When I brought my mom’s heirloom cast iron skillet home to my apartment in Brooklyn, my neighbor Carmen said the seasoning was so old I should strip it off because it might give me cancer.
Now I’ll admit, this is a unique way to tell me my family is toxic, but there’s probably a century’s worth of shiny, black seasoning on there. It’s still there; I can’t bring myself to start over with such a well-seasoned piece. This skillet is all I have left of some of them.
I promised that I would make something in it right away, to break it in. Mom knew I didn’t make fried chicken, but I told her there would be something sooner than later. I made a strawberry rhubarb pie with a cobbler crust from an online recipe that looked a lot like the cobbler my grandmother made: three ingredients, an easily memorized recipe. I texted Mom a picture, and she was happy that I had used the skillet but sad that I couldn’t share from 500 miles away.
With a different cast iron piece, I did re-season it. One night when I took my recycling to the basement, I found a dutch oven. It looked newish but rusted out, rejected by the hipsters who knew not what they had casually discarded. I figured I could snag it and if things didn’t work out, I could put it back for another go at recycling. Before YouTube and the widespread use of the internet, we had homemaking books that told us things like how to get the wine out of the carpet and yes, how to properly maintain cast iron.
This book was recent enough to suggest throwing it in a self-cleaning oven for a cycle. I remembered Carmen had a self-cleaning oven from when I helped her make her Christmas pasteles. If I can sit there for two hours grating yuca, I can ask about the oven. She said yes, and the next day I picked up my dutch oven, dusted off all the rusty bits, and re-seasoned it. I still have it now; it’s a great stew pot and Halloween prop.
Here are some instructions from Lodge, originally the Blacklock Foundry, which was founded in 1872. I’m going to trust their experience and expertise. Plus, this entire video is vegan; I don’t need to see a steak searing to be convinced that cast iron is a good thing.
Even though I own other cookware that is lighter with non-toxic, non-stick coatings, I still come back to my cast iron for even heat and its stovetop-to-oven capabilities. I’ll make an apple cobbler in it because I don’t have the skillset for a pie crust and I’m too self-conscious to buy one premade. I’ll start my home-fried potatoes on the stovetop and brown them up under the broiler. I’ll make a gallon of lentil soup in my dutch oven to portion up for the freezer.
These pieces of cookware were around before I was and they’ll be around when I’m not cooking anymore; they are the ultimate eco, reusable items to have in your kitchen.