Wednesday, March 30, 2011

It is all in the Iron




Nebraska Prairie Girl on Cast Iron Cookery
Before Paula Deen, and Teflon there was Cast Iron Skillets.  Cast Iron has been used for more that 2,500 years, and became popular in the United States in the 18th Century.  What would our pioneer sisters have done with out the use of Cast Iron?

I have been cooking with iron skillets for over 25 years now and I will not use anything else.   I have purchased and tried Teflon, stainless, aluminum, and enamel.   I have not found anything that beats or even comes close to cooking with Iron Skillets.   
   Iron, cooks evenly,  is indestructible, non-toxic, adds iron to your food,  can be found inexpensively at thrift stores, second hand stores and auctions. You can go from stove top to oven, you can cook over a fire, so it is functional both indoor and outdoors.  Cast Iron comes in many shapes and sizes, round, square (great for cooking bacon or cornbread in), there are tea pots, griddles, dutch ovens (cooking pot with lid).  They even come with a pretty enamel layer on the outside in many vibrant colors to choose from. (Watch out Paula Deen)

I think a lot of folks think that caring for iron skillets is a daunting task, and maybe not worth the effort.  Actually,  I find that it is no more difficult that any other cookery.     Here are some tips I have learned over the years of taking care of my iron skillets.   1.  Never wash your iron skillet with soapy water, use warm water if you have to.   2. you should simply just wipe out you iron skillet with a dry towel.
after cooking sausage
after wiping out with dry towel
 3.  I never cook acidic food in my skillets ie. spaghetti sauce, chili,  I find acidic food is hard on the seasoned surface. (I have stainless pots for those meals)  4.  if I have to use water to clean my skillet I place it on a warm burner or in a warm oven to dry.  5. to re- season from time to time I just wipe a thin layer of canola oil around the inside of my skillets.  6.  If you purchase brand new skillets you will find they have a protective layer of oil on them.  You need to wash that protective coating off  with soapy warm water (this is the only time you should use soapy water).  Dry the skillet with a clean towel.  Now season the skillet with one tablespoon of canola oil being sure to spread it all around the inside and outside of the skillet, using more oil if necessary.   Now place the skillet in an oven heated at 250 degrees for two hours.  The heat will incorporate the oil into the iron, binding it to the iron  and creating a protective layer.  If you take care of your iron skillet this is the only time that you will have to season it is such a manner. 
my favorite skillet with a great seasoned layer
The best skillets I have found have been second hand.  They already have a great seasoned layer if they have been cared for correctly.  I think that the older the Iron skillet the better the iron is.   I have both newer and older skillets and find the older ones are the best hands down.  I love to think of all the wonderful meals that were cooked in those old iron skillets,  and has added to its wonderful seasoned layer.
When we moved to our farm we found some iron skillets in one of the barns that had been exposed to the weather and had become rusty.   In a effort to save the skillets my son took a  wire brush for a  drill and just scrubbed all the rust off.  I seasoned the pans as mentioned above and the pans come out  beautifully.  

The only draw back that some might find is that Cast Iron Skillets are heavy, especially when they are full of vittles.   But then again it does help build muscles and they can be used as a weapon if necessary.  :)


 
Corn bread baked in my iron skillet
Corn Bread Recipe
                                 1 cup Cornmeal                                                      4tsp baking powder
                                 1 cup flour                                                               1 egg
1/4 cup honey                                                         1 cup of milk
1/2 tsp. salt                                                             1/4 cup butter
Mix dry ingredients into a bowl.  Add egg, milk, honey, and butter.   Beat with egg beater until smooth.  Pour into well seasoned 8 inch cat iron skillet.  (you can spray with Pam if you would like).  Bake at 425 degrees for 20-25 minutes.   Makes 6 servings.  
(I added whole corn to the recipe above.  For a southwest flavor green chilies can be added.)

So, if you have Iron Skillets hanging around your house dust them off,  re-season if necessary.  Cook up a batch of corn bread and regain some of that pioneer spirit. 

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