-by-side in the oven at 350°F for about 55 minutes. As you can see, the loaf baked in Pyrex came out a little darker than the one baked in metal.
I noticed that the loaf baked in Pyrex was a bit taller than the one baked in metal, possibly because the glass loaf pan was slightly smaller than the metal one. For the most part, though, these two loaves were very similar. They had about the same level of moisture, the same density, and the same flavor profile. The darker loaf (baked in Pyrex) had more caramelization, so it may have had more complex flavors, but I tasted them side-by-side and couldn’t tell a difference. In my experience, glass baking dishes are easier to clean than metal, but these loaf pans were greased before the batter was poured, so there wasn’t much of a difference in the effort required to clean them, either.
The loaf baked in Pyrex probably baked faster than the one baked in metal. I could have pulled the Pyrex loaf out 5 or 10 minutes earlier than the metal loaf and it would have been done. Or I could have baked the Pyrex loaf at a lower temperature (say, 325°F instead of 350°F) for 55 minutes and it would have turned out fine. And during the early days of the Pyrex Test Kitchen, when America was still reeling from the Great Depression, folks would have been concerned about saving money anywhere they could, including on the amount they spent on fuel for their ovens.
It’s so interesting to me to think about the women who worked in the Pyrex Test Kitchen under Lucy Maltby’s direction, testing recipes and products. I only tested one recipe one time, but the women in the Pyrex Test Kitchen would have conducted multiple trials with different formulations to find the perfect recipe for cooking with glass. Dr. Maltby’s expertise in home economics formalized science in the kitchen. Pyrex was better for it, and so are we.
- Sarah Stage and Virginia B. Vincenti, Rethinking Home Economics: Women and the History of a Profession, Cornell University Press, 2018. Project MUSE muse.jhu.edu/book/60138.
This blog is part of a bi-weekly series called Women in Glasshouses; a discovery and celebration of the many ways that women have contributed to the glass industry in the 100 years since the ratification of the 19th amendment. To read the previous entry on women working in science, please click here. The next in the series will focus on early marketing campaigns for glass products.