Re-Seasoning Cast Iron

A step-by-step for Anna, my cousin John’s lovely bride. Eat well and be happy!

Clean

First, you’ll want to clean them well with very hot water and soap, scouring out any dust and debris. This will be the last time you use soap on them. If there is lots of crusted gunk, you can put them in your oven and use the self-cleaning setting to not only clean the oven, but the pans! If the cooking surface isn’t smooth, you will want to polish it smooth with steel wool or sandpaper. No need to do the whole pan, just the inner area. If you do this step, clean the pan after to remove any grit.

Oil

Take a paper towel, dip up a dab of crisco on your fingertips (about a half teaspoonful, it doesn’t take much) and rub it all over the pan. Cover the inside, out, and handle with a thin coat of grease.

Heat

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees (any hotter and the crisco may smoke, not a desirable result) and put the pans in. They should be upside down, with a layer of aluminum foil under them to catch any excess oil. Turn off the oven after fifteen minutes and allow to cool with the pans inside. This is a great thing to do just before bedtime, so you can just leave them in there overnight.

Cook

Fry up something delicious! the black, satiny seasoning will not stick. When you’re done using it, you can either simply wipe it clean, or give it a quick scour under hot water (no soap!) and wipe it dry. If you cook something like a casserole in the dutch overn and it did stick (acid foods will do that) scour and dry, and wipe with a little oil on a paper towel to preserve the seasoning.

Sticky Buns for Breakfast

Sticky buns ready to slide into the oven.

Dad loves biscuits, and he’s been hinting at them for a couple of days, so this morning I mixed up a batch. When I asked him if he wanted them rolled out or drop, he said “Rolled out with sticky stuff in the middle!”

Growing up, Mom cooked, we sisters cooked, but Dad rarely did. When he did cook, it was always sticky buns. Biscuit dough rolled out thin, spread with a mixture of brown sugar and butter, and then spiraled back into a giant roll before being sliced into slabs. We always had to soak the baking pan for a long time to loosen up all the stickiness left after Dad baked.

I decided I’d bake in a 14″ cast iron skillet today, and heated the oven to 450 degrees. When I showed Dad what I’d done, he told me to blog the recipe, so here you are! Now you can share in the rich goodness of my childhood memories.

Sticky Buns

2 C Flour

4 tsp Baking Powder

1/2 tsp Baking Soda

1 tsp Salt

1/2 c butter-flavor shortening

1 1/3 c sour cream

1 egg

Mix together the dry ingredients, then cut in the shortening until it is pea-sized. Add the wet ingredients and mix just until the dry is incorporated, creating a wet dough. Put the dough onto parchment or wax paper, folding the paper over and gently pressing the dough out until it is about 1/4″ thick.

The finished product, with the frosting.

Filling

1/2 c brown sugar

1/4 c butter

1 tsp ground cinnamon

1/2 c walnuts (optional)

Melt together the butter, brown sugar, and cinnamon, mixing thoroughly. Spread on the dough, leaving the edges clear (it smooshes around when you roll it) and sprinkle on the nuts.

Roll the dough up, creating a spiral if viewed from the end on. Cut slabs about an inch thick, and lay them flat in your pan. I used cast iron, but any pan will work. Leave a good amount of room for rising, they are nice and fluffy. Bake at 450 degrees for 20 minutes.

We frosted ours with cream cheese frosting because we had some, but I think it’s not necessary. These are so rich and delicate.

Sweet, rich, and delicious.

Ham and Egg Sandwich

I have a confession. Although I do love to cook, I hate to cook just for me. Which means that on days when the kids are at school, and Dad’s at work, I don’t eat a whole lot, and what I do is better not mentioned.

Since Dad’s home for the next couple of weeks nursing a broken ankle, I find myself cooking regularly to take care of him. Pair that with a nice little hen who’s taken to laying her daily egg on the front porch (so handy to collect in the morning!) and today’s menu for lunch was logical.

Farm Fare: fresh, fast, and filling.

