The Quickfri pan was an English invention and was on the market in Australia the same year it was introduced in the UK. As in its home country, it was sold via demonstrations in hardware stores and at a special ‘demonstration parlour’ in George Street, Sydney. The claims made for the pan were so extraordinary that customers had to see for themselves just how well it performed.
They also claimed that, because the high heat sealed the outside of the foods so rapidly, you could cook several different foods at once without the flavours contaminating each other. “Just fancy,” one advertorial burbled, “You can cook onions, fish, and a jam tart in the same bowl of fat, and none of the things will taste of one another.” All it took was a couple of pounds of lard, which, customers were assured, would remain “always pure and free from odour” and hence could be cooled and left in the pan for the next round.
I can’t say how many Quickfri pans were sold, or how long they were around. Or when someone thought, “Hmm, asbestos in the kitchen isn’t a great idea”. After a flurry of excitement in the 1920s, mentions trailed off in the 1930s. The Quickfri was apparently “back on the market” in the UK in 1949 according to the tabloid Reveille so perhaps it was similarly revived in Australia.
Today, the inclusion of asbestos in a cooking utensil seems absurd. But it’s relatively recently that the dangers of asbestos have been recognised. In 1927, The Guardian published an article titled Asbestos – a real asset in the home. It began:
Asbestos has become a very real asset in the home. Although it is originally a mineral substance, it is nevertheless of a fibrous nature, and can, therefore, be woven into fabrics and formed into boards. Its greatest virtue lies in the fact that it is fireproof, and, as it is a bad conductor of heat, it has great value in many household uses.
Asbestos cord bound round the handles of kettles, saucepans and irons, will prevent burnt fingers. Asbestos mats placed on the stove make a safe surface for casseroles and other fireproof ware during the cooking of the food in them. Asbestos table mats are also very popular as a means of preventing hot plates and dishes from marking the table surface where a tablecloth is not used.