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The Resurgence of Cast Iron Cookware
I say that there has been a resurgence in the use and popularity of cast iron cookware, not because people have stopped using it, but because we are using it more than ever. Cast iron cookware is available in a wide variety of items: camping cookware, tea kettles/tea pots, dutch ovens, trivets, fry pans, crocks, round french ovens, grills, griddles, skillets with cast iron flat iron flat press, fondue sets, deep dish lasagna Bakers, pizza pans, round griddles, covered casseroles, gingerbread house molds, corn bread pans, Moroccan tangines and the list goes on.
One item that has intrigued me recently is the cast iron tea kettle. There are different types and brands of tea kettles from different countries; Besides American-made tea kettles, Japanese kettles and Old Dutch kettles are the most readily available. I noticed that Japanese cast iron tea kettles are made in different weights of cast iron; I have seen them in 10 oz., 24 oz., 32 oz. and 45 oz. Weight The old Dutch tea kettles I have seen are the same as the Japanese kettles. This tea kettle weighs 28 oz., 34 oz., 38 oz., in cast iron ounces. and 48 oz. Because these tea kettles are the heaviest (and thickest) of the tea kettles made (compared to glass tea kettles, stainless tea kettles, and copper tea kettles), it’s good to know that they can be found in a variety of sizes and weights. It should be easy to find something you like in both style and weight.
Types of American-made cast iron tea kettles include hobnails – small and large hobnails – tea kettles, hand-painted enameled cast iron (many featuring scenes from the old countryside), pre-seasoned cast iron kettles, which will not rust. Pre-seasoning (although it will need to be re-seasoned sometime down the road) and a cast iron kettle humidifier.
Rust can be a problem for these tea kettles, but if rust can be kept from these kettles they will be the most durable of tea kettles (compared to the other types I listed above). When boiling water using a cast iron tea kettle, overtime a protective layer of minerals forms on the base. With this layer, this kettle will not rust easily.
If, by chance, your tea kettle is rusted (to prevent rust, keep your cast iron kettle as dry as possible, and drain the remaining water immediately after boiling), you can try the following procedure to cure it: Boil some water with baking soda and Add lemon juice.
As far as colors and designs go, old Dutch tea kettles feature the most varied styles. Their list of names for their tea ceremony styles includes: Prosperity, Nobility, Symmetry, Mythology, Purity, and Tranquility. Each style has its own shapes, colors and intricate designs on the side of the teapots – the colors are very beautiful: pale blue, mustard, black, chestnut brown and red. Actually, Japanese cast iron teapots are very colorful and beautiful too, but I think I fell for the old Dutch styles! As with anything else, personal preference as they say, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”
Bare cast iron cookware may have been first used in China in 513 BC and then in England in the 12th century. Originally, the pot stood on three legs as cooking was done on an open hearth. When flat-topped stoves began to be produced for general use in the 1700s, cast iron cookware grew in popularity.
By 1776, Adam Smith, in his book The Wealth of Nations, noted that the real wealth of a nation lay not in gold but in pottery and pottery. Cast iron cookware was very important in the 18th century. George Washington’s mother thought so much of her cookware that she made a special note in her will to include cast iron. In their 1804 expedition to the Louisiana Territory, Lewis and Clark indicated that their cast iron Dutch oven was one of their most important pieces of equipment.
One of the main reasons for the popularity and comeback of old-fashioned, cast iron cookware is that it will cook food evenly, no matter how uneven the surface it is placed on the stove, on an open grill, or over a campfire. The only place to avoid putting cast iron cookware is in a microwave or glass electric stove top (cast iron can scratch the surface).
Is cooking in cast iron good for your health?
I have often been surprised to read that cooking in cast iron greatly increases the dietary source of iron by adding less iron to the food we eat. People who have anemia, or other iron deficiencies, may benefit from this effect, although those with excess iron problems (ie, people with hemochromatosis) may experience negative effects.
This finding is especially true when cooking acidic foods such as tomato-based sauces, and frequent stirring of food can increase the iron content of foods cooked in cast iron. As you might expect, foods that spend more time in the pot, skillet, or dutch oven provide the body with more iron (as opposed to foods that are quickly fried in a pan/skillet). Food cooked in this way can provide the body with all the iron it needs.
Severe iron deficiency can lead to anemia. Women are prone to iron deficiency due to blood loss during menstruation. Because iron can also be lost through sweat, athletes can also be subject to low iron. It is also known that excessive consumption of tea or coffee can inhibit the absorption of iron by the body. I wonder what is considered excess these days, what with a coffee shop on almost every corner – ouch! This may be a slight exaggeration, but I imagine we probably drink more coffee and tea than ever before.
It should be noted that using too much iron is also possible; Toxicity levels start at about 45 milligrams per day. Cooking with cast iron in an average diet is very unlikely to bring a person to this level. Low iron is more likely to be a problem, and cooking with cast iron can be less expensive and more fun (at least more appetizing!) than taking iron supplements. If you use cast iron you should consult your doctor before taking other iron supplements.
