Cast iron: timeless, strong, durable- practical. My family has been using cast iron ware as far back as I can remember. Grandmothers and great-grandmothers passed their wares on to us as we each married and acquired homes of our own. Virtually nondestructive, cast iron ware lasts for--oh, ever! Nevertheless, it does need some care.
During a recent trip the farm kids and I came home with a few antique treasures- all cast iron. Unfortunately, they have been a bit neglected over time and need a bit of restoring before we put them to use on our little homestead. When cast iron is left in areas of moisture it will develop rust; the higher the moisture, the deeper the rust. All is not lost- this problem is easily solved with just a bit of elbow grease and a few house hold items.
Gathering a few old cleaning cloths, some salt, oil and a few helping hands is all we need to get these wares in use. I did cover my table with paper; it's not necessary though. The iron ware gets a good rub down with oil; we use either a vegetable shortening or lard dependent upon what we have available. Next, the inside of the pan is generously sprinkled with salt which is scrubbed in to remove rust particles. Using a fresh towel, the iron ware is wiped down to determine if another scrub is needed; either repeat the process or move on to seasoning the pan.
Let me add a note here. If there are layers of rust deep in the pan or if the pan is dimpled with gunk or rust flakes I slather it with oil and throw it in a fire or grill pit for an hour. Once it cools I use sand paper to scrub the surface well- removing the rust/gunk only until we have a smooth surface to work with. From here we start the oil/salt cleaning and then on to seasoning.
After the pans give a clean towel (after salt scrubbing, the clean towel wipe down does not show rust on the towel) it is time for a healthy seasoning. Here, I heat my oven or outdoor grill to around 400 degrees while rubbing down my cast iron ware--inside and out with oil or shortening. Aluminum foil on the rack of the oven or grill will help catch any dripping that occurs during the curing. Pans are placed upside down and left for one hour. Heat is then turned off and the pans are left until they cool completely.
A well seasoned pan after curing will be dark black with a nice sheen to it. If the pan was extremely rusty or damaged (i.e you had to use sandpaper) the pan will look dry or "off" so repeat the seasoning process (oil/oven one hour) until the pan develops a black "sheen" to it. The worst pan I ever restored only needed the process done twice- so don't panic. If you have a new pan that was unseasoned (grey when you bought it), this curing process will season the pan, though it will take at least two runs.
Heritage treasures restored with simple items from our home and just a few hours out of my day; priceless!