At the recent L.A. gift show, one of the kitchen-related products unveiled seemed to have captured the attention of many gourmet store buyers. It was, of all things, a potholder: the Hotholder from American Leather Products in Placentia, Calif. Leather may not be new as a working glove in the welding industry, but it is definitely a newcomer in the kitchen. One exceptional attribute of this leather potholder is that it is flame resistant. Once they have the Hotholder, busy bakers and clumsy cooks don't have to face the fear of singeing it when reaching for a hot pot.
The creator of this revolutionary mitt is Sandra Asbell, who used to be a product specialist for a leather garment manufacturer. "The bulk of the potholders available in the market today are manufactured from highly combustible cotton, relying on thickness for protection against heat," Asbell said. "Leather has an extremely dense fiber structure. The hide of the animal has to protect its internal organs. It also has to have a high degree of flexibility to enable movement."
The idea came about several years ago when Asbell had a small kitchen fire caused by a careless teen-ager using a cotton potholder. "The burner caught the potholder on fire and ignited a grease laden pan," she said. Backed by her 10 years experience with leather design and tannage, Asbell proceeded with the project, selecting high quality suede leather in different earthtone colors including black. "Welder's gloves come from the animal shoulder or bottom, which is inferior, whereas our potholder is made from side-split leather, which is more durable," she said.
In testing the manufacturer's claim that it is totally non-flammable, I placed one of the potholders over a direct flame and found the claim to be true. When the edge of the potholder was lit with a lighter, it extinguished itself, and when held for a longer period over flame, the exposed part simply became crusty. (This experiment was done under controlled conditions and is not recommended for consumers to try at home.)
Every oven mitt should be washable, better yet machine washable and something that can be subjected to the dryer. The Hotholder is. Asbell recommends washing it with similar colors in cool water, then tumbling dry on a low setting. "The color will darken slightly and it will seem slightly smaller," she explained. "The last step in the tannage is staking or pulling and stretching the leather to remove the stretch. When the leather is in contact with water, it will naturally relax and revert to its normal state."
Common with potholders are grease stains. Asbell said that the basic nature of leather is to absorb the grease but it will come out. She advises spraying with a spray-and-wash cleaning formula before throwing it into the washer.
The Hotholder products include a large oven or barbecue mitt ($14.95), a single thickness square potholder ($4.50), a double thickness potholder ($8.95), which can double as a trivet for the table, and a protective pan sleeve ($3.95). The last item is great for cast-iron skillets, which have become popular for Cajun cookery.
What I like about the oven/barbecue mitt is its size, long enough to protect your arms. Also, it'll work for both left or right hand users. The mitts come in black, which has been received well, rust, mint, gray, brown and beige. For large orders, custom colors can be ordered, Asbell said.
The Hotholder products are available at Kitchen Kitchen, Rancho Mirage; Au Marche, Los Angeles; Gelson's, Encino, North Hollywood, Pacific Palisades; Cookin Stuff, Torrance and Cook's Corner, Palm Dessert.