Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Seasoning Cast Iron Cookware

"Even if she (today's Southern woman) doesn't cook much, there is no more important heirloom than Mama's iron skillet. The iron skillet is THE essential tool of Southern country cooking, and as such it is a prized possession that is passed down from generation to generation, gathering unique character along the way. . ."
Grits Guide (Girls Raised In The South)

I can't imagine a kitchen without cast iron cookware. . .and I cannot envision the older cooks in our family setting up any kitchen without their iron skillets and deep fryers. . .It's just not possible!

I've been very blessed to have acquired a family collection of coveted iron cookware pieces. . .One entire wall of my farmhouse kitchen is filled with skillets, griddles, and 'chicken fryers' from both my Grandmothers, my Mom, my two Aunts, and myself. . .Every piece has a story. . .Every piece has a purpose. . .And any Delta cook will tell you that no new, expensive shiny cookware on the market will give you the flavor that comes from a cast iron piece. . .I'm convinced that it's one reason there were--and are--so many super Delta cooks.

Good flavor depends on proper seasoning of the cast iron. There's nothing worse than a dish cooked in a sticky, gummy improperly seasoned piece of cookware. Nothing. I know because in my younger, less-informed years I owned a few really bad ones myself. It didn't take me long to seek out an expert on proper seasoning and care of the precious as gold cast iron.

When you purchase cast iron, it will be a medium gray in color. It will have to be seasoned first thing out of the box. Seasoning is the process of applying layers of lard or grease to a new iron piece in order to create a nonstick surface. The process not only keeps food from adhering to the inside of the pan but it also imparts a rich, unique flavor to whatever the recipe. This is why regular cookware can't compare--the FLAVOR just isn't there.

1. Heat the oven to 250-300 degrees
2. Coat the pan with lard or bacon grease. Do not use liquid oil. It will leave a sticky mess.
3. Place pan in the oven for 15 minutes. Remove and pour off excess grease. Replace into the oven and bake for at least 2 hours. 
4. Repeat the process several times for a well-seasoned pan.
5. To enhance the seasoning process, initially use the pot or skillet for frying foods high in fat, such as bacon or deep-fried chicken.

Once you begin cooking with the cast iron, treat it with a little bit of tender loving care.
*Never store food in cast-iron. The food will take over a metallic taste but worst than that, you're well-seasoned pot will lose it's seasoning as acids from the food are absorbed.
*Clean the cookware while it is still warm with warm water, scraping out any food. 
*Never use cold water on a hot pot.
*Never use a scouring pad or soap.
*Never put the cookware in a dishwasher. (Heaven forbid!)
*A quick re-seasoning each time the cookware is used will keep it non-stick and rust free. Simply place on a stove burner on the lowest setting. This will open up the pores of the skillet or pot. Once it is warm--but NOT hot--smear a very thin coat of bacon grease or lard over the inside surface. Turn off burner. Do not remove the cookware until it has cooled. Wipe out any excess grease with a paper towel.
*If your cast-iron cookware begins to rust, the seasoning process will again be necessary.

Over time, you'll learn which pieces fit your personal style of cooking best. I have a use for each of the pieces on my family wall. . .

If you're lucky enough to own a few pieces of cast iron, get them out and use them. . .They only get better with use. . .and I promise you that your food will take on a simply amazing flavor. . .


Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Farm Story Published in the Courier News

Thought a little history background might be the way to begin the year 2015. . . 

Local history celebrated at area farm

When she was growing up as part of a farming family in Dell, Dru Duncan dreamed of moving away from the flatlands of Mississippi County. Yet, after having made a life for herself elsewhere, cotton farming country is exactly where she ended up settling. Dru and her husband, John Holt, met in Colonial Williamsburg, where they were both working as historical re-enactors. Following her choice to end a long career in cytotechnology and a recent divorce, Dru had come to Williamsburg for a job in the place where she had wanted to work since she visited there as a child. John had also been married and divorced, and had left his job with an architectural firm to begin trying to get work as a re-enactor, and was finally building a career as a self-taught historical storyteller, auctioneer and even actor in period movies such as "Cold Mountain" and "New World."
Shortly after the two met, Dru's parents fell into ill health, and after the loss of her mother, the couple found themselves traveling back to Dell to care for her ailing father.
According to John, it took almost no time for him to "fall in love with this land."
"When we crossed the bridge in Memphis headed into Mississippi County," he said, "that was it. I looked at all this open land, all the agriculture -- and I just fell in love. It smells different here -- so open and I can just smell that soil. I never wanted to leave."
The farm that Dru's family had built from the ground up in the 1930s was still operational, but many of the old buildings were in disrepair, and Dru shared her desire with John to restore the place to its original working glory.
The couple decided to end their work in Colonial Williamsburg, and John came to help Dru care for her father in the final nine months of his life. During that time, they learned as much as they could about the history of the farm and how it ran in the days when it was just beginning.
The next seven years were spent in constant work. Mostly on their own, Dru and John repaired, restored, and breathed life back into all of the buildings which sat on Dru's family land. With the knowledge that they gained as professional historical re-enactors in Williamsburg, they collected donations of antique items and have created the Widner-Magers Farm Historic District, a living look back into a Delta cotton farm in 1938.
"We want to teach people, mainly children, what farming was like, how it was the lifeline of this part of the country for so many years," said Dru. "I remember shotgun houses and outhouses -- this was how people lived."
Featuring several shotgun houses that the couple are working to turn into a B&B, or "bed and barbecue," a craftsman style tenant house, a period farm manager's home, the Widner and Magers barns, a farm shop, a corn crib, and other outbuildings, even a "company store" with a historical post office and other artifacts, the farm shows visitors exactly how their ancestors in the Delta would have lived the agricultural life.
Dru and John greet visitors on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, wearing 1938 period clothing and in character as a period farming couple. Guests are then given a tour as if the farm were really working in the post-depression era.
Special demonstrations are scheduled throughout the fall on Saturdays, wherein the couple demonstrates their talents and shares things that made the 1930s farming way of life unique. Upcoming demonstration days include:
-- Oct. 22: Rag rug weaving
-- Oct. 29: Native American storytelling
-- Nov. 5: Sewing with a treadle
-- Nov. 19: Delta Utility Quilts
-- Nov. 26: Cooking pumpkin butter
The couple has also partnered with Arkansas Northeastern College to offer several noncredit courses on things like open hearth cooking and professional archeology digging.
"We want children in this area to understand that history is living," said Dru. "When I touch the old boards in these buildings, someone else touched them, someone that had a life here just like I do. This farm is also an example that every person has a hidden talent, and if you have a passion for something, you can make it happen."
Courier News, Friday October 14, 2011

It's an older article but full of details about our dream for the farm. . .Schedules and workshops change each year and will be updated as necessary at: DUNCAN FARMSTEAD

We do have our internet back. . .Looks as if it might stay on for a while. . .Winter is definitely here. . .The cold north winds are howling. . .We are working on a few indoor projects that I'll be sharing soon. . .Til then. . .Remember. . .LIFE IS GOOD. . .