I packed only a few things when I tripped into marriage: a bunch of clothes and shoes; a beat up gate-leg table; a typewriter from the 50’s; and a cast-iron skillet and Dutch oven.
The skillet and oven were my most cherished possessions and considered essential to a well-fed marriage. Since my older sister claimed our grandmother’s, I bought mine in a thrift shop. If you don’t own cast-iron cookware–and I fervently believe every household needs at least one–I recommend you do the same. First of all, both my large skillet and oven collectively cost $10. I’ve found similar size and quality ones in high-end discount stores for about $180 together (and at least another hundred more at full-price stores). More importantly, though, used cast-iron comes already seasoned which prevents it from rusting and gives it a good non-stick surface. You never scrub cast-iron and definitely do not soak it. You shouldn’t have to, anyway, since ingredients rarely stick. What you do, instead, is wipe clean, dry with a dish towel and leave to air dry. Good cast-iron will last several life times (my grandmother’s is at least 100 years old).
I’ve used mine to fry, bake and simmer because they hold heat like nothing else and they can move easily from burner to oven. But beyond their versatility, what I truly love about used cast-iron is the patine formed from the long-line of cooks who owned them before me. I feel them watching over me, making sure that everything turns out right.
So you may understand my horror when my husband left the Dutch oven to soak overnight. I usually clean it but that night I was shattered-bone tired after work and left it to him. You’d think he would have at least recognized that special care was required, if only for the many times I claimed the oven would make a terrific urn for my ashes.
But, no, he didn’t and this is what greeted me the next morning:
He’s often told the story about the time his father’s mother slammed a cast-iron skillet over her husband’s head. I could imagine how a wife might resort to such measures. But instead of thwacking him, I screamed into a pillow. Marriages have broken up for lesser crimes but, after adding up all our years together and what we survived to arrive at this crisis, I eventually returned to the kitchen to heal my wounded oven.
This is what I did:
First, rub a layer of oil over the rust. The recommendation is for a tasteless vegetable oil. The women in my family use bacon grease. I like leaf lard because you can control how much you’re using.
You know when your skin get’s dry and you pull out the heavy-duty moisturizer? Your cast-iron should look as well-oiled as your face. (Plus, you can massage the extra oil/lard into your hands.)
Place a baking sheet on the lower shelf of the oven and preheat to 500 degrees. Lay your pot on the shelf above the sheet and bake for an hour.
Turn off the oven and let cool.
Now you are ready to use it again! I brewed up a perfect pork broth.
Pork bones (these are about a pound and a half of shin and knuckles)
1 large onion, chopped
2 large garlic cloves
salt and fresh ground pepper
Use enough oil to coat the bottom of your Dutch oven. Add bones and cook until a nice crust forms. Remove the bones.
Add onions, garlic and cloves. Saute until the onions become silky and the garlic softens enough that you can mash them into the onions. Return the bones and season with salt and pepper. Add enough water to cover the bones, bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer. Cover. Brew for a couple of hours, checking every now and then to see if you need to add water.
Strain the broth through a fine-mesh strainer, pressing down on the onions and discard. Chill the broth until the fat rises to the top and skim. Reheat and add whatever you want.