CARE & FEEDING OF CAST IRON
Brook & Barbara Elliot
were coaxing a breakfast fire from wet wood after
a night of thunderstorms. Everything was soaked
woman from another camp, on her way to the
hooters, stopped to watch us. For several minutes
she stared at our fireplace with a bemused look on
her face. Finally, she approached. "Did you
keep your cookware in the tent last night?"
she wanted to know.
was our turn to look bemused. "Of coarse
not," we responded, "why do you
reply really set us to thinking. "You have
the only pots and pans in camp that aren't rusted
from the storm."
around, we realized she was right. That was
several years ago, and nothing much has changed.
At every event we attend, if it rains, skillets,
kettles, and Dutch ovens all around us take on a
how much cast iron is used in living history
camps, its incredible how few re-enactors know how
to care for it. Cast iron cookware must be cured,
and that cure maintained properly. If done
correctly, the iron will not rust, nor will food
stick to it and burn.
curing process is basically the same, whether you
start with new or used cast iron. But there are
minor differences. Let's look at new cookware
are three sources of new cast ironware. Two
American companies --- Wagner and Lodge --- still
produce it. The rest comes from Asian sources. You
are better off with the American made goods,
because they are finer grained. The imports,
though cheaper, have a course grain that is hard
to cure, and which requires more attention once it
you have a choice, avoid modern designs such as
self-basting lids. They are far from being period
proper, and are more difficult to care for,
because steam, condensing in the depressions and
on the nipples, tend to draw out the cure. The
result is rust on the inside of the lid.
handles, while acceptable, are not authentic.
What's more, they are likely to burn when used on
an open fire.
iron has a protective coating on it which must be
removed. American companies use wax. The imports
are covered with a water soluble shellac. In
either case, using straight hot water, scrub the
item with soap and a scouring pad. Use the hottest
water you can stand. Once all the coating is
removed, you will never again let soap touch the
repeat that: Do not use soap on cured cast iron.
the cure is based on grease, and soap's job is to
remove grease. So, if you use soap, you'll be
destroying the very effect you are trying for.
the iron comes clean, immediately dry it and wipe
a film of shortening over it. Originally, lard was
used for this purpose. But it has a tendency to
turn rancid, so shortening is a better bet.
your oven to 400 degrees, and put the pieces in it
for about an hour. Remove them, and blot up any
puddles of oil with a paper towel. Let the iron
pieces cool. Do not be alarmed if, at this point,
they feel sticky. They'll lose that when the cure
iron makers instruct that ware is now ready to
use, but recommend that you use it only for frying
the first few times. We've found that oiling and
heating at least one more time before use makes
more sense. For camp use, the iron is only
partially cured at this stage. To complete the
cure, build a high-flamed fire. Any fuel will
serve, but avoid softwoods because they'll deposit
creosote on the iron, which is no good for you.
the iron on all sides, fairly heavily, and sit it
in the flames. When a good coating of soot has
been deposited, turn each piece and brush the
sooty surface with more shortening. Be sure to use
a natural fiber brush for this, because synthetics
will melt. At the appropriate time, turn the
pieces again, and grease the first side. Remove
the pieces from the fire, and let them cool.
comes the messy part. Liberally grease paper
towels and use them to wipe off the iron. Lots of
soot will come off, so you need plenty of towels.
Try not to reapply this loose surface soot to the
iron should now have a deep, black finish that
normally takes months of use to acquire. What
you've done is fill-in all the pores and voids in
the iron, creating a smooth, non-stick surface. In
addition, the black finish helps absorb and hold
can use the iron right now, or clean it to remove
additional soot. we always clean it, because we
use the same cast-iron pieces at home as in camp,
and don't want the soot messing up the kitchen
cleaning cast iron is the secret of maintaining
the cure. Let us repeat: Do not use soap on cast
iron, ever! Instead, all you need is hot (the
hotter the better) water and a scrub brush.
again, use straight hot water from the tap, or
water you've heated in camp. Pour a small amount
(a cup or so) in the iron, and use the scrub brush
to vigorously scour all surfaces. Rinse the
surface with more hot water. If you are concerned
about sterilization, pour boiling water into and
over the iron after you have brushed it.
dry the iron, and wipe a thin film of shortening
over it. This replaces any you have lost through
cooking and cleaning, and futher assures there
will be no rusting.
that's been used on an open fire will always have
loose soot on the outside. Rather than dirtying
the scrub brush, we use one of those plastic pads
instead. We keep them reserved for that purpose,
so the soot is not transferred to other cleaning
camp, we only clean the insides of cast ironware.
