The fear of cast iron runs deep. But the stories are usually quieted once a person gets into the habit of using quality cast iron. Yes, they are heavy. No, they cannot go into the dishwasher. But as for hard to clean, or hard to maintain I say, "Bah, humbug!"
|Cast Iron Full and Half|
Bread Stick Pans
Most of us just plain do not have the experience of using cast iron cook- and bakeware. I didn't grow up with it in my house; even my great-grandmother I believe only had one skillet, which only came out when she made eggs or pan fried ham steaks. No. We grew up using cast aluminum and stainless steel. Our only exposures to cast iron was a simmering vat of stew or cobbler while camping. Beyond that, it was watching Cookie on Bonanza slinging beans off the chuck wagon, or Caroline Ingalls slaving over her cast iron stove at Nellie's place, flipping whole sides of beef for each order.
[Boy Scouts claim have a ready relationship to cast iron (we once even had a camporee themed "cast iron chef"), but with the exception of dutch ovens, Scouts also favor lightweight cookware. -Doc]
Dutch ovens were next. All of my dutch ovens are enameled inside and out as I choose to store food in them for reheating. Some of those foods can eventually pit iron, and who wants that?
|Some of the Dutch Ovens. Two are currently in use and missed|
their photo op.
It was a long time before I made the leap to other items, I will freely admit it. I saw the crusty gross pans the boy scouts would use on their camping trims. I had images of bacterium and left over food particles managing a flawless synchronized swimming routine to the Nutcracker Suite music every time I watched them cook. Not having the immune system of a 10 year old boy, I pushed the use of fully cast iron cookware out of my thoughts.
[Hey! Well, okay. Suffice it to say that there's a difference in cleanliness when the boys clean up vs when they dally around too long and the adults have to clean up so the boys can get on to their next event. -Doc]
Meanwhile, at a clearing house store, I happened upon a cast iron enameled 9x13 baking dish that was being sold as a set with a enameled on the exterior only 11 inch skillet. Well, I wanted that baking dish, and for $15 the skillet could come along for the ride. I immediately put the baking to dish to use creating amazing lasagnas, chicken and rice, cakes, and brownies. The skillet was shoved to the back of the cupboard. Until one day, due to chance and the weather, it came out to fulfill its skillet destiny.
It was a chilly and quite blustery day shortly after we had moved into our new house. Hamburgers were on the menu and the grill had been preheating on the deck for about 20 minutes, or so I thought. Plate of pressed patties in hand, I went out to drop them on the grates. Instead of being greeted with the satisfying sizzle of meat meeting heat, there was silence. The wind had blown out the fire. I started the fire up again and returned 15 minutes later...to a cold grill. Low gas levels combined with high winds were just too much for that flame. I returned inside and was resigned to plan B of just cooking them on the stove top. My new gas range was quite powerful, even on its lowest BTU burner. My stainless steel skillet had already shown me that its double bottom was no real keeper of the flame. Many eggs, hash browns, and stir fried meals had met their early doom in that skillet. Something reminded me that I had ANOTHER skillet, buried deep in the cupboard.
|The combination LeCreuset in the bottom right corner and the|
frypan that started it all in the back right corner.
I dug it out to the clatter of shifting and falling stainless steel pots, pans, and lids. It sounded like an elephant walking though a cymbal shop. I finally found her and placed her triumphantly atop the burner. She was pre-seasoned, but just in cast, I warmed her up and wiped her down with the tiniest amount of Crisco, just in case. I brought her up to full temperature and dropped the seasoned patties in, a satisfying sizzle erupted from the surface. When I flipped them, they had formed a remarkable crust, one usually reserved for flattop grills at roadside greasy spoons eateries. I plated the finished burgers and looked in dismay at the pan. Bits of cooked-on seasoning, meat, and fat had accumulated on the bottom. I wondered about tackling that. I decided to treat it to a deglazing just as if I was making gravy. As the meat patties rested before dinner, the pan cooled. I added hot water and brought the pan temperature back up. It came as clean as when I brought it home from the store. I poured out the liquid and sealed the iron with a quick Crisco wipe.
That was it. We were now a cast iron house.
Each trip to my local antique shops, consignment shops, and thrift stores became a treasure hunt. Sure there are many modern makers of cast iron; Lodge, Staub, LeCreuset, even the Food Network has its own line of wares. But have you SEEN the prices on some of this stuff? Insanity rules, and the price holds at what the market, and name brand junkies, will bear. I, however, refuse to pay hundreds of dollars for name. Just ask my orange tractor!
Cast iron cook- and bakeware is constantly circulating out of homes and ending up in shops as grandparents move into care homes or their new owners abandon them for what they hope are better modern tools. Buried, unwanted, on shop shelves were the future work horses of my kitchen. Better yet, they were selling for a song.
|Cast Iron Muffin Pan|
We shared lists of what we had and what we were still keeping our eyes our for. We compared notes on companies, cleaning and seasoning methods, and endless text messages back and forth while we were out shopping. We both have rules for our purchases: We will not spend a fortune. We will not have duplicates. We will not purchase things we don't plan to actually use.
Our combined efforts allowed us to fill in the gaps. The shops in her part of the country seemed
Aebelskiver pans were popping up everywhere for $5, no one knowing what they were, or thinking they were of archaic use. Gem pans of every shape, size, and manufacturer: mostly of the companies that shipped here by catalog in the 1930s, carried by the train or postman, or hauled in by those that settled here. Few shoppers know what they are for, so they sit and gather dust or knick-knacks.
|Cast Iron tools and bakeware from|
1897 Sears and Roebuck Catalog
For the most part I have found Wagner, BSR, and Griswold here, with the ocassional surprise finds of Vollrath, R&E Manufacturing, and Favorite by Piqua, Waterman, and of course Lodge. Using my imagination I can see how these pans, know in the region they are manufactured, worked their way here. I think most came from mail order, but the brands in the old catalogs are not stated and the pictures of the item are just generic representations by the printers. It's amazing that a muffin pan that I paid $25 for sold in 1897 for 17cents. Yes, I have pans, that I use regularly in my kitchen that are from the 1860s. How's that for value and product longevity?
Many items that we bring home aren't much to look at. In fact, most are downright ugly. They're so coated in gunk, old burned on food and grease, that you can't even see numbers or makers marks. Some are so red with rust that you wonder what is holding them together. A deep cleaning, some rust removal and a grand seasoning is all it takes to bring back their identity and their lot in life. Using cast iron not only makes you more familiar with its power, but makes it better.
So get out and cook!
HAPPY NEW YEAR!