Kentucky Cast Iron

Reader Devin writes that I seem to be doing a lot of cooking/baking in cast iron all of a sudden. He asks, since I’m living in Kentucky now, if I’m learning all about how to take care of cast iron pans.

Devin, I am…sort of. Cast iron cookery is a “thing” now in a lot of cooking circles. Of course it’s always been a “thing” in Kentucky, especially in the eastern part of the state which is more hilly/mountainous. Appalachian folk there have obviously been cooking with cast iron pans since forever.

I know a number of people who have cast iron pans that have been passed down to them from grandparents and great-grandparents. These folks find they have to get used to a care routine that their ancestors never had to think twice about.

What I mean by that is they have to be careful not to scrub them, especially with soap, lest they scour off the slippery seasoning. That’s a concern that only people with running water, and who are used to scrubbing their pans after every use, have. The hill folk of yesteryear almost never washed their pans. Not because they were unclean, but because water was a work-intensive resource.

Just to get water for washing or bathing you had to walk down from the hill or mountain top you lived on, into the “holler” where the stream was located, fill your buckets and walk back up (drinking water came out of a rain barrel). Given that, is it any surprise people didn’t like to wash their pans much?

But lack of washing — and especially scrubbing — had a side benefit of creating virtually nonstick cookware. Those of us who, blessed with running water, reflexively wash our pans have a hard time remembering not to soap up our cast iron. Call it a high-class problem.

Anyone who wants to know more about seasoning cast iron pans (and I can feel those questions coming right now) go here.

One thought on “Kentucky Cast Iron”

  1. My very first cast iron pan was “acquired” from a house I rented over 30 years ago. The old lady who had lived in it for years had died and her estate sold the (dilapidated) house and contents to a developer who rented it out for a few years before demolishing it. My friends and I were the first tenants and when I left I took the old lady’s cast iron frying pan, leaving an old aluminium one of my own to replace it. The pan had, and still has, no handle (it looks as though there used to be a wooden one), but it is still the best non-stick thing I own. Its surface is perfectly smooth, unlike the ones you can buy new which still have a certain roughness from the casting sand on their surface. Once or twice when the baked on grease around the outside of it has got too thick and unsanitary looking I’ve taken it downstairs and attacked it with the wire brush attachment of my bench grinder, but soap and detergent never get anywhere near it.

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