So I’ve had a draft of this post waiting to be finished for sometime now. I wanted to present a detailed account of cast iron cookware: How did it get its start in the American kitchen? What caused its wain in popularity and why (or is it) making a comeback? I learned that China and Europe had used cast iron cookware for centuries before we first took notice of it in Colonial America. But you know what, I almost put myself to sleep reading my draft and I didn’t want you to do the same were I to be lucky enough for you to drop by. After all, what I set out to accomplish has been done here, here, and here. In the end, I really just wanted to talk about how much I like my cast iron skillets.
My perspective about cast iron cookware may be limited by my short tenure in the kitchen, about eight years. My parents didn’t use it either, so until I became more familiar, I associated the old-fashioned skillets more with settings surrounding a Bohemian lifestyle (remember the scene in Meet the Fockers where Dustin Hoffman says he never washes his cast iron skillet?) or more vividly in old Westerns where they were commonly used as kitchen props. So it just may be that they did fall out of favor for a time, banished to yard sales and flea markets, their true value recognized by few.
In a small way, there is a cast iron revival of sorts happening in my kitchen. Years ago, my husband salvaged a few pieces from his parents’ home, all nicely seasoned to a dark patina after years of use. They sat forgotten in a bottom drawer while their sleeker stainless steel counterparts took center stage. Then one day we decided to retire our lone nonstick (Teflon-coated) pan. The cast iron skillets came out of retirement and I fell in love after the first use.
I tell you, nothing sticks to a seasoned cast iron skillet. They’re great for making fried rice and their vintage, no-nonsense design lends a rustic appeal to roast chicken and veggies. I’ve got five skillets in my tiny collection (one not pictured) and also a stove top griddle. The absentee has been permanently assigned to camping duty and the latter makes an appearance when I’m inspired to make pancakes for a large crowd (not often). The three larger ones get a fair amount of use and my smallest piece (which is no more than a few inches wide) is great for toasting chopped almonds before they top a hot fudge sundae. They may not be as pretty as their enameled, rainbow-colored cousins (I like my Le Creusets, too) but at least I don’t have to worry about them getting scratched. The only care required of them is that they must be completely dry before storing them in order to avoid rusting.
One minor drawback is that they’re heavy! Handling them is always a two-handed effort and a kitchen mitt is a must. The newer versions are also not as smooth as the originals. The two Lodges I’ve added to my collection have a grainier texture. For roasting this doesn’t matter at all but for other preparations such as omelettes, the smoother texture makes a big difference.
Still, my cast iron skillets won’t be retiring anytime soon. They’ll make many appearances in this blog. They’ll also probably outlive me, but until then, I’ll happily season them for the next generation.