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.”
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 never say no to a skillet or a cornbread pan with the corn-cob shapes cast in it.
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 kettle. The mother of our first President, George Washington, so valued her cast iron cookware that she specified the new owner in her will.
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 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.
Cast Iron Skillet Peach Cobbler
1 large can of sliced peaches – drained
1 stick butter, melted
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup milk
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
Optional: Vanilla Ice Cream
Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees. Place the peaches evenly at the bottom of the pan. Pour the melted butter over the peaches. Sprinkle the brown sugar on top of the peaches. In a separate bowl, mix together the flour, sugar, milk and vanilla. Pour that batter over the peaches. Bake at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes or until the top has cooked completely. Top with vanilla ice cream, or eat it as it is.