As a teenager I babysat for two sweet girls. Their family was not rich– we lived outside of a small town in Washington state– but their mother was a master of fun, and those girls always had interesting toys to play with. Every once in awhile we would pull out the bin of Brio wooden train tracks and would spend the better part of the afternoon crafting a track and then rolling the trains over our creation. Sometimes the track would stretch through most of their mobile home. Their collection was undoubtedly amassed throughout their childhood through birthdays and Christmases.
Brio trains provide endless hours of fun for a wide range of ages, are gender-neutral, and can be passed down to the next generation. These are often imitated, but beware cost-cutting measures in imitations, such as plastic connectors, that may shorten the lifespan of the tracks. When buying, look for tracks that are all-wood (especially those sets that are just wood track pieces) and trains that are wood-and-metal.
When I was a kid I went to camp every year on a lake in rural Oregon. We spent our days rowing in canoes, swimming, and jumping off the dock. The camp counselors wore matching faded green polo shirts with the camp logo on them. The bunkhouses were made of cedar and were full of beds with Pendleton wool blankets.
Now we use these blankets when we stay at our one-room cabin in the woods. We have a big one for the bed and a couple of smaller camp blankets that we wrap up in at night when we sit around the campfire eating beef stew that we cooked in the big cast iron pot. Over the years they’ve earned a few holes that we have lovingly stitched up.
The heritage brands series on this blog resulted from my years-long search for beautiful stuff that would last. When you walk into most stores these days, much of what you find is uninspiring and cheaply made. A lot of it is plastic and made to last just a few years at most, and much of this is not only ugly but also a disaster in the making for our environment. Further, much of this is also made in places where there are questionable standards for labor and construction.
The heritage brands in this series are brands that still make at least some of their goods in their home country. These companies have generally been around for a long time- some longer than others. Most important, they make things that are both useful and beautiful, things that you will get many years of use out of and be able to pass on to the next generation.
There is a Japanese concept of wabi- sabi which describes the beauty of things that are simple and well maintained but also well-worn. The things I discuss in this series have this quality. A le creuset Dutch oven may acquire a few dings and scratches over the years, but will still function well and may be even more beautiful for its years of service.
Most of these brands are easily found online, a world in itself that changes from day-to-day, so I leave it to the reader to use search engines to find where to buy the things in this book. This book is meant to serve as a guide to help you find things that will last a lifetime or longer.
When I was fresh out of school in my late twenties, after having to watch every dime throughout ten years of higher education, I was finally making a pretty good living. I went shopping downtown one day and found a sugar bowl that was a thing of beauty- white, with a petite little knob on the lid, that made a soft little “ding!” When the lid was put on the pot. It didn’t fit with anything in my hand-me-down kitchen in my dingy apartment, but I loved it. Over ten years later I turned the little bowl over and saw the Pillyvuit marking on it. I hadn’t known what Pillyvuit was when I bought the sugar bowl, but it was love at first sight.
Years after I bought that sugar bowl I learned about white French porcelain, of which Pillyvuit is king. It’s durable, timeless, and beautiful.
In Seattle there is a small French restaurant that makes a dish called “oefs plats”. It’s a relatively simple dish, with two eggs cracked onto ham and cheese over the top. The whole thing is baked in a small dish. One day, when my husband and I were browsing the Pillyvuit dishes at our favorite kitchen store, I picked up a dish and told him, “these are the dishes that oefs plats are made in”. “Let’s get them,” he said without hesitation. Since then we have had many delicious breakfasts made in those dishes. The beauty of them is that they are oven-to-table (and apparently even fireproof, although I haven’t tried this). They clean up easily and after many uses they are as beautiful and as white as the day we bought them.
We have added to our collection since then- beautiful teacups that we drink out of on weekends, and a few serving dishes. They all mix and match beautifully and are as elegant as they are practical.
Pillyvuit dishes are made in France.
My first Longaberger basket was gifted to me by my mother when I was a teenager. It was a small lidded basket with a handle, and it made me feel important. Over the years it has moved with me many times and housed various things, finally establishing itself as my sewing basket (really, more of a mending basket since I don’t know how to sew). 25+ years later, it is still as beautiful as the day I got it, maybe even more so.
One of my more recent Longaberger purchases was a picnic basket. I wanted a picnic basket that was always packed with the essentials for trips big and small. Someone on Craigslist was selling a whole room full of Longaberger baskets (I kick myself now for not getting more!), and she had three large picnic baskets. I chose the one in the best condition and have filled it with all of the essentials. With this basket my husband and I (and now our daughter) can have civilized meals pretty much anywhere.
Our next basket will be an Easter basket for our daughter.
Because people tend to collect them, used Longaberger baskets can be found in very good condition. If you’re looking for used baskets, the larger ones are best bought locally since shipping can be quite expensive.
These baskets can come with a wide range of plastic protectors, cloth liners, risers, and tags. I tend to prefer a plain, stained wood basket with few add-ons, although in some cases these can be nice. For my sewing basket I use the plastic protector that came with it, and for my picnic basket I use a cloth liner with brightly-colored stripes (the Sunny Day liner).
Longaberger baskets are hand made in the USA.
Love this article on American Heritage Brands. I’m especially interested in those brands that are still making their products in the USA with high quality materials. For example, I’ve found that these days when I look for jeans, it’s hard to find 100% cotton jeans. Once upon a time most jeans were 100% cotton. I’m not sure if it’s because of the American appetite for leisure wear or what, but these newfangled jeans with their stretch just don’t wear like the old cotton ones.
Also, according to this article, the signature product of L.L. Bean is the Maine Hunting Shoe. For me their signature product will always be the Boat and Tote Bag, pictured above. Monogrammable, still 100% cotton (although they also make synthetic versions), and a great gift.
When I was in high school, my best friend worked at an old-timey soda fountain downtown. She scooped a lot of ice cream during the summers. The owner was this classy guy who bought all of his employees a Boat and Tote bag (I believe they were the large size with the short handles) and they were embroidered with the employee’s initials. I have loved them ever since.