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VOL. 37 | NO. 41 | Friday, October 11, 2013

Cast iron: A constant companion

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The cooler days and nights we have been experiencing lately have me craving big, hearty pots of soups and stews with piping hot slices of fresh-from-the-oven cornbread or cornbread sticks.

Stews are so simple to prepare in the crock-pot. All of the ingredients can be assembled the night before and, with about 15 minutes of time the next morning, you’ll have a hot, delicious dinner waiting when you walk in from work.

Mix up some cornbread and you have a hearty meal in no time!

I was curious about my cast iron skillet I love and use to cook cornbread in, and decided to do a bit of investigating into cast iron’s history, which takes you back to the pioneer days.

In other words, the days of my grandmothers. We never had a meal without cornbread and sliced onions! For dessert, my dad always had chunked-up cornbread in a glass of milk with a bit of sugar. Occasionally, he would put a banana in with it. It’s quite tasty!

Cast iron cookware

Cast iron has been used in the United States since the early 1600s, when settlers brought it from the Old World. It was common in New England for wood-fire stoves or piles of coal to blaze away under cast-iron skillets that fried breakfasts, or Dutch ovens that roasted meats for dinner.

Buttermilk Cornbread

2 tablespoons of butter
1 tablespoon of bacon drippings
1 cup of flour
1 cup of cornmeal
1/4 cup of sugar
1 tablespoon of baking powder
1 teaspoon of baking soda
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1 1/2 cups of buttermilk
1 egg

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Place about two tablespoons of butter and one tablespoon of bacon drippings in a cast iron skillet.

Place the skillet in the oven during preheating, allowing the butter to become sizzling hot.

Mix the dry ingredients together in a medium bowl. In a small bowl, whisk together the buttermilk and the egg. Pour the buttermilk and egg mixture into the flour mixture and then stir until combined. Do not over mix. Add the hot bacon grease and butter from skillet, lightly blend, and pour everything into the skillet. Bake 30-45 minutes or until golden brown.

When Lewis and Clark set out to find a Northwest Passage, they claimed their cast-iron Dutch oven as one of their most important pieces of equipment, using it to cook salt pork and stews of wild game. During the California Gold Rush, miners used it for cooking and to pan for gold.

Cast-iron cookware endured in the kitchen until the 1940s, when aluminum cookware started pushing its way in.

Even now, however, the cast-iron Dutch oven remains the official cookware of Tennessee, Arkansas, Texas and Utah.

So why is it called “cast iron?” Sand casting has been around for hundreds of years, and the basic technique has changed little over time: pour molten iron into a sand mold to create a shape.

The Lodge Company, a family run business located in South Pittsburg, Tenn., has been making cast-iron products for more than 100 years. I’d say they probably have a pretty good recipe by now! However, the cookware speaks for itself.

Cast iron is very efficient at absorbing and retaining heat.

There are two styles on today’s market: regular and enameled.

The enameled is coated with porcelain enamel and available in a variety of colors.

Regular cast iron requires seasoning, which is a simple process of rubbing the inside of a pan with cooking oil and heating it for an hour in a moderate oven. This gives it a nonstick finish.

Cleaning is easy. Wipe with a paper towel or soft cloth and, if necessary, gently scrub with a nylon pad. Afterwards, I always heat mine on a burner to remove all moisture, then rub a light coating of oil on the inside.

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