Inheriting Cast Iron

When my father-in-law passed away unexpectedly five years ago, one of the things we inherited from the estate was my late mother-in-law’s set of cast iron cookware: two small 8″ and 9″ skillets, one large 12″ skillet, and a dutch oven (wire handle, no lid). They had clearly not been used in some time, and each had varying degrees of rust and general grime collected on them.

I was afraid to clean and reseason them for the longest time, mainly because my one experience with seasoning cast iron involved a friend from college smoking up her apartment by using an excessive amount of shortening while seasoning her own cast iron. I also didn’t want to ruin them by doing it wrong.

As it turns out, it’s really hard to ruin cast iron cookware.

I started by scrubbing and reseasoning the smallest skillet, figuring that if I did ruin it, I probably wouldn’t be using the little one very much, anyway. The instructions on the Lodge site pretty much cover it, although I did read some other ideas for fixing truly horrible rust, like spraying oven cleaner on the offending cookware and then sealing it in a garbage bag overnight. Thankfully, all I had to do was scrub, rub with melted shortening, place upside down in a hot oven for an hour (over a rack covered with aluminum foil), then turn off the oven and let the cookware cool inside.

That was April 2016.

My 8-inch cast-iron skillet

Since then, I’ve also reseasoned the medium 9″ skillet and the large skillet. This past weekend, in preparation for making split pea soup out of our Christmas hambone, I reseasoned the final piece of cookware: the dutch oven. I also ordered a replacement lid from Amazon.

As of today, I have a fine-looking five-piece set of cast iron cookware: three skillets, one dutch oven, and a lid.

(I also have a cast iron grill pan, but I bought it new and it’s not precisely part of the set. Although I do love it dearly for what it is, despite its questionable seasoning and tendency to stick.)

The main reason I’m so thrilled to have the entire set usable is my discovery that the taste of my late Memaw’s cooking was, in fact, the taste of cooking in cast iron.

The Chinese have a term for the flavor that a wok imparts on the food cooked in it: wok hay, or the breath/energy of a wok. I feel that this cast iron imparts the same sort of something.

It’s not nearly as much maintenance as I’d worried cast iron would be, either. Wipe it clean, wipe it down with some oil, and store it. Don’t wash with soap, and only scrub if there’s sticky bits (which happens more on my newly-reseasoned pans, unsurprisingly — the more you cook, the better the seasoning gets).

I love my cast iron. I love that it’s old and pre-owned. I love it so much, I may even start trolling thrift stores and garage sales for cast iron cookware to gift to friends and family, or to collect different pieces for myself.

It’s that awesome.

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