Cast iron has been around since 600 B.C. and is definitely a much used item in reenacting today. From pans to pokers and tripods to dutch ovens or even cauldrons, having a good selection of cast iron for all of your camping and event needs is the dream of most reenactors.
But how do you know what is “period accurate” or what makes a good substitute? How do you know what You need? How do you know how to care for your cast iron?
I’m going to break this down into a few sections – The history of cast iron, buying and caring for your cast iron, and a section on using your cast iron. I hope I cover everything you may want to know about cast iron, but if there is more that you want please leave a comment and let me know.
Cast Iron History
The links in this section will bring you to the historical uses of cast iron – where, when, what and even some timelines.
Masterpiece of Generations _ History of cast iron pots – YouTube video of 4 generations of traditional casters. This is a YouTube video showing how the pots have been made. The process has not changed much over the years, so this is a decent example of the processes from the middles ages as well.
The Traditional Chinese Iron Industry and its Modern Fate – Jstor – read online free
PUBLICATIONS BY DON WAGNER – These publications concern Chinese science, technology, history, archaeology, and language. Scroll down to see a list of web publications
Iron Kettle of Ashiya type, ca.1500 – Freer and Sackler Galleries
Buying Cast Iron
You have a few choices, you can buy new or you can buy used online or you can yard sale/thrift store shop. Personally I have done all 3 and each has it’s advantages. New cast iron usually comes already seasoned, so while you may want to add to that seasoning it can be wiped and used right away. Used often has already been cleaned and possibly seasoned. But buying from Thrift stores means you may have to clean and season your cast iron – this may be worth it for you if you have the time and the item is something you really want or is hard to find.
Items I have found very useful when cooking for either my family or a group include: Dutch oven, cauldron, frying pans (I always need at least 2 in different sizes), griddle and a tea kettle.
I generally use my Dutch Oven for breadmaking or doing pot roast or stew for a small amount of people. At demos I generally explain to people that clay or terra cotta pots would have been used in ancient times, but that cast iron is just more durable for everyday life now. The cooking process is the same and the general public understands the switch (you can always toss in cast iron has been around since ancient times and was used in certain types of cookware). Check out these awesome cooking pots: Indians used own cooking pots in Egypt during ancient Indo-Roman trade
A cauldron comes in handy for soups, stews and porridges, especially for a larger crowd. They are simple to hang over a fire on a tripod and keep things cooking all day. Here is an example of a Roman Copper Cooking Pot that your cast iron cauldron can easily replace. And another example of a Bronze cauldron and lid,ca. 550 B.C. from the Metropolitan Museum.
My preference for frying pans over a griddle for most things is just that, a preference. In general a large frying pan and a griddle can be completely interchangeable for cooking on a fire. I prefer the edges of a frying pan to hold the food in and to keep thinks from spilling over the edge and causing the fire to flare. If I happen to be cooking for a large crowd though, a griddle is a favourite for pancakes, searing meat or vegetables before adding them elsewhere (soup or stew) or stacking cooked foods on to keep them warm. Take a look at this Roman folding fryingpan from the 3rd Century or the pans on the wall from this restored Pompeii kitchen that shows how the ancient Romans would have cooked.
Of course you can always find specialty pans that you may want depending on what you are making and what time period you are cooking for. Some examples can be seen at Kentucky’s Own (Cast) Iron Man, Complete With Heart of Gold, but you can find many more specialty cast iron pieces by shopping around.
If you find yourself out cooking for a group often, you may consider getting yourself a portable cook set like these:
Getting Ready to Use Your Cast Iron
So you bought some vintage cast iron and it’s rusty and in need of some TLC? No worries. I have restored cast iron and it’s not that expensive or difficult to do. What it does take is patience and some work on your part, but it is completely worth it in the long run. The following links will help get you started on restoring your cast iron:
Cast Iron Chaos – a bit of everything. There is a section of links to restoration, cooking with and taking care of cast iron. You can also find recipes and a link to the Cast Iron Chaos YouTube page with even more information.
So now that your cast iron is cleaned up or you have bought a new cast iron piece, your next step is seasoning your cast iron. Seasoning is a built up coating of oil on your cookware that protects the cast iron and also makes your cookware non stick. The basic steps for seasoning are: coat the piece with oil, heat it until it dries, cool it. Repeat until your cookware is how you would like it. Cast Iron Chaos above has information on seasoning your pans and you can also check out:
How to Season a Cast Iron Pan – Serious Eats
Seasoning your cast iron pan isn’t enough – You season and reseason for a reason. Poplur Science
The Ultimate Way to Season Cast Iron – This one comes from Cooks Illustrated
How to Season Cast Iron Cookware – This one is from a cast iron company
So now you have these amazing pans and you want to get cooking, but how do you clean and maintain your cast iron after use? Here are a few rules I follow.
- Always hand wash and minimize the amount of time your pan is in the water.
- Always dry your pan immediately. Keeping cast iron clean and dry keeps it from rusting. (I will even heat it for a quick bit just to make sure no water droplets stay on it)
- If you do end up with some rust steel wool or a scrub pad will remove it if you act quickly enough.
- I like to rub a thin coat of oil into my cast iron after washing just as a protective coat. It adds to the seasoning. I will also heat the oiled cast iron (upside down so nothing pools).
Here are a few links with full details on cleaning and maintaining your cast iron. Of course check out the link above for Cast Iron Chaos as well.
Using Your Cast Iron
Whether you are cooking over the open fire, on the stove, in the oven or even on the barbeque, cast iron can be your best friend. Cast iron is known for being durable, holding heat well and for being very non stick once seasoned properly. The links below will get you cooking in no time.
And of course I can’t forget the recipes. These are modern recipes to get you started, but once you hang the hang of cooking with cast iron on the fire, you’ll have no trouble at all switching to recipes that are time period appropriate for your persona.
18 Easy Dutch Oven Recipes That Are Perfect for Camping – Gallery of pictures with the links to the recipes
40 Campfire Meals to Keep You Well-Fed in the Great Outdoors – Some of these recipes take a bit more skill, but I’m including the link because there are also some great ideas for vegetarian and vegan cooking as well as ideas to eat a bit fancier.
Cast