Cast iron has been used for cooking for over 2000 years. Well, that’s the rumor, but I’m sure it’s close.
As long as there has been a meal to make, apparently, cast iron has been one of the means to get it done.
Since the “stove” did not come along until about the middle of the nineteenth century in Europe, cast iron was about the best thing to cook in over an open fire. (It still is today, in my opinion!)
Even when cooking got moved indoors, with the addition of fireplaces and hearts, cast iron “spiders” were often used. So was the hanging Dutch oven.
Learning About Cast Iron
It took me a while to figure out what a spider was, actually. I have always been an avid collector or very old cookbooks. In those, you see a lot about searing and cooking things over an open fire in a spider.
As it should so happen, a spider is simply a frying pan with legs on it. When trying to find something to link to, I was amazed at how hard it was. You can actually see one here. There were spider frying pans, griddles, dutch ovens and more, all with the express purpose of being used over an open fire.
Which reminds me of something my mother used to always tell me: she said that you could season a cast iron pan simply by throwing it in the fire. Now, she was talking about a fireplace or wood burning stove. However, an open fire outdoors would also season, or effectively REseason, a nice cast iron pan.
On the flip side of that coin, I have also heard people say that tossing cast iron into a fire was a horrible idea. They say it would warp and ruin the pan. In my opinion, that could only be true if the pan is a substandard one. I mean, by their very existence, they were meant to be used over a fire. If a pan warps, then it isn’t really a quality cast iron pan after all.
More Cast Iron Facts
There’s one good way you can tell an old cast iron pan from a new one. With only a few exceptions, the really old iron is incredibly thick. And heavy. And, if it has been used very much at all, looks pretty rough.
The most recent addition to the cast iron lineup has been the pots, pans and other cookware that is cast iron but overlaid with enamel. I will not own such a thing. To me, that is just “cheating” at attempting a good season on the pan.
Enamel, if used very often at all, will chip. It’s the biggest complaint with the stuff, even by those who swear by it.
There’s just no way around it. I have a good many friends who have purchased these types of pots and they are actually chipped when they open the package. After the enamel chips off, that spot will rust – since the enamel was the only seasoning that the pot had – and there’s really nothing you can do about it.
A good cast iron pan, on the other hand, if seasoned properly, will not rust. Especially if you use them often. And of course, I am of the firm belief that they should be used often, and frequently. Why it’s just about the only pan I cook with! And believe me, I have several.
Anyway, the enamel coated cast iron is good, I suppose. If you want to use it just for show, or only for cooking certain things. I mean, I get it. If you cook anything with a tomato base in cast iron, you have to get it out quickly. The acidity will eat right through your seasoning pretty quickly. Unfortunately, I learned that the hard way. So, in that respect, the enamel stuff is good for that.
But I just can’t seem to get on board with it. We cook a lot. We often take our pans camping with us. It’s about the only thing that will really stand up when you are truly “roughing it.” So it gets a lot of wear and tear and borderline abuse, as cookware goes.
If you can make a go of enamel, that’s great! I’m glad for you 🙂
I’ll do another blog post soon about how to properly season your iron. Yes, it will include my mother’s way from long years ago, of throwing it in the fire. Luckily, for those who seem so put off by that, there are plenty of other ways to season one. Especially newer, thinner ones that weren’t actually “forged” into being.
We will also talk about cleaning methods and whether or not washing them with soap is as much a disaster as some would have you believe. There are reasons that the thought process is in place, but for now, I digress.
Suffice it to say, I am one of the biggest fans of cast iron. I pray I get to pass that down to not only my own children but anyone at all who will hear the message 🙂
Thanks for stopping by, and happy cooking!