The kitchen where I spent a lot of my time as a boy was one of modern materials and, for the time, high technology. Stainless steel pots, pans and cookie sheets had long replaced heavier and, to my mother’s eye, less attractive and tougher to maintain cast-iron pieces. I can’t blame her any, though, as there was a mess of us to feed, and we all got fed really well with three from-scratch meals a day. And imagining her swinging those heavy Dutch ovens, skillets and baking pans all day, and worrying over keeping everything spotless … well … I try not to imagine the consternation that it might have caused her. But I distinctly recall my fascination with cast-iron cookware when, at a friend’s house, I saw a pan that was heavy and black, and from which delicious cornbread came, with pieces in the shape of little ears of corn. I could swear that the shape of those little corn cakes made them taste even better.
Through the many “adult” decades until now, I have always maintained at least one set of stainless clad cookware – childhood lessons are tough to unlearn, but I reserve one cabinet for what has become a serious collection of well-seasoned cast-iron pieces that actually get used. I have some giant skillets for those large pieces of fish or when the whole crew is home for breakfast, but more often I turn to a burner-top cast-iron griddle that is smooth on one side, making it perfect for grilled cheese sandwiches, eggs and pancakes, and ridged on the other side for searing burgers, steaks and chops. When I’m home alone, there’s the little 8-inch frying pan, just right for personal-sized omelets. The 9-inch skillet is perfect for a big batch of cornbread, and the little cornbread pan is really fun to look at. The aebleskiver pan and all of the bread and other baking pans are off limits to me, though. I really don’t know what to do with them, anyway, but Karen sure does.
For years I eschewed any but a natural stone or ceramic material for baking my pizzas upon. Oh how I lamented when my 16-year-old round pizza stone shattered. It was slick, baked brown with every pore sealed, and guaranteed nonstick. I was distraught, and when my wife brought home a lovely Lodge cast-iron replacement pizza “stone,” I was intrigued, yet skeptical. How could it ever live up to the task? We ran the piece through several seasoning cycles and finally put it to the test one night, sprinkling a little coarse home-ground cornmeal on the surface of the hot iron just before placing the crust and assembling the pie. I shoved the works into the 500-degree oven, and in roughly 12 minutes, we had quite simply one of the best homemade pizzas we’d ever created. I was convinced.
Whether you enjoy making biscuits or beans over a fire in your Dutch oven or no-knead bread in your enameled cast-iron pots, I’d love to know what you’re up to this season. And if you have any cool cast-iron finds or wisdom to share, I’d especially like to know about it. Please send a note and a photo or two (jpeg at least 300 dpi), if available, to me by email, and the whole works may just wind up in a future issue.
See you in September,
Hank Will raises hair sheep, heritage cattle and many varieties of open-pollinated corn with his wife, Karen, on their rural Osage County, Kansas farm. His home life is a perfect complement to his professional life as editor in chief at GRIT and Capper's Farmer magazines.