Sunday, December 4, 2022

Rusty, Crusty and Trusty

The other day I was cleaning out where we store the pots and pans. It had become a towering mess of all sizes pots and pans and their lids teetering in a drawer. Each was strategically resting on the other in order to be just the right height so the drawer would close.

I was sick and tired of ramming and cramming those things constantly and fighting to get the drawer to close. Considering it was a whole collection we were given for our wedding years ago I realized we only used a few of them. The others just kind of sat in the drawer taking up space.

While I was taking everything out to organize it, I came across the old cast iron skillet that belonged to my mom. She had left it with me when they moved to a smaller house and she didn’t have room.

When I took that cast iron pan out and held it in my hands, a flood of memories came back to me. Memories of Sunday morning bacon sizzling in the pan and my mom standing over the stove flipping the bacon as it fried. I could smell the bacon as I sat there remembering those moments of my mom cooking. I could remember fried potatoes and pork chops, freshly rolled out homemade donuts that were my great-grandma’s recipe. All those things that my mom used that pan for.

It got me to wondering why that pan had been tucked away deep down in the pots and pans drawer. Why didn’t I use it l daily like my mom and all my grandparents did with their cast iron cookware over the years. I only used it once a year to make the donuts at Christmas time. It was the pan that I used so it would keep the temperature more even than the other pans.

And then it dawned on me. I remembered why it didn’t get used often. It was because since my Best Half does the clean up after meals it means he cleans and stacks the dishwasher. And not knowing how to care for cast iron, he automatically put the cast iron pan in the dishwasher with all the other pots and pans. Well it did come out shiny clean with all of the seasoning to keep it nice scrubbed off from the dishwasher. No one told him about seasoning cast iron, He was just doing his job.

So rather than hurt his feelings, because he thought he was doing a bang up job getting that old black skillet shiny clean, I just tucked it away except for the once a year donut making. And then I would try to just sneak it back into the bottom of the pots and pans drawer. Better to bury it under the stuff that can go in the dishwasher than hurt my Best Half’s feelings about cleaning the kitchen. Sometimes it is just better to choose the battles and let the tiny ones slide.

But that day as I was looking at the cast iron pan, I made the decision to start using it and learn how to keep it seasoned. I wanted to learn how to cook with cast iron just like my mom and grandmas did. I would season it and from here on out keep it face down in the oven after cleaning and wiping it down with oil. Just like they did for years and years. And so the YouTube search began on how to restore cast iron skillets.

While it didn’t seem like it would be terribly hard, it did seem like it would be time consuming at best. And I figured as long as I was doing one skillet, why not find a couple more to make a set. So I went on Marketplace and found some really old rusty and crusty cast iron pans and Dutch ovens. 

After a bit of negotiating and getting them for almost free I drove across the countryside and picked up the old rusty pans and even 3 dutch ovens. They were all in terrible condition and I had little hope they would be usable. But since they didn’t cost me much other than driving to get them, I was going to give it a shot.

I got the pans home and washed them out so I could look at them closer. Well, the rust was pretty much on the surface, and  there weren’t any cracks. They just were pretty crusty and needed a lot of work before they could be re-seasoned. While I was not sure exactly how to restore them, I decided to try and put them in a self cleaning oven. After hours in the oven, there was just ash left to wipe off. But still there was rust. So off to the sink I went and scrubbed and scrubbed with baking soda and let it set with vinegar soaking on it. Little by little the rust came off and I was looking at actual cast iron.

One by one I put light coats of oil on each pan and cover and let it sit for a bit before putting it in the hot oven for an hour to have the oil bake into the pans. I did this 3 or 4 times for each item. When it was all over, I had cast iron stuff that looked brand new! I was absolutely amazed.

Over the past couple weeks, I gave my daughter the Dutch ovens and a pan. She always cooks with cast iron and was excited to get the Dutch ovens as they have a big family and 2 is better than 1 in this case. As for me, I kept my mom’s skillet, a deep pan and a dutch oven. And I got a pizza pan. I have been using all of them in some way or another. As for the cleaning of them, I do it myself. After my Best Half saw all that was involved in maintaining cast iron, he turned the cleaning of the pans over to me. 

After I got all the new pans I realized if I was going to be using them daily, I needed to have them within reach. So off to Amazon I went and got some stacking pan holders for the countertop. And then I realized that to make cooking even easier, I need a spice rack on the counter so I wouldn’t always have to be searching through the “working” Susan as we call it in our house. Trust me, there is no such thing as a “Lazy” Susan in our house. If you call it that, you will be sorry.

Out to the wood pile I went and found some boards that would fit perfectly and hold 24 spices right next to my cast iron stash. I just would need to measure twice and cut once and nail it together. How hard could it be? 

It wasn’t too hard, but that measure twice, cut once rule didn’t work on my first attempt. I had forgotten to leave enough  space for spice jars on the top rack. I was ¼ inch off from them fitting. So back to the garage and the sides of the rack were cut longer. A little paint and there were spices right by the stove where they will be used. And no longer will we buy more Basil because we didn't see the full jar in the cupboard. I actually have 4 full jars of basil. I will never need to buy it again in my lifetime.

After everything was put in place I stood by the counter and admired the handy work of the past week. To me it was more than just reorganizing and cleaning some pots and pans. It was more like a tribute to my mom, my grandma’s and probably their mothers. All were hard working cast iron cooking women in their day. I am proud to say that finally after many years, I can join them in the ranks. Tonight’s meal…Chicken and Dumplings in the Cast Iron Dutch Oven

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