Mail Call January/February 2016: Cast-Iron Cookware Collections, Persimmons, Cattle and More

Share our readers’ experiences collecting cast-iron cookware, growing stevia, raising dexter cattle, sharing persimmons forecasting, and more.

Cast iron

We envy David Cusick’s collection.

Photo by David Cusick

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Cast-Iron Collector

We happened to be in a big-box store, and my wife saw the Grit magazine with cast-iron cooking on the cover, the July/August 2015 edition. Anything that pertains to cast iron, I generally read, which leads me to this little letter.

I’ve been collecting cast iron for a while now, and we cook on it just about exclusively. I do have an old Fisher woodstove, and we heat our home with it. I cook soups and stews all winter long over it with Revere ware, which I also collect. I can’t say for sure how many pieces of cast iron I have, but I’m sure it’s about 100?!

I usually find cast-iron pans and things in tag/yard sales, but I do pick up some in flea markets and antique stores. For me to purchase something in an antique store, it has to be something that I don’t have, and the price has to be right.

In today’s market, people are going on eBay and basing their store prices on that, and therefore some prices of cast iron are through the roof.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy the photos. I love to do a meatloaf on the grill in the cast-iron pan. Same with potatoes.

Thanks, and I was so glad to see your article.

David Cusick, North Cape May, New Jersey


Fellow South Dakotans

I recently subscribed to Grit, and Glenn and I are enjoying it. We get so busy with gardening in the summer, however, that I am always way behind on my magazine reading. So I just recently read the March/April 2015 issue. We were delighted to discover that you were someone we knew back when you were planting all those trees in Lincoln County, Hank. Glenn Googled “Oscar Will Seeds,” and discovered the very interesting article you had written about your grandfather’s seed company.

We still live on our 5 acres west of Sioux Falls. Our goal is still to raise as much of our food as we can. This past summer was a good one for us. The storage bins, the canning shelves, and the freezers are full – plus we had plenty of produce to share with others.

For the past two years I have grown the sweet herb stevia. I have started plants from seed, but more nurseries are beginning to carry stevia plants. The plants are easy to grow. After the plants are about 12 to 15 inches tall, I begin picking a handful of sprigs from the plants about once each week. I wash the sprigs and then cut the leaves off the stems and spread them on a tray to dry. After several days of drying, I store the leaves in a container and set a new batch of leaves out to dry. When I have quite a few leaves dried, I put them in my blender and pulverize them to a fine powder. I was able to harvest stevia leaves 14 times this summer. (Harvesting needs to be done before the plants bloom.)

Once the stevia is dried and pul-verized, it will keep indefinitely. I have had fun experimenting with ways to use it. I especially like using it in muffins and quick breads. Baked goods need some sugar, but they seldom need as much as a recipe calls for. I make lots of zucchini bread during the summer. The recipe for two loaves calls for 1-1⁄2 cups of sugar. I use 3⁄4 cup and 1⁄2 teaspoon of stevia powder. Stevia has worked well in every quick bread recipe I have tried. I also use stevia to replace part of the sugar in the excellent pumpkin muffin recipe that was in a recent issue of Grit. In foods like salad dressings, stevia can replace all the sugar called for in the recipe.

Best wishes to you, and thanks for all the interesting information in Grit.

Cindy Wika, Rural South Dakota


Dexter Cattle

Thank you for publishing the article “Keeping Cattle on the Small Farm,” by Callene Rapp. I thought the article had many great points to consider when adding cattle to an existing operation or becoming a livestock owner for the first time. I can’t emphasize enough the importance of pro-spective cattle owners taking the time to figure out what they hope to get out of their investment. Once the buyer determines the qualities and traits they want in an animal, it is best to find a breeder that emulates those goals and breeds for the same or similar traits. A good breeder will always take the time to help answer your questions, point out the good and bad points in their own cattle, and help you find animals that match your situation.

The only thing I think the article missed was a mention of the Dexter breed. I realize that there are many fantastic breeds out there, but Dexter cattle are a great triple-purpose breed, meeting the goals of meat, milk, and labor for those looking for a combination of traits. They have a fantastic nature to boot. We love raising Dexter cattle because of their ability to finish exceptionally well on grass, their moderate frame size, rich milk and docile temperament. Thanks for your great articles.

Dessa Dale, Hawthorne Farm, Missoula, MT

We love the versatility of Dexters, Dessa, and they really do produce wonderful grassfed beef. There was simply not space available to go into the merits of each and every cattle breed out there – too many to name. Check out our larger cattle breed guide at A Field Guide to Heritage Cattle. — Editors


Young Urban Farmer

Thought we’d share this picture of our 2-year-old son, Thomas, with our new urban backyard chickens. She is the sweetest little hen and has taken a liking to him.

Cindy and Brandon Petty, Washington, West Virginia


Persimmons Predictions

Talk about ... serendipity? Coincidence?!

About a week ago, I cut the persimmon seed (“Palatable Persimmons,” November/December 2015) and found what I could only call a knife, but lesser known to me than fork or spoon, so I was left wondering at the forecast.

The other day, a gorgeous fall day, a flock of Canadian honkers flew south overhead. That prompted me to tend an item on my to-do list – order wood. Apparently I’m a little behind the wiser ones.

