Thursday, July 11, 2013

Cooking with cast iron, on wood burning stoves.

We have a kitchen wood burning stove, circa 1890.  I'd be the first to admit that we rarely use it, and never in the summer. When it's going, even banked down, it puts out a great deal of heat.  Fine for winter time but not when you are already running your air conditioning.

Like so many other things today, the skills associated with woodstove cooking have largely been lost.  We used this book to get started in the process of learning how to successfully cook "old style."  While we have a propane stove in our kitchen, full sized and fully functional, it's dependent on a supply of the gas.  I have a 500 gallon tank, which will usually last us six to eight months up here even if we have to burn the propane heaters.  Still, it's an old principle of survivalism that you should always have three ways to accomplish essential functions.  So, we have the normal gas range, the wood stove, and if necessary we can cook in our Tennessee field stone fireplace or out on the grill, depending on the season.  We'd have been hard put to get started though, without this little book.  I'm not sure if it's still in print, since we bought our copy years ago, but I'm sure Amazon will have some used ones listed.

Cast iron is just about essential for non-modern cooking.  I know lots of people use it with their ordinary ovens and stoves, and I've done so myself. However, I really started buying it for use in more extreme situations. This doesn't necessarily have to be some cataclysm. We get blizzards up here where it's impossible to get off the mountain for a week or more. If the propane stove were to fail for any reason, we'd be using the cast iron and the woodburning stove.  Cast iron cooking has it's own set of rules and techniques.  So does cleaning and caring for the cast iron, a process that does not consist of just washing the pot or pan in dishwater and setting it in the drainer to dry.  Moreover, cast iron has to be seasoned before you can use it.  Today you can buy pre seasoned cast iron, but since most of mine has been purchased at mountain flea markets, I've always had to start from scratch.  This book will tell you everything you need to know about all that.

If the budget is tight, a Dutch Oven is the single most utilitarian piece of cast iron I know of. You can do just about anything with it, and you can use it on the full spectrum of cooking equipment, from a modern stove to a stick over a fire.  There's just about nothing you can't cook in a good Dutch oven, from roasts, to soup or stew, right on to biscuits. There's a reason that the Dutch Oven was a primary piece of kitchen equipment on the old frontier, and that's it's great utility.  It's as valuable for that reason today as it was back then.

This book has some information on the care and maintenance of cast iron cookware, but it is primarily a recipe book.  I have several different books on recipes for the Dutch Oven, but if I could only have one , this would be the book.  It's particularly good because a lot of the recipes call for things you would have in your long term food storage.


  1. Have you also considered solar cooking - a 4th cooking option :) Dutch ovens work very well in them too.

    1. Dani, my wife likes to watch a show about people buying new homes. One day a young woman was saying she really liked the patio of a place, because it had lots of sunlight and she could use her solar oven. It showed her cooking with it. I've seen on other blogs where people do that. I've never tried it here, because my place is largely covered with big poplar and maple trees, and there's almost no direct sunlight falling around the house in summer. In winter the sunlight is weak and "watery". However, you are exactly right, you can never have too many options. It wouldn't hurt for my wife and I to get one and put it into storage. After all, I have a washtub and a washboard as backup to our machines. Another cooking backup would be a good idea.

  2. Good call on the dutch oven - it is extremely versatile. When my Grandmother passed away, the family was allowed to go through the house and take two sentimental items. The two I chose were her dutch oven (cooking range cook, no legs) and a deep Wagner skillet, about 12" in diameter.

    I was glad I did - the memories they evoke from her cooking are still strong, even after her passing nearly 30 years ago. When her children and Mom come to visit, they grow misty eyed, remembering the meals she cooked them when they were young.

    I think my kids will still be able to cook on them after my wife and I are gone. The number of modern teflon skillets that have come and gone are forgotten, but its been a pile . . .

  3. Cast iron cookware does last forever if properly maintained. My mother has a dutch oven that she cooked in before I was born, and she is still using it. It's as good as they day they bought it back in the 1940's.

    You are right about modern cooking equipment, it's easier to care for but it isn't designed to last for generations. And nobody ever got cancer from eating food cooking in cast iron. Not so sure about some of the frying pans with non stick coatings of today.