The Resurgence of Cast Iron CookwareMy article discusses the history of cast iron cookware, as well as the many uses of, and care of the cookware. I also talk about the newest types of cast iron cookware, such as enameled cast iron, the kinds of pieces you can find, as well as the vast array of colors they come in. There is so much more available in cast iron cookware than my grandmother had available back in her day!
I say that cast iron cookware has had resurgence in use and popularity, not because people ever actually stopped using it, but because we are using it more than ever before. Cast iron cookware is available in a vast variety of item types: camping cookware, tea kettles/, Dutch ovens, trivets, fry pans, crocks, round French ovens, grills, griddles, skillets with cast iron flat iron flat presses, 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 from countries; besides American made tea kettles, Japanese kettles and Old Dutch kettles seem to be the most readily available. I noticed that the 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. weights. The Old Dutch tea kettles I have seen are similar in weights to the Japanese kettles. These tea kettle weights in ounces of cast iron are 28 oz., 34 oz., 38 oz. and 48 oz. Because these tea kettles are the heaviest (and thickest) of the tea kettles made (in comparison to glass tea kettles, stainless tea kettles & copper tea kettles) its good to know they can be found in various sizes and weights. It should be easy to find something you prefer in both style and weight.
Types of American made cast iron tea kettles include hobnail - small & large hobnails - tea kettles, hand-painted enamel cast iron (many depicting scenes of the old farming countryside), pre-seasoned cast iron kettles, which should not rust because of the pre-seasoning (though it may need to be re-seasoned sometime down the road) and cast iron kettle humidifiers.
Rust can be a problem for these tea kettles, but if the rust can be kept from these kettles, they will probably be the most durable of tea kettles (also compared to the other types I listed above). When boiling water using cast iron tea kettles, a sort of protective layer of minerals will build up on its base overtime. With this layer, these kettles will not easily develop rust.
If, by chance, your tea kettle does develop rust (to prevent rusting, keep your cast iron kettle dry as much as possible, and take out remaining water directly after boiling), you can try the following process to try and cure it: boil in it some water mixed with baking soda and lemon juice.
As far as colors and designs go, the Old Dutch tea kettles seem to have the most variety of styles. They have a list of names for their styles of teapots: Prosperity, Nobility, Symmetry, Mythology, Purity and Tranquility. Each style has its own shape, colors and intricate designs on the sides of the teapots - the colors being rather beautiful: pale blue, mustard, black, chestnut brown and red. Actually, the Japanese cast iron tea pots are quite colorful and beautiful too, but I think I fell for the names of the Old Dutch styles! As with anything else, personal preference is as they say, "beauty is in the eye of the beholder."
Bare cast iron cookware may have been first used in China around 513 B.C. and later in 12th century England. Originally, the pots stood on three legs because cooking was done over an open fire. When stoves with flat tops began to be produced for common usage in the 1700's, the popularity of cast iron cookware increased.
By 1776 Adam Smith, in his book, The Wealth of Nations, could note that the actual wealth of the nation was not its gold but in its manufacture of pots and pans. Cast iron cookware was highly valued in the 18th century. George Washington's mother thought so much of her cookware she made special note to bequeath her cast iron in her will. In their expedition to the Louisiana territory in 1804, Lewis and Clark indicated that their cast iron Dutch oven was one of their most important pieces of equipment.
One important reason for old fashioned, cast iron cookwares popularity and comeback is that no matter how uneven the type of surface on which it is placed, on a stove top, an open grill or over a campfire, is it will cook food evenly. About the only place to avoid putting cast iron cookware is in the microwave or a glass electric stove top (the cast iron can scratch the surface).
Is Cooking in Cast Iron Good for Your Health?
I have been surprised to read over and again that cooking in cast iron is known to greatly increase our dietary source of iron by leaching small amounts of iron into the food we eat. People who are anemic, or have other iron deficiencies, may benefit from this effect, though those with excess iron issues (i.e., people with hemochromatosis) may suffer negative effects.
This finding seems to be especially true when cooking foods high in acid, such as tomato based sauces, and the frequent stirring of food may also increase the amount of iron in foods cooked in cast iron. As you might expect, foods that spend more time in the pot, skillet or Dutch oven will lend more iron to the body (as opposed to foods that are quickly fried in a pan/skillet). Foods cooked this way can often provide all of the iron that a body needs.
Extreme iron deficiency can cause anemia. Women are more prone to iron deficiency because of the loss of blood through menstruation. Because iron can also be lost through perspiration, athletes can also be subject to low iron. It is also known that the excessive consumption of tea or coffee can inhibit the absorption of iron by the body. I wonder what's considered excessive these days, what with a coffee shop on almost every corner - yikes! That might be a small exaggeration, but I imagine we probably consume more coffee and tea than ever before.
It should be noted that it is also possible to consume too much iron; toxicity levels begin at about 45 milligrams per day. In an average diet it is very unlikely that cooking with cast iron will 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 hunger satisfying!) than taking iron supplements. If you do use cast iron you should consult your doctor before taking other iron supplements.