Then, before leaving, we wipe down the outside
with shortening soaked paper towels to remove the
cast iron requires a different approach. Depending
on where you aquire it, you are likely to find it
coated with everything from paint (collectors are
big on that), to crusted-on old food, to a thick
coating of burned lard.
of this can be simply burned off by leaving the
iron in a very hot fire. We used to heat the iron,
then plunge it into cold water. This, in effect,
steam-cleaned the iron. But the folks at Lodge
warned us against this practice, because it can
cause the iron to warp and even crack. We never
had it happen, but why take the chance? Besides
which, we've found a better way.
wash the iron in hot soapy water to remove any
loose crud. Then soak it in an acid bath.
create this, fill a plastic drum with water,
adding a quart of battery acid for each five
gallons of water. Let the iron sit for several
days, checking it each day and mixing the solution
to assure fresh acid is against the iron each
time. After three or four days the iron should be
ready to clean.
this point, follow the directions for new iron.
One caution: the paint can be real messy, and you
may want to work outside.
buckskinner who taught us this trick follows up
with a baking soda bath to remove any traces of
acid. But we've found that unnecessary, because
you'll be flushing it all out when you wash it.
old iron pieces will, after the soapy water wash,
look like new. Others will have stains that won't
come out no matter how hard you scrub. Don't worry
about them, as the cure will cover and hide them.
the iron is clean, oil and cure it as usual.
following these instructions, you'll never again
have rusted cookware, unless you let rainwater sit
in it for any length of time. Rain, almost
everywhere in the country, is now at least
slightly acidic. If you let it sit in your iron,
it will eat through the cure and you'll have rust.
So be sure to drain and dry any rain-soaked
ironware as soon as possible.
final word. As you search out old cast iron in
flea markets, antique malls, and other locations
you'll be shocked at how high the prices can be.
Collectors have skyrocketed the value of cast
iron, especially that made by Griswold. So shop
carefully. Overall, you'll find better bargains at
flea markets and auctions than you will in antique
malls and shops.
don't expect to find pieces from the 18th century.
Most of them are safely tucked away in
BULK GRAINS & BEANS
liquid to boil, add grains or beans, cover reduce
heat and let simmer.
(liquid: cooking time)
or broken grain Wild rice, Brown rice, India rice:
1 cup: 2c: 50 mins.
or long grain Wild rice, Brown rice, White rice
blend, Basmati rice (brown), Barley-pearl: 1 cup:
2.5c: 45-55 mins.
rice (instant), Basmati rice (white), Amaranth,
Buckwheat, Oats (rolled & steel-cut),
Wheat-course: 1 cup: 2c: 15-20 mins.
1 cup: 2.5c: 30-45 mins.
most meals-blended-etc.: 1 cup: 3c: 10-12 mins.
Quinosa: 1 cup: 2c: 15 mins: let stand 15 mins.
berries: 1 cup: 3c: 2 hrs: presoak 8 hours.
(presoak beans: short soak, boil & soak 1 hr.
or long soak for 8-12 hrs., then cook)
Fava, Lentil, Split peas, Smith: 1/2 cup: 2c: 40
Cannelli, Soy: 1/2 cup: 2c: 30 mins.
Lima, White beans: 1/2 cup: 2c: 60 mins.
eyed peas: 1/2 cup: 2c: 75 mins.
old Chinese proverb - it goes something like
"Speak only if it is an improvement upon
silence" - these recipes have been updated to
today's available products and measurements.
Until next time, we leave as friends and followers of
those that went before us.