Cooking, Collecting, and Connecting to Cast Iron
When you put so much energy into growing your own food you want to make sure it tastes great when you cook it. We discovered long ago that all foods taste better when cooked in cast iron. Whether its a skillet, dutch oven, or a griddle, cast iron always gives that food a little extra flavor, and is even a great weight.
We started our journey into cast iron in the way that most do. We purchased a brand new Lodge skillet and brought it home, with the intent to recreate all of the dishes on the cover of mother earth news. We learned quickly that cast iron cooking is a different animal. Skillets need to be seasoned prior to use, and it takes much longer to get them to temperature. Seasoning is a very straight forward process. We get the pan warm in the oven and then apply a very thin coat of crisco to the pan. We wipe the excess oil off and place the pan upside down in the oven at 350 for 30 min. After 30 min we wipe the excess oil off again and then bake for an additional 30 min. After that, we shut the oven down and let the pan cool inside. More recently we have started to use lard from our home-raised pigs to season our pans and it works great. This is a more traditional oil to use and it makes us happy to use another product from our homestead. We also learned that cast iron may take a long time to heat up, but once it does it maintains a wonderful even heat. The more we cook with our pans the more the seasoning builds up and the better they work. Our cast iron pot has never made a bad meal.
When I come in from the cold and see it simmering away on the stove I know I’m in for a treat. Soups, stews, and chili all are kicked up a notch when they are cooked in the cast iron pot. The pot is also wonderful for deep frying hand cut french fries, onion rings, and my personal favorite, Tostones. (we have a blog in the archives on making these)
More recently we added a biscuit pan that makes the flakiest and most evenly cooked biscuits you ever tasted. We know that our cast iron cookware will be around long after we are gone.
After the fall harvest and hunting season, when the days grow short a secret danger lurks on the homestead. That danger is boredom and online estate auctions. Recently we purchased a few antique cast iron pans from the estate of a 104 year old WWII veteran. We purchased 3 pans and one griddle for $40, with the expectation of using them to cook.
Little did we know that there was a whole world of antique cast iron collecting out there. As soon as we picked up our pans, the research began. If you love solving a good mystery as much as I do, you will love trying to find the origins of your pan. After a lot of searching and a few messages exchanged with a cast iron guru, we found that we had Wagner, Vollrath, and Griswold pans. The griddle is still a bit of a mystery .
We even were told about a cast iron collectors group on facebook. We set out to strip and restore our pans. Again there is a lot of varying info out there so we asked the guru and have been using http://www.castironcollector.com for a reference. We started out by cleaning our pans with oven cleaner, some pans responded well, others did not.
Next we made and electrolysis tub using a battery charger, this worked great for removing rust and is doing a decent job on getting the baked on gunk off of the pans.
Once the pans are stripped, we season them. Once seasoned, the vintage pans are so beautiful you almost don’t want to cook with them, almost.
It is interesting that the older pans are much thinner and lighter than today’s pans. Our Griswold pan appears to be not only the most recognizable, but also the most valuable. I dare say we may have now been bit by the collecting bug, but time will tell. The journey we have taken into cast iron seems to have taken us to the same place that all of our other journeys take us, to the past. It is visions of the past and a simpler life that attracted us to homesteading, and it is that vision which also pushes us forward. Cast iron cookware is so durable and long lasting that it has allowed us to actually touch the past, as there is something special about cooking in old cast iron pan. Our meals are now connected to all of the meals these pans have cooked. We are happy to carry on the tradition of cast iron cooking.