Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Carefully Cared For

I will never own a glass top stove. Yeah, yeah, I know they are the rage and everyone who is anybody wants one. Not me! Nope. Not now, not ever. You are probably thinking, she’ll change her mind. Given time she’ll come around. I have been known to change my mind, for example, I now use a digital camera. But, a glass top stove, I don’t think so. It would mean giving up the life-blood of my culinary accoutrements—the cast iron cookware.

It was 197something. I had just moved to Burlington, Vermont, gotten a job and my very first apartment. My parents had come up to see where I had landed and help me settle in. My mother sent me off to do some kitchen shopping, and instead of buying food, I purchased a set of cast iron frying pans. These pans still hang on the pegboard

in my kitchen as they have in every place I have ever called home. And, quite honestly, their presence alone is sufficient to make any kitchen home. Over the years my cast iron arsenal has grown. The total is now up to 12 pieces. Each piece is a prized possession, constantly used, and carefully cared for. Most of my pieces were not purchased new, but were acquired at yard sales and thrift stores and re-seasoned.

In my family, cast iron cook-ware are heirlooms passed down like the family silver. Bella inherited my mother’s cast iron frying pans, which were gifts from my father. Dad thought he had solved his Christmas gift-giving dilemma, and swelled with pride for four whole years when Mom opened her Christmas package. Dad was crestfallen when Mom told him if he gave her another cast iron frying pan, she’d use it on him. It was back to square one for Dad! My mother used those pans every day for the rest of her life. Even if she never acknowledged it, they were among the best and most thoughtful gifts she ever received from Dad.

There is nothing like a cast iron skillet for holding heat and cooking evenly. When properly seasoned and cared for cast iron is as non-stick as any Teflon coated cooking surface. Cast iron lasts a lifetime, and, as I have already mentioned, has the potential to become a family heirloom. Here are some tips on the proper care and maintenance of cast iron cookware.

Seasoning is the process by which the uneven surface of cast iron is smoothed out and sealed and a non-stick surface is created. Cast iron can be seasoned and re-seasoned as part of its maintenance. Well-seasoned cast iron has a shiny black surface. A non-stick surface can take a year or so to develop, so don’t be discouraged and become lax about cleaning and caring for your cast iron.

This is the procedure I follow when seasoning cast iron cookware: Place a piece of aluminum foil on the bottom rack of the oven; it will catch any drips. Preheat the oven to 350. If you are seasoning a new cast iron piece, remove all stickers and tags. Wash it thoroughly with hot, soapy water. This is the ONLY time you will EVER use soap on your cast iron cookware. Dry the piece thoroughly, and rub it inside and out with a thin, even coating of vegetable shortening. Place the piece upside down on the top rack of the preheated oven directly above the piece of aluminum foil. Bake for one hour. (There will probably be some smoke.) After one hour remove the pan from the oven and place on a on the stove top to cool completely.

Use and cleaning: Heat cast iron gradually. Do not put it on a burner and turn the heat to high or put a hot piece directly into water--either of these could cause your cat iron to crack. Wipe

cast iron clean using hot water. Do not use soap, as this will damage the seasoning. If something sticks to your cast iron, let the piece cool a bit and then pour in some hot water. Let this sit for a while. To scrub, use a stiff bristle brush or a plastic “scrubbie.” Do not use steel wool. Immediately, thoroughly dry the piece, and wipe inside and out with a bit of cooking oil before putting away. This will help prevent rust from forming and protect the seasoning.

Now that you know the essentials of cast iron cookware, get ye to a thrift shop! You will never regret it.

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