So we will see if the knife brings bitter icy cold.

I have a persimmon tree on my property that was badly damaged in a 2009 ice storm. I cut down two persimmons in my yard because I didn’t know about waiting for ripeness. There are two directly across from my property, where I discovered two things. One is incredibly sweet and smooth when it has fallen from the tree. The other is still sweeter than unripe, but not nearly as good. I have no idea if they are different varieties. Wish I had one of those with the big fruit.

I’m a real optimist. I’m thinking it would be a miracle if I live long enough to see fruit trees bear fruit. I am in the northeast corner of Arkansas, about 10 miles south of the Missouri line. I hope that knife is wrong.

Roz Hill, Maynard, Arkansas

We hope so, too, Roz, and we’ll have to remember to check and see if your forecast is accurate! – Editors


Homestead From Scratch

In 1996, I purchased 5 acres of land that was being used as a cow pasture, in which 20 years later, today, it has been transformed into ESET HOMESTEAD. I raise two gardens, one larger than the other and a separate tomato patch. I can or freeze the vegetables, and then after I have my needs met, I allow the public to come and harvest free for themselves. I raise chickens both for eggs and fryers to process for the freezer, and I sell a few eggs. I raise two herds of goats per year – I average 45 to 60 – then I sell and start a new heard. I enjoy my country lifestyle.

Eric Stoner, via Email


Delivery Boys and Girls

Good Evening from Nashville, Tennessee! While surfing the web today, I came across the Grit website. I remember as a skinny little 13-year-old kid living in Antioch, Tennessee, having my Grit paper route. I had 11 faithful customers every Saturday morning. At the time, they were 10 cents per copy, and I was knocking out 44 cents per week! I remember putting my 6 cents per copy for each one sold into a blue cardboard sleeve provided by the company. Cokes were 5 cents, and candy bars as well. That still left 34 cents to jingle around in my pocket. I will be 70 on the 26th of next month, but still remember those days very vividly. Thank you, Grit, for my young start in the world of business!

Pete Mason, Bellevue, Tennessee

Honored that our publication played a role in your education and training, Pete! Delivery boys and girls ushered Grit through a critical era in our publication’s history, and it’s an honor to get to look after it today. – Editors


Mouthwatering Cinnamon Roll

I recently made the recipe for the cinnamon rolls on the cover of your homemade bread issue (GRIT Guide to Homemade Bread). Truly a labor of love. Simply luscious, and well worth the effort and time. I’ve never baked anything so flaky. Seems like I should be thanking a little pig somewhere!

Linda Stewart, via Email


Bow Saws for Life

I’ve been cutting firewood using a bucksaw or bow saw for most of my 80 years on planet Earth. I vividly recall an event where I was sawing wood at the age of 7 or 8, and a younger sister was sitting atop the wood placed on a sawbuck. The saw blade ran a little too close to one of my sister’s knees. There was a superficial cut to the skin and not much blood, but a whole lot of screaming.

I can legitimately claim some 70-odd-years of experience using these devices. Many years ago, I was able to purchase replacement blades for my 36-inch bow saw, which were made in Sweden. Now, the blades are indicated as manufactured in Portugal. This product is somewhat inferior to the Swedish blade. There is insufficient set in the cutting teeth, plus some problems with tooth alignment which causes the cut to curl to one side. This isn’t a problem with small wood, but when cutting logs of some size, there is binding in the cut pathway. This has been a consistent problem with the Sandvik blade now manufactured in Portugal.

Recently, I was helping someone clean out an old woodshed of all manner of debris. In among the “junk” was an old Sandvik 36-inch blade made in Sweden. It was in its original package with a somewhat faded price sticker showing $4.10. That price indicated it had been purchased 40 or 50 years ago. I took it home, inserted it into my 36-inch bow saw, and made several cuts. Wow! What a difference! It cuts straight and true.

I know there are a whole lot of people across this country who love the chainsaw. There are times when I’m envious. I watched a friend cut up some “big stuff” with his chainsaw a few years back. Two hours with that stinky, noisy machine was the equivalent of two months with muscle and sinew raking teeth forward and backward.

Some 40 years ago, when my son was 12 years old, the thought of buying a chainsaw was becoming very attractive as I labored away with the bow saw. Sometime later, the daily newspaper featured a horrible tragedy. Father and 12-year-old son cutting wood together, dad running the saw, boy grabbing the chunks and throwing them into a pile. The saw kicked out of the log, struck the boy in the chest, and he bled to death … No chainsaw for me, ever!

Somewhere among your subscribers to Grit there may be a person with information on a source for a high-quality replacement blade.

Alfred Field, Walpole, New Hampshire

We look up to your gritty, old-fashioned method for cutting wood, Alfred. Man, what a chore, and what awesome determination! – Editors


Kitchen Aprons

I enjoyed the article, “Mom’s Apron,” in the July/August 2015 issue of Grit magazine. My mother and grandmother always wore aprons, so I got into the habit. I still wear aprons around the house, especially when cooking. I have some really cool aprons made for me out of material with tractor and farm motifs. I also enjoy any articles and tips on cast-iron cooking. My husband in particular is a big fan of cooking with cast iron.

Nancy Wilcox, via Email