December 20, 2007

Cast Iron Cookware

My cookware isn't very sophisticated. I'm still using a set of Club Aluminum received as a wedding present in 1978.

Although I've had various pieces of Teflon type non-stick pots and pans over the years, I generally shy away from them because of the pet bird that resides near the kitchen doorway. Teflon (or PTFE) fumes are supposed to be bad for birds so I don't want to take any chances. The bird has outlived most of those pans anyway.

And, like the pioneers did long ago, I use a lot of black cast iron cookware. It's annoying because they're heavy and bulky, but they sure get the job done. I use big skillets, medium-size skillets, small skillets, even a square one; a muffin pan, a corn stick pan, and I have three Dutch ovens--one with and two without legs. I used to have a waffle maker with a base and a long griddle that fit over two burners, but got rid of those when I finally conceded that even the lowliest family restaurant makes better pancakes and waffles than I do. I also had a tea kettle.

Most of the pieces are Wagner Ware but one Dutch oven is a Lodge. They last forever.

I initially picked up Lodge Presents Chef John Folse's Cast Iron Cooking: An Historical Collection From America's Culinary Regions (1999, 104 pages) for no other reason than it's a cookbook sporting a brand name. It wasn't until I was cataloging the book that I noticed some of its more interesting features.

This cookbook contains much more than recipes--it has a bit of history, recipe author profiles, old catalog pages--and I am fond of those things, as you already know.

You may remember Chef John Folse from his PBS television cooking show "A Taste of Louisiana." In the Foreword, he tells of his southern Louisiana upbringing and how cast iron pots and pans were used by all generations of his family. The food they prepared is mouth watering.

This cookbook was created to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Lodge Manufacturing. The company was founded in 1896 in South Pittsburg, Tennessee. The family of the original founder is still making and selling the same products today that they made a century ago.

The chapters of the book are divided into seven U.S. regional cuisines with chapters also included on the Caribbean and Chuckwagon cooking.

A premiere chef was selected from each region and they share their favorite recipes that represent the spices, foods and flavors of their particular cuisine. (The recipes are reported to be best prepared in cast iron, which is not a surprise, considering the publisher.)

You'll find some of the history of the Lodge Manufacturing Company and also entire pages and smaller illustrations from an old 1920s Lodge Cast Iron catalog. I had fun picking out the cookware pieces I currently use or have used in the past.

Knowledgeable advice is dispensed on the general care and use of cast iron cookware as well as the all-important seasoning process. There are several seasoning methods given by one of the company's customer service representatives. I like this one best:

"Fry only bacon in a new skillet for a month or so. Don't wash pan after each use except with hot water and a brush and then wipe completely dry. I imagine any self-respecting doctor would discourage eating bacon every day for a month, but it does wonders for a cast iron skillet."
Below are the different cuisines and the names of the chefs associated with each region. There's a short profile of each as well as some of the history of each cuisine. The recipes come next; there are several recipes for each region. There are photos of the chefs but none of the food.

Chapter 1 - New England - Chef James Griffin
Chapter 2 - Low Country - Chef Don McMillan
Chapter 3 - The Caribbean - Chef Andre Niederhauser
Chapter 4 - Cajun & Creole - Chef John D. Folse
Chapter 5 - The Southwest - Chef Maurice Zeck
Chapter 6 - Chuck Wagon - Chef Jim Anderson
Chapter 7 - Pacific Northwest - Chef Alfred Popp
Chapter 8 - Heartland - Chef Dennis Bahm
Chapter 9 - Great Lakes - Chef Louis Jesowshek

Some of the recipes sound delicious: a North Carolina Hillbilly Apple Sonker (a deep dish fruit pie or cobbler), Shrimp and Pumpkin Soup, Louisiana Crawfish Etouffee, Class Relleno with Cilantro Coulis, Chisolm Trail Blueberry French Toast Cobbler, Dungeness Crab Cakes, Cheese & Corn Bread Lodge-Style and Rhubarb Dampfnudlen.

One recipe does not sound good: Chisolm Trail Fried Prairie Oysters.

I found out more than I ever wanted to know on this subject (complete with visuals) over at Confessions of a Pioneer Woman. I'm open to at least trying most foods, but I won't be trying these anytime soon, even if I do have the perfect pan to fry them in.

This recipe is from the New England region. It's more to my liking.


This dish combines two traditional New England ingredients--apples and maple syrup--for a unique flavor treat.

Ingredients for Filling:

6 Cortland or Fuji apples
3/4 cup maple syrup
2 tbsp. lemon juice
1/4 cup butter
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup flour
1/2 tsp. cinnamon

Ingredients for Dough:

2 cups flour
1/2 cup butter
1 egg
pinch of sugar
1/2 tsp salt
3 tsps milk

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Peel and core apples. Cut into quarters and sprinkle with lemon juice. Set aside. In a 12-inch cast iron skillet, melt butter over medium-high heat. Dust the bottom of the skillet with 1/2 cup sugar until completely covered. Remove from heat and set aside. In a large mixing bowl, place apples, syrup, 1/4 cup of flour and cinnamon. Toss apples coating completely with syrup mixture. Line the bottom of the skillet with apples in a decorative fashion. To prepare pie dough, place 2 cups of flour on a flat surface. Cut in butter. Add egg, sugar and salt. Knead dough until it forms a ball. Add milk and knead several times until smooth. Roll dough into a 1/4-inch circle, large enough to cover the skillet. Place the dough over the apples and trim away the excess dough. Place the skillet over medium heat. When the edges of the pan begin to bubble, remove skillet. Place tart in oven and bake for 15 minutes or until the crust is brown. Carefully turn hot tart over onto a large serving platter. Allow tart to cool slightly before serving.

Prep Time: 1 Hour
Serves: 6

Some tips and other trivia are found on the bottom edge of some pages. Here are a few examples:

  • Preheat cast iron before baking.

  • Cooking foods with fat content expedites seasoning cast iron.

  • Good cooks claim: "The heavier the metal...the lighter the bread."

  • Cast iron is noted for its even heat distribution.

  • Cast iron is the original waterless cookware.

  • "Once seasoned, always seasoned" is not true.

  • Cast iron cookware is made from recycled metal.

  • If the pan is well seasoned, nothing will stick to cast iron.

  • Cast iron skillets are born one at a time --each in a different sand mold.

If you're interested in the cookbook, you can get it from the Lodge website or from one of my favorite places in the whole world.


At 8:11 PM CST, Blogger Rochelle R. said...

My, you have a really good cast iron collection. I have a Griswold skillet that was my Grandmothers and use it frequently plus a small one I also use a lot. I had an appelskiver pan but I sold it on Ebay. I always wanted a dutch oven with legs, why I don't know, I don't cook outdoors, I guess I just think they look neat.The cookbook sounds very interesting I might order it. I have quite a few birds so no teflon here either.

At 9:01 PM CST, Blogger Kathy said...

Rochelle - I don't cook outdoors either, nor do I ever plan to--so I don't know why I keep it around. I guess I like the reminder of the old days. I need some new pots but can't seem to make a decision about which kind to get--too many choices.


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