Monday, April 15, 2013

Care and Keeping: Cast Iron


    Heavy cast iron is a priceless treasure to be used and maintained year after year. In days of old there was a respect for things; you took care of what you had. Generations past held to the notion things were not disposable and not easily replaced. Their well used, well seasoned cast iron wares were often handed down to the next generations filled with memories of the home it came from.
     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 will no doubt outlast us, nevertheless, it does need some care.
     Iron ware is used every meal, every day in my kitchen. Most often it is maintained by wiping out debris with a dry cloth and swiping a bit of oil across the cooking surface. This keeps it clean and well seasoned for the next use. Deeper cleaning is done yearly..a good once over with salt and a luffa scrub, a rub all over with some oil and an overnight in the oven (100 degrees). Deep cleaning restores and nourishes the dark cast and deep seasons the surface.  
 
    Neglected or forgotten cast iron that may have rusted over or become chunk with debris needs some attention and some elbow grease. When I restored these cast iron treasures, I started by gathering a few old cleaning cloths, some salt, and oil. The farmhouse table was covered with paper; it's not necessary, but it doesn't hurt. The iron ware was given a good rub down with oil; a vegetable shortening or lard would work as well..always use what's available. Next, the inside of the pan was generously sprinkled with salt..scrubbed in to remove rust particles. Using a fresh towel, the iron ware was wiped down to determine if another scrub was needed; either repeat the process or move on to seasoning the pan with a clean cloth an some oil/shortening/lard.
   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 I start the oil/salt cleaning and then on to seasoning.
   Rusty pans need to be rust free before 'seasoning'. Once the salt/oil routine above is finished, wiping iwth a clean towel should show no signs of the rust. If it does, I the process again. After the pans give a clean 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/lard. 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 sandpaper had to be used) the pan will look dry or "off" so repeating the seasoning process (oil/oven one hour) needs to be done until the pan develops a black "sheen" to it. The worst pan I ever restored only needed the process done twice. For a new pan that was unseasoned (grey when we bought it), this curing process seasoned the pan with only two runs.
   As my children grow and leave home, the gift of well tended cast iron goes with them.
 

10 comments:

Jen said...

My Mother gave me my Grandmothers cast iron skillets several years ago. They needed sanded and seasoned bad. My husband used a drill with a brush on the end and scrubbed the rust off for me and then I seasoned them. We also have one of his grandmothers griddle's. We use them all the time now.

Jen said...

On a total side note - The picture of your stove with the white kettle on it. I love! I found one just like it a few weeks ago over the hill from my house. Must have been my husbands grandparents years ago. Anyway - the bottom was rusted out of it but I am going to use it to put flowers in on my deck this summer. :)

Michelle said...

I love cast iron. I have several pieces that were my grandmothers.

Simply Scaife Family said...

The red and white kettle is a wonderful treasure we found while traveling on a mission trip. It matches several pieces from my husband's grandparents. It is so hard to find them in good condition..I love your idea, Jen, to set flowers in it!
The best and most precious cast iron pieces are always from our grandmothers, aren't they? Enjoy them and pass them on!

Pioneer Mom said...

That is good to know. Can you tell me why my dutch oven gives off a strong iron flavor when cooking? We bought it new a few years ago, well seasoned. Should I season it again, as it sometimes tends to get rusty spots inside? i can wipe it out with an oil cloth, and the cloth keeps getting grey. I hope I can improve my cast iron cooking skills, as I really like my cast iron pieces.

Simply Scaife Family said...

Hello Pioneer Mom. I think the grey color on the oil cloth is the key. Whenever we get cast iron, even if preseasoned, I like to treat it as if it wasn't seasoned. I would give it a good seasoning and repeat until the oil cloth is no longer grey after wiping the pan. Hope this helps!

daisy said...

It's good to know how to do it right!

JES said...

Thank you for this article. I thought I killed my cast iron but it looks like there is hope!!! I will try your ideas. Have a wonderful weekend!

Mrs. Farmer said...

When we got some very rusty, pitted cast iron cookware, Mr. Farmer had access to a blasting cabinet. He sand-blasted the pans, then we seasoned them (and sold a couple, which was heart-breaking, but necessary at the time). It worked like a charm!

Simply Scaife Family said...

Hm, a blasting cabinet..very cool. That would certainly fix some problems:)
Jes, I am sure you didn't kill it! A little heat and oil and you should be fine!