A brief history of Cast Iron
The earliest cast-iron artifacts date back to the 5th century BC and were discovered by archaeologists in what is now Jiangsu in China. Cast iron was used in ancient China for warfare, agriculture, and architecture.
During the 15th century, cast iron became utilized for cannons in France and England during the Reformation. The amounts of cast iron used for a cannon required large scale product.
Cast iron is made of pig iron, which is the product of smelting iron ore in a blast furnace. Cast iron can be made directly from molten pig iron or by remelting pig iron.
Cast iron is sometimes melted in a special type of blast furnace known as a cupola but in modern application, it is more often melted in electric induction furnaces or electric arc furnaces.
The first mention of metal vessels for cooking appeared in 679/680 A.D. in English. China, India, Korea, and Japan have a long history of cooking with cast iron vessels.
The term “pot” came into use in 1180. Both pot and cauldron were capable of withstanding direct heat of a fire. They had durability and retained heat evenly which improved the quality of cooked meals.
At first, meals were cooked in a hearth or fireplace. They could suspend pots in the fireplace. Cast iron pots were made with long handles for this use. They were also made with legs to be able to set in the hot coals of the fireplace.
Abraham Darby secured a patent in the year 1708. He designed cast iron cookware, calling it a “spider.” It had a handle and 3 legs allowing it to stand upright over campfires; as well as in coals.
In the late 19th century they saw the beginning of the use of stoves. This is when they did away with legged cookware. Some of the companies that made cast iron cookware were Griswold, Wagner Ware, and Lodge Manufacturing. Wagner Ware and Griswald are now owned by Randall Corporation.
The 20th century also saw the introduction of enamel coated cast iron cookware manufacturers. The decline in daily use of cast iron cookware contributed to the closure of nearly all the iron cookware manufacturers. Some were absorbed by other manufacturers.
By the end of the 20th century, Lodge manufacturing was the only remaining company of cast iron cookware.
However, in recent years there has been a resurgence in its popularity, through cooking shows and celebrity chefs. They brought back renewed interest in showing traditional cooking methods with the use of cast iron.
I know for myself I enjoy the use of my enameled dutch oven and my 2 frying pans which I have used to make several dishes. It not only is beautiful but it is durable too.
The enamel glaze is fused with cast iron which prevents rusting and it eliminates the need to season the vessel. It makes for a thorough cleaning. It is excellent for slow cooking drawing the best flavor of the food out. Enamel coated cookware will run you 3 to 4 times more than the bare cast iron.
With the bare cast iron, you must also take into consideration the iron that can leach significant amounts of dietary iron into the food. It does depend on the food you are cooking in the amount of acidity it has, its water content and the length it is cooked and how old the cookware is to assess the amount of iron going into the food.
Those with iron deficiencies may benefit from the use of cast iron cooking, but those with hemochromatosis should avoid cast iron cookware since this would be an overload of iron in their bodies.
Back in 2008, the “Lucky Iron Fish” was invented for individuals who had iron deficiency anemia. The ingots (as they were called) were used for dietary supplementation of iron. The ingots were placed in a pot of water to leach elemental iron into the water and food.
This was developed by a Canadian health worker in Cambodia. Reason for this was that 60% of pregnant Cambodian women are anemic as a result of dietary iron deficiency which could result in premature labor and childbirth hemorrhaging.
This was the work of student Christopher Charles, who was completing his undergraduate degree in biomedical science from the University of Guelph. He received a grant to do research on Cambodian pregnant women with iron deficiency.
This worked out so well for Christopher Charles that it spiraled into a Ph.D. project. There is more to this story and if you would like to know more you can go to the Wikipedia entry.
Why you want to use cast iron cookware
- Health concerns about other types of cookware: Example-Teflon-emitting of fumes. Cast iron does not pose this risk. If properly tempered it will not stick and can be heated to high temperatures without the effects of negative effects.
- Cast iron cookware vs. today’s cookware. People want to invest in cookware that will virtually last a lifetime. If seasoned properly, when new, it could be passed down to the next generation and it continues to get better with continued use.
How-to use Cast Iron for cooking
Seasoning New cookware
You must season the whole skillet inside and out. Flaxseed oil is best for seasoning dries the hardest creates the longest lasting non-stick surface (canola oil works well too)
After completely wiped dry, put in the oven on the highest degrees. Reason for this is to bring it past the smoking point so that the oil will go down and bond with iron.
Keep in the oven for an hour at high temperature then turn your oven off but continue to leave in oven to cool. The result will be a hard glassy layer.
Hand downs or used
Clean pan with Brillo pad or steel wool and mild dish detergent. Must be completely dry, dry with a towel, then put on stove top low flame and continue to dry vessel.
Cleaning after cooking use
When the pan is hot do not put it under cold water you can crack it and it can not be used again. You want to be sure you follow the steps correctly.
The most gentle way to clean your cast iron skillet is to use hot water and salt on the stove top on low. Use a non medal scouring pad; it will loosen the food and clean it without loosing the seasoning.
Put on the stove top to dry on a low flame. Your going to season it again, wiping it down with oil make sure you use paper towels continue to whip off the oil or seasoning compound and then heat to smoking point.
You want to be sure you burn off the remaining oil so there is no residue. Otherwise, the left on oil can go rancid, you want to be sure there is none left over.
How to’s on cooking
Bring your food to room temperature:
- Preheat your pan
- If your food is cold it will stick to the pan
- When you put your meat in the pan do not flip it over until its ready. It will release easily when its ready before this point it will be stuck; it will release when ready for turning. This is the building of caramelization and this is where the flavor comes from and the proper way to cook meat, be it chicken or beef, etc. etc.
Benefits of cooking with cast iron cookware
- Can get more caramelization
- Virtually indestructible
- More even heat
- The more you use it the better it gets (cookware)
Cons of the use of Cast Iron Cookware
- Susceptible to rusting
- Must continue with the upkeep
- Must follow steps for cleaning and drying