Cast iron is much beloved by serious chefs, and lasts nearly forever if you take care of it. Seasoning cast iron cookware is necessary to ensure a non-stick surface and to prevent the pot or pan from rusting. If seasoned correctly your cookware can last a lifetime and more.
- For crusty cast ironware that 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 restored fairly easily to good as new condition! First place the cookware in a self-cleaning oven and run one cycle OR place in a campfire or directly on a hot charcoal fire for 1/2 hour, until dull red. The crud will be flaking, falling and turning to white ash. Then, after allowing to cool a bit to avoid cracking your cast iron, use the following steps. If you have more rust than crud, try using steel wool to sand it off.
- Wash your cast iron cookware with warm water and soap using a scouring pad. If you have purchased your cast iron cookware as new then it will be coated in oil or a similar coating to prevent rust. This will need to be removed before seasoning so this step is essential.
- Dry the cookware thoroughly; it helps to put the pan in the oven for a few minutes to make sure it is really dry. Oil needs to be able to soak into the metal for a good seasoning and oil and water don't mix.
- Coat the pot or pan inside and out with lard, Crisco, bacon fat, or corn oil. Ensure that the lid is also coated.
- Place both the lid and the pot or pan upside down in your oven at 300F for at least an hour to bake on a "seasoning" that protects the pan from rust and provides a stick-resistant surface.
- For best results repeat steps three and four and five.
- Ongoing care: Every time you wash your pan, you must season it. Place it on the stove and pour in about 3/4 teaspoon corn oil or other cooking fat. Wad up a paper towel and spread the oil across the cooking surface, any bare iron surfaces, and the bottom of the pan. Turn on the burner and heat until smoke starts to appear. Cover pan and turn heat off.
- First, if you find your cast iron needs to be stripped down and re-seasoned do not fear. All you have to do is place the utensil in your Self Cleaning Oven on the shortest cleaning cycle (usually 3 hours on most models), and it will come out looking like the day it came out of the mold. Allow it to cool overnight. Wash the residue off with WATER ONLY in the sink using a stiff abrasive pad. Make certain NO DISH SOAP comes in contact with the utensil during this procedure. If it does you will have to start over!!! Dry the cast iron utensil off with a paper towel, and IMMEDIATELY place BACK in the oven at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 10 minutes or so.
- Next, take the utensil out of the oven after the 10 minute drying time is complete, and lightly brush the utensil with a paper towel coated with Crisco or other solid cooking oil. Liquid vegetable oil will do in a pinch, but it is better to save the liquids until AFTER your initial seasoning. It is important in this step only to lightly coat the cast iron with a light, thin coat of oil until it only glistens. Do not allow any puddles or pools of liquid as this will cause problems at a later time.
- Then, place the Cast Iron in the oven set to 500 to 550 degrees Fahrenheit with the COOKING SIDE FACING THE BOTTOM OF THE OVEN. This allows for any excess oil to drain off to the sides, and prevents pooling during the seasoning process. The higher heating temp allows for the oil to truly 'cook' as it should as opposed to just 'gumming up' at lower temps. Cook undisturbed for 1 hour.
Please note: During the previous step it will be best to turn off any smoke alarms in the immediate area as it may smoke quite a lot. Ceiling fans also aid in ventilation.
- Finally, after your cast iron is finished seasoning for 1 hour or so, take it out of the oven and IMMEDIATELY wipe it down with another extra - light coat of Crisco. Allow it to completely cool.
- If food burns, just heat a little water in the pan, and scrape with a flat metal spatula. It may mean that re-seasoning is necessary.
- If you're washing it too aggressively (for instance with a scouring pad), you will regularly scrub off the seasoning. Wash more gently or repeat oven-seasoning method regularly.
- If your pan develops a thick crust, you're not washing it aggressively enough. Follow "crusty pan" instructions.
- If storing your Dutch oven for any length of time, it is always best to place one or two paper towels in between the lid and the oven to allow for air flow.
- Also, after cleaning after each use it is always best to place it back in the oven on 350 degrees for 10 minutes or so to ensure all water has vaporized and left the surface of the cast iron.
- Do not cook tomatoes and other acidic foods in your cast iron cookware unless it has been well seasoned (your cookware, not the food!)
- Washing pans with detergent after they have been seasoned will break down the seasoning. Either wash without detergent (if you're cooking similar foods with the pan, this is fine) or repeatedly oven-season your cookware.
Enameled Cast Iron Cookware
Enameled cast iron cookware has been manufactured in the United States since the end of World War II. Enameled cast iron is considered pre-seasoned (meaning you don't have to go through the steps of seasoning that I outlined above). The vitreous enamel (the transparent glossiness of the enamel) is completely hygienic and impervious to flavors and odors, and it's perfect to hold foods that are marinating or for storing foods (raw or cooked) in the refrigerator or freezer.
Todays enameled cookware comes from many different manufacturers, and is available in so many colors, that you're sure to find something available that will be equally at home in your kitchen as it will be on your dining room table. It is an added bonus that you can go from fridge or freezer to oven to table, especially with the beautiful look of this modern day cookware.
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