The Cast Iron Skillet

by Michael Hofferber. Copyright © 2000. All rights reserved.

Next to barns and old tractors, the most distinctive artifact of the old-style American family farm is the cast iron skillet. There was a time before the aluminization of cooking utensils that these skillets could be found in almost every rural kitchen. These days, they're not so common.

You can find cast iron utensils at hardware stores, kitchen supply shops and some grocers, of course, but no new skillet measures up to a well used one. Like fine wines, these culinary implements get better with age.

A well seasoned skillet with decades of experience producing hundreds of batches of corn bread and fried chicken is practically priceless. My wife recently found one with a shiny black patina in an antique shop and presented it to me on Father's Day. What a prize!

The Rainbow's End by Kathy Jennings
Vintage cast iron cookware is not only useful, but collectible. Along with skillets, collectors haunt estate sales and flea markets in search of waffle irons, corn stick pans, Dutch ovens, and griddles.

To season a  cast iron skillet, or other cast iron cookware, you melt solid vegetable shortening and apply it to the surface with a soft cloth or paper towel. Then place the skillet in a 350-degree oven upside down with a cookie sheet on rack below to catch drippings. Bake for one hour, then turn oven off and let the pan remain inside until the oven cools.

Re-season your skillet after cooking beans or any acidic foods such as tomatoes, but never -- ever! --  wash it with soap or dishwashing detergent. Use just boiling water and a bristle brush to clean. Wash immediately after use, while still hot. Do not store food in skillet.
After washing the skillet, dry it carefully and store. Cast iron needs air circulation, so don't put it in a plastic bag or any other air-tight container.

One of my favorite recipes for cast iron skillet cooking is this one for carrot cake:
1 3/4 cups flour
2/3 cup whole wheat flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon allspice
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 egg
3/4 cup brown sugar
2/3 cup buttermilk
1 1/2 cups grated carrots
1 cup raisins

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix together flours and baking soda. Add cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg and salt. Beat egg, sugar and buttermilk together separately and add to mixture. Then add grated carrots and raisins.

Pour olive oil into cast iron skillet and swirl it around so that it coats the entire inside surface. Then pour mixture into the skillet.

Bake for 40 minutes or until the edges of the cake are dark brown and a toothpick inserted into the cake comes out clean. Slice into wedges and serve warm.

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Seasoning a Cast Iron Skillet

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