Historical records indicate that the first iron kettles and pots were used in the 7th and 8th centuries. In Europe during the 16th century, the art of casting iron for cookware became widespread, so it’s no surprise that the European settlers who came to the New World brought this much-loved cookware with them.
In the development of Early America, colonists and settlers often had only two pieces of cooking equipment – a cast iron skillet and a cast iron Dutch oven or caulron. The mother of our first President, George Washington, so valued her cast iron cookware that she specified the new owner in her will.
I like to collect things… a minimalist I will never be. My husband and I joke that we are “optimalists,” which often closely resembles the opposite of minimalism. When we made the move from the Hill Country to Fort Davis, our collection of cast iron cookware was a great example of our combined “optimalism.”
Optimalism can closely resemble maximalism (which is indeed the opposite of minimalism) and to be perfectly honest, that’s the point where I feel the most joy. While fewer and finer is a lovely concept that my husband tries to impress on me, I think more and finer is even better. 🙂
Cast iron can get very heavy when you put two or more items in a heavy-duty moving box. We had lots of boxes with a few items that weighed almost as much as a box of books.
For many years, if I saw an old piece of cast iron cookware while out at antique stores, flea markets or garage sales, I grabbed it to add to the collection. We’ve gotten pretty good at just saying “no” nowadays, since we have quite a bit of the heavy-duty stuff… unless it’s really unique or special.
I use cast iron daily. Desserts, breakfast, lunch, dinner, veggies, fruit, meats, breads… any of it can be cooked in cast iron and I’ve done it and taken pictures.
Good cast iron can last hundreds of years, and there’s no telling the age of and how many meals some of our skillets have provided. Cast iron conducts heat evenly, browns better than any of my expensive chef-quality pans, and rarely, if ever, has anything stick to it.
Caring for cast iron is pretty easy. “Seasoning” it before use is key unless you have a pre-seasoned skillet. If it’s not pre-seasoned, it will be gray, and you shouldn’t cook in it. Seasoning is the process where cooking oil is soaked into the iron’s pores and turns the cookware black and shiny, ready to be your new favorite cooking tool.
To season your new cookware, wash it with hot, soapy water and a stiff brush. Rinse and dry it completely. Smear a thin coat of solid shortening or vegetable oil (although bacon grease would be ideal) over the entire surface of the pan, including the handle and all exterior surfaces. In your oven, line the lower oven rack with foil to catch any drips, and preheat to 350 degrees. Put your new cookware upside down on the middle rack of the oven and bake it for one hour. Turn the oven off and leave the cookware inside it until the oven is cool.
The first time you season it, it will be brown. You can either season it two or three more times for the darker black color, or you can let it darken with use.
Don’t be off-put by a little rust on an old skillet – simply scour it with hot soapy water and re-season it. A well-seasoned piece of cast iron should only require hot water and a stiff brush for cleaning.
At Porter’s in Fort Davis, I recently spotted a new Lodge display, tucked in a corner near the ice cream. You can buy seasoned cast iron skillets and other cookware nowadays, and in my kitchen, I’ve got Lodge cookware that came both unseasoned and pre-seasoned, and I love them equally.
Lodge has been the leading maker of cast iron cookware since 1896. I’ll bet some of their very first pieces are still in use in someone’s kitchen, seasoned to perfection by now.
No-Knead Skillet Bread
1 package (2-1/4 tsp) active dry yeast
2 cups lukewarm water
1/2 tablespoon kosher salt
4-1/3 cups all-purpose flour
Combine yeast and warm water in a large bowl or pitcher. Using a wooden spoon, add in 1 cup of the flour, and then the salt, and mix until combined. Stir in the rest of the flour, one cup at a time, until completely incorporated.
Cover with plastic wrap, or a lid that is not shut completely. Allow to rise for 1 hour.
Do not punch down the dough. Lightly oil the bottom of a cast iron skillet (10-inch or 12-inch skillet works well).
Sprinkle a good amount of flour on top of the dough, and then cover hands with flour. Take all of the dough and shape into a disk. Keep in mind that it will be sticky.
Place the dough in the skillet, cover loosely with a towel, and allow to rise for another 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Drizzle a little more oil over the top of the bread, and slash the dough with a knife, creating an “X.” Sprinkle with coarse salt. Sprinkle with rosemary leaves, if desired.
Bake for 35-40 minutes until the top is a deep brown color.