Cast iron is a favorite among serious chefs and lasts almost forever if you take care of it. Cast iron cookware seasoning is essential to ensure a non-stick surface and prevent the pot or pan from rusting. Properly constructed, your cookware will last a lifetime and more.
- As for the crusty cast ironware you inherited or picked up at a garage sale: Your cookware may have some combination of rust and thick, crackly black crud. It can be fairly easily restored to like new condition! First place the cookware in the self-cleaning oven and run a cycle or place in a campfire or direct charcoal fire for 1/2 hour, until lightly browned. The crust will fall off, fall off and turn to white ash. Then, after letting your cast iron cool a bit to prevent it from cracking, use the next steps. If you have more rust than crud, try using steel wool to remove it.
- Wash your cast iron cookware with warm water and soap using a scouring pad. If you bought your cast iron cookware new, it will be coated in oil or similar to prevent rust. This step is essential as it needs to be removed before seasoning.
- Dry the cookware completely; It helps to keep the pan in the oven for a few minutes to make sure it’s really dry. A good seasoning requires that the oil be able to soak into the metal and that the oil and water do not mix.
- Coat the pot or pan inside and out with lard, Crisco, bacon or corn oil. Make sure the lid is coated as well.
- Place both the lid and the pot or pan in the oven at 300F on top and bake for at least an hour on the “seasoning” that protects the pan from rusting and provides a stick-resistant surface.
- Repeat steps three and four and five for best results.
- Ongoing Care: You should season your pan every time you wash it. Place it on the stove and add about 3/4 teaspoon of corn oil or other cooking fat. Extend a paper towel and spread the oil over the cooking surface, any exposed surface of the iron, and the bottom of the pan. Turn on the burner and heat until smoke starts to appear. Cover the pan and turn off the heat.
- First, if you think your cast iron needs to be stripped and re-seasoned, don’t panic. All you have to do is put the pot in your self-cleaning oven on the shortest cleaning cycle (about 3 hours on most models), and it will come out like the day it came out of the mold. Let cool overnight. Wash the residue from the sink with water only, using a stiff abrasive pad. Make sure that no dish soap comes into contact with the dishes during this process. If that happens you have to start all over again!!! Dry the cast iron pan with a paper towel and immediately place it in the oven at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 10 minutes or so.
- Next, after the 10 minute drying time is up, remove the pan from the oven and lightly brush the pan with a paper towel coated with Crisco or another solid oil. Liquid vegetable oil will do in a pinch, but it’s best to save the liquid for after your initial seasoning. In this step it is important to simply coat the cast iron with a light, thin oil until it just shines. Do not allow any puddles or liquid to accumulate as this will cause problems later.
- Then, set the cast iron in the oven to 500 to 550 degrees Fahrenheit and place the cooking side in the bottom of the oven. This allows any excess oil to drain from the sides and prevents it from pooling during the seasoning process. The hotter temperature allows the oil to truly ‘cook’ as it should be as opposed to just ‘gumming up’ at lower temperatures. Cook undisturbed for 1 hour.
Please take note: It would be a good idea to turn off any smoke alarms in the immediate area during the previous step as it can cause a lot of smoke. Ceiling fans also help with ventilation.
- Finally, after your cast iron has seasoned for 1 hour or so, take it out of the oven and immediately wipe it down with another extra-light coat of Crisco. Let it cool completely.
- If the food burns, heat some water in a pan and scrape it with a flat metal spatula. This may mean that re-seasoning is required.
- If you wash it very aggressively (with a scouring pad, for example), you’ll regularly rub off the seasoning. Wash more gently or repeat the oven-seasoning method regularly.
- If your pan has a thick crust, you’re not washing it aggressively enough. Follow the “Crusty Pan” instructions.
- If you’re storing your Dutch oven for any length of time, it’s always a good idea to place a paper towel or two between the lid and the oven to allow for air circulation.
- Also, it’s always a good idea to put the cast iron in the oven at 350 degrees for 10 minutes or so after cleaning it after each use to make sure all the water evaporates and remains on the surface.
- Don’t cook tomatoes and other acidic foods in your cast iron cookware unless it’s well prepared (your cookware, not the food!).
- Washing the pan with detergent after the masala is done will spoil the masala. Either wash without detergent (better if you’re cooking similar foods in a pan) or oven-season your cookware frequently.
Enameled cast iron cookware
Enameled cast iron cookware has been produced in the United States since the end of World War II. Enameled cast iron is considered pre-seasoned (meaning it doesn’t have to go through the seasoning steps I described above). Vitreous enamel (the transparent sheen of enamel) is perfectly clean and impervious to tastes and odors and is suitable for storing or marinating foods (raw or cooked) in the refrigerator or freezer.
Today’s enameled cookware comes from many different manufacturers and is available in so many colors, that you’re sure to find something that’s just as available on your dining table as it is in your kitchen. It’s an added bonus that you can go from fridge or freezer to oven to table, especially with the sleek look of this modern cookware.
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