 

I fried up a couple of eggs, (on the cast iron griddle, natch) a few slices of ham, and cut a handful of micro-greens from the flat in the kitchen. Dad had mustard on his, I put homemade pickle relish on mine. They were so easy and good. Dad’s comment, “Next time on homemade bread with our own ham!” Sure, Dad…

Growing your own micro-greens for sandwiches, salads, and garnishes is super easy. We took a flat, filled it 2/3 of the way with pro-mix potting soil, and then spread the seeds out on that thickly. A dusting of potting soil on top of that, water, then cover with an empty flat turned upside-down. The cover forces the seedlings to grow leggy, for easy harvest. Once the first set of true-leaves appears, in about two weeks, shear with scissors at soil level and use. You can rinse, but it’s not necessary since the potting soil is sterile.

Our greens today were a mix of lettuce and I believe radish greens. There are any number of possible variations possible. Salad in February in New England, so satisfying! Best of all, you don’t need a greenhouse.

Slow Food With Juliet

Juliet, my eleven-year old daughter, bought a huge parsnip at the winter farmer’s market with her own money. She came back to me brandishing this white war club and hollering, “Look how big it is! It was only two dollars. I love parsnips, can we make soup?”

It came home with us, went in the crisper, and stayed there for a while. We were busy, I was sick, so it waited. Fortunately parsnips are great keepers, so this morning when she pulled it out and came into my room saying, “We’re making soup today!” it was still in perfect condition. On a cold, windy February day it was perfect to put a stew in the crock-pot for dinner. Polling the family and looking at the contents of the refrigerator led to an ad-hoc recipe, and a request for dumplings on top.

Juliet shows off her prize.

Once we had an idea of what we were doing, we started pulling ingredients together. Besides the parsnip, I had four large sausage links that needed used, four portobello mushrooms that were seriously overrripe, and some carrots lingering sadly in the crisper.

Sausage Parsnip Stew

4 parsnips (the equivalent to out monster)

4 carrots

1 large onion

4-5 garlic cloves

4 portobello mushrooms

sausage links

4 oz pesto (I used my handmade, frozen green goodness)

5 c chicken broth

1 can chickpeas

1 c red lentils

1 c frozen corn (optional. Juliet insisted, but I think it would have been fine without this)

Parsnips and carrots (and a little bit of apple).

We chopped the mushrooms up, cut the sausage into meatball-size pieces, and roughly chopped the onion before browning them all in the big cast iron skillet with a little olive oil. The garlic cloves, crushed, went in there as well. While I was doing this, Juliet cubed the parsnip and cut the carrots into 1/2 thick slices. I had put the pesto into the 7 qt crockpot to melt a little while we worked on this.

Once all the prep was done, I dumped everything in the crokpot with the broth, stirring it all up and putting a lid on it. We reserved the corn until we put the dumplings on top. We left this on high for about 4 hours. On low, at least 6 hours until done. Perfect slow food for an all-day cooking.

Red lentils, chickpeas, and sauteed goodies.

Dumplings

When I make dumplings, they are essentially biscuits, steamed on top of the stew. My Dad loves them, and since he broke his ankle yesterday, we wanted to cater to him a little.

2 cups all-purpose flour

2 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

1/3 cup shortening

2/3 cup milk

Mix together the dry ingredients, then cut in the shortening until it is pea-sized. Finally, stir in the milk, stirring only until the dry materials are fully incorporated. Scoop by spoonfuls onto the top of the stew and cover. Cook for another 40 minutes on high. To test for doneness, break open a dumpling, it should not be gooey inside.

The kids sit down to slow food.

Cooking with Cast Iron

I’ve been cooking with cast iron all my life, as my mother and grandmother, and great-grandmother before me all did. I know they did, I learned to cook in their kitchens by watching them, and then cooking at home. Now that I’m grown up, Dad and I have amassed quite the collection here on the farm, from tiny six inch skillets to the massive 24-qt dutch oven Dad brought home from Muster on the Mountain this summer. We haven’t used that one yet, but the lady that sold it to him told him we will be able to roast five whole chickens in it.

 

Cooking potato pancakes on the griddle.

Most of our pieces were acquired used, found at junk shops, yard sales, and barn sales. I love barn sales, you never know what you will find. Used cast iron con be intimidating, I know. The beautiful seasoning that makes them gleam like black satin is gone, leaving a crust of flaky iron oxide instead. Don’t be afraid, most pieces can be saved. Pick it up and heft it, first (what? you’re junking, surely you’re wearing grubby clothes and don’t mind getting your hands dirty.) a good piece will have some weight to it. Check to make sure the botton isn’t warped, or worse, cracked. While a light coat of rust is not a problem, deep pitting is, as it ruins the cooking surface.

 

Deep frying dill pickles

Once you’ve bought your new find and gotten it home, scrub off the rust and prepare it for reseasoning. A very stubborn coat of rust may need a light going-over with a wire brush. We usually slather ours in crisco and then put it in the grill while it’s still hot, and leave it overnight with the lid closed. Of course, we only grill with charcoal, so this is possible, it wouldn’t work with gas! Once it’s cool in the morning, any remaining oily residue can be washed off with hot water and paper towels to dry and blot afterward. Your shiny new pan is ready to use!

A few pieces of my collection, ready to go.

 

Frying up very fresh pork chops and wild chantarelles.

December Greenhouse

“tis the season to renovate the greenhouse and prepare it for next season’s crops. We haven’t done anything with it for a month or so since we finally had a hard enough frost to freeze it. But even with the waning daylight hours and cold weather over the last couple of days, it was nice out there for a while. Dad is putting in a bigger, better hydroponic system to grow lettuce, spinach, watercress and what-not. We are lining and will be flooding the trough under the central path. This will help keep the greenhouse from freezing, as the water retains the heat from the day, releasing it in the night slowly.

We also set up a shelf for start trays, as we will begin starting seeds as early as late January. Under that is a series of glass-covered cold-frames. Greenhouses within greenhouses to give us an even earlier start. The greenhouse isn’t heated, although Dad does have a nifty solar exchange system that forces hot air under the beds from the top of the tunnel, heating the soil.

Laying heavy black plastic in the trough.

Thin wall pipes for hydroponics. Water barrels for added mass heat storage under.

Trough. Once it's flooded we can trim the plastic and deck over it.

Installing a shelf for seed trays. Cold frames below it, with in-ground plantings.

Gladiolus corms from last year, they can't freeze, so we lift them and plant them again in the spring.

Dad has a nucleus hive in the greenhouse temporarily, and one of his girls escaped.

Everbearing strawberries planted in-ground. They will start blooming again when it warms up a little.

Six Loaves

Once the flour is added in, using a spoon won't cut it, time for hands-on!

 

I have been making bread since I was a girl, I can remember making it when I was nine or ten, and I can remember watching my mother make this particular recipe when I was even smaller. She would make a huge batch of bread, perfuming the whole house with the smell of baking, and we all looked forward to that first loaf out of the oven, which never had time to cool before it was eaten. Today, I usually make bread two loaves at a time, not six, but I made this recipe yesterday so I could give some to friends. I also made a batch of wild grape jelly, but that’s a recipe for another time.

Before I give you the recipe, you should know that this recipe is not for a beginner. Because you will be adding flour to the initial recipe without an exact amout given, you will need to know when it’s the right consistency. All flours, locations, altitudes differ, and your experience with dough will tell you when there’s enough flour in there. For a beginner, I will include my standard recipe below this one, which is my mothers, and which may even be older than that. I have an index card, yellowed and stained with oils, that this recipe is written on.

Bread: 6 loaves

6 c whole wheat flour

2 c powdered milk

2 tbsp + 2 tsp salt

4 tbsp yeast (rounded spoonsful)

Mix Well, then add liquid ingredients.

6 c lukewarm water

1 c honey

1/2 c cooking oil

Mix well, then add white flour, 2 cups at a time, until texture is right and then knead for 4-5 minutes, until two fingers pressed into the dough form a depression that quickly springs back.

Transfer to an oiled bowl and let rise until double, about 1 hour. Punch the dough down, cut into 6 segments and form loaves or rolls as desired. Place into greased loaf pans and let rise again for about 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 350 and bake for 35-40 minutes, until the bread sounds hollow when tapped. I like to butter the loaf top as soon as it comes out of the oven.

Dough Ball in oiled bowl.

Basic Bread Recipe

4 1/2 c flour (any combination of white and whole wheat. The more whole wheat, the heavier the bread)

1 tsp salt

2 tbsp oil

2 1/4 tsp yeast

2 tbsp sugar

1 1/2 c water

Place wet ingredients in stand mixer bowl, start the dough hook at low, then slowly add the flour until it is fully incorporated and starts to ‘climb’ the hook. Allow to continue on low for another 3-4 minutes, then remove the dough and form into a ball. Place in a greased bowl, turning your ball of dough over to fully coat with the oil. Allow to rise until doubled in a warm place. Punch down, cut in half, and place in two greased loaf pans. Allow to double again, and then place in an oven at 350 degrees for 35-40 minutes. The bread is done when it sounds hollow when tapped.

I like to add all kinds of goodies to this – sunflower seeds, oatmeal, dried fruit, herbs… you name it, if it’s not too juicy, it can go in there. Have fun!

Yummy! Golden brown, fragrant, and delicious.

Run, Chicken, Run!

After putting up the coop, we needed a run for the chickens and ducks to stretch their legs in. We wanted to enclose the area the length of the greenhouse, and incidentally this meant we wouldn’t need to fence that side. Yep, we’re lazy farmers.

Coop full of birds.

We built the run and then covered it with bird netting, as chickens fly quite well, contrary to popular belief. The run is necessary in our area, as free-range chickens quickly fall prey to our numerous predators. Ours will need to be moved on occasion to keep them from turning their run area into a desert.

 

We have the run up and covered.

 

The chicken run area is pretty overgrown, they will reduce that in a very few days.

 

I was able to count the chickens today for the first time in quite a while. We have only 5 out of the original 12 Gold Pencilled Hamburgs. One is a handsome young rooster. The Goldies are very flighty and nervous birds. None of them have started to lay yet. If they are good layers we may breed for more, but so far I would not repeat them. We have 6 out of 13 Cuckoo Marans. One is a rooster. They are much more sedate, and we have one pullet egg that they laid a few days ago. Hopefully that means more soon! Dad wants to increase our flock of these guys, as they are a dual purpose chicken, good for both meat and eggs. The remainder of our flock is two Aracauna hens, a Buff Orpinton Hen, and two random hens that I’m fairly sure are not laying because they are too old. I will isolate them each for a week to determine and thin from the flock if they aren’t. We also have Theodore the fancy feathers rooster and a young black rooster that was the random chick Murray McMurray threw in with the order from them.

The random rooster

 

Golden Comet sexlinks

 

Once we had the coop up we moved the young chickens that had been in the brooder outside. We are keeping them separate from the adult chickens to keep them from being picked on. There are 34 of them at the moment – 30 hens and 4 roosters. If Mom doesn’t get over here in a couple months, I will have eggs coming out my ears.

We were both carrying handfuls of chicks from the garage to the coop. Dad had more than I did.

 

We use a five gallon bucket for a feeder, and someone asked me for a picture of it. Dad made it by cutting a slit in the bucket with a saw about two inches up from the bottom. Then he heated the bucket with our little propane torch untilt he plastic was malleable. Before it cooled, he shoved a two by four into the slit, forcing the upper lip inward and the lower slightly outward. The result is a feeder they can’t scratch out of, which we can fill full of pellets and it lasts for days. Mash doesn’t work well in it, it tends to get stuck, so for the young chicks we’re using a different feeder. We feed all unmedicated here on the farm. Ideally, we’d feed the chickens very little, but for layers having a high protein feed available is a good thing. We just can’t let them free-range for now. Maybe after we get a dog…

Bucket feeder (at least we can't lose it in the grass!)

 

Three-Hour Coop

Dad and I were talking about the chicken coop that we really needed to build yesterday while we were out running around. Suddenly it dawned on me. We had all the materials we needed to build the coop and the run, and it wouldn’t take much work, either. I had run across a portable structure while researching something else that would work well for what we are doing. And it wouldn’t take the work a full-scaled wood chicken coop would, which neither Dad nor I wanted to get into right now. We started work on this coop when we got home at 5pm. We were done by 8pm. That was pretty fast!

Planned area for chicken run - the dead zone between greenhouse and planned greenhouse.

 

We knew where we wanted to put the run at least for the time being, the 12 foot zone next to the greenhouse that is overgrown at the moment with raspberries (wild ones, very unproductive) and bindweed. We also knew that as many chickens as we have, we will want to move them periodically or they will turn their runs into a desert. It’s a compromise between ease of building, ease of moving, and some protection from predators.

We grabbed the abandoned pig tractor, which was made up of four 3 foot by 16 foot pig panels, and took the panels up to the greenhouse. The pigs are in temporary quarters awaiting butchering next week. We bowed each panel by bracing the ends against hardwood stakes driven at least a foot into the ground. Overlapping the edges by a couple of inches and wiring the panels in place gained us an 11 foot by 6 foot coop.

We used fence wire to fasten the panels together. The coop is just over 6 feet tall.

Once the panels were in place we grabbed a big piece of white plastic sheeting Dad had bought for some purpose. It was about 10 foot by 20 feet, and didn’t quite cover the whole length of the coop. In time we will trim the excess off the one side and use it to cover the end. We will be adding wooden end walls to the coop before winter.

Our greenhouse now has a mini-me.

 

The chickens had been poorly contained by a run of 2 foot high fencing, so we took part of that down and used it to cover the ends of the coop. On the far end, where we built the run today, we put a length of it across the bottom, and then another length above that, almost completely covering the end. Across the front we opted for one length to allow us easy access for putting chickens, feed, and water into the coop. Finally, we closed any gaps with pieces of bird netting. That stuff is all but invisible at dusk, I’ll have you know!

We used boards on the side to fasten the plastic to the coop.

The inside of the coop, ready for birds.

Once we had it as tight as we could make it, since it was now all but dark, we went and started grabbing chickens. Half of them were roosting in the large shrub in their run, and they kept hopping from branch to branch above our heads. We wound up getting most of them, taking an ice-cream break, and coming back for the rest. But, by bedtime, all the birds were secure. Did I mention it was 88 yesterday, and very humid? We were as tired as the chickens!

Strange fruit in that tree.

 

 

Summer is Dead – Long live Fall!

We are bringing in what harvest we have, preparing for the first Frost, which technically could come any day now in New Hampshire. September first is the first day of Fall for me, whatever the actual date may be. Because we lost the tomatoes in the greenhouse to blight, Dad has pulled them out and replaced them with the everbearing strawberries that were not thriving in pots. The pigs uprooted most of my garden, but they left the basil alone. Note for future – pigs hate basil.

 

The basil is now massive bushes waist high to me and heavily leafed. One of them was knocked over in our recent storm, so I cut it at the base and brought it in. I will make pesto with some, and take the rest to the library and find good homes for it.

 

We picked the last tomatoes out of the greenhouse, only a basketful. Compared to last year when we had that much daily through August, this was sad. I will make tomato sauce and salsa with it. While we were in there, we picked catnip. I showed Glady how to hang it to dry. We cleaned the leaves off the lower stem, tied it with a bit of string and hung it from a hook in the ceiling out of direct sunlight. That easy, and it will be completely dry in less than a week. She wants to make cat toys out of it.

 

We are about to enjoy an end-of-season treat, fried green tomatoes. I thinly sliced two medium sized green tomatoes, then dredged them in some flour which had salt and pepper mixed into it. Then we fried them in a cast-iron skillet with melted butter until they were crispy and browned slightly. Salty, tart, and satisfying. 

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