Friday, January 4, 2013
Man's Second Best Friend- Cast Iron
This homely, drab little skillet, and my cast iron Dutch Oven, and my iron comal, are worth more to me than a thousand dollar set of stainless steel cookware.The Dutch Oven has no equal when it comes to braising lamb or chicken, the skillet produces home fries of a crispness stainless cannot. Make the fries in a steel pan and watch the crispy bits cling to the bottom, unmoveable by any force other than scouring powder and an overnight soak in the sink.
My Dutch Oven came from the camping aisle at Walmart. Its tight fitting lid is a skillet, good for morning bacon and eggs around a campfire. Cast iron has come down through the ages with man. In his "The Cuisine of Hungary" George Lang writes "An ancient utensil which recalls their way of life was the "bogracs", or kettle. The large cast iron pot, which could be held on the"szolgafa"(holding stick), was a basic cooking utensil of the nomad Hungarians. It hung behind the saddle even when they went on their marauding excursions".
Cast iron kettles, griddles, and pots went west with the wagon trains, and though the pioneers may have abandoned pianos and desks along the trail, I believe they would no more have abandoned their iron pans than they would their children.
One can spend hundreds on cast iron, the enameled kind from France, but it chips easily, and the newer models of pre-seasoned inexpensive Lodge cookware are just as good. And how fortuitous it is to find antique and vintage pans at estate sales and junk shops. Every cast iron pan I have seen at estate sales disappears within an hour.
Cooks know a bargain when they see it. John Thorne in his "Simple Cooking" talks about finding an old skillet in a shop where the shopkeeper declared it priceless because it had never been washed. Cast iron does not care for water and hates soap, which wears away its seasoned surface. I clean mine with a rag or paper towel and a teaspoon or two of kosher salt.
Some decorate their kitchens with big pot racks and showy, pricey cookware they may not ever use. But someone who recognizes the charms of frugality will give a good home to cast iron pans. They may not be glamorous or colorful or signify how much money one has spent. But though they are plain,the intelligent cook who
knows value will know their worth.
And he or she will make homefries fit for both cowboy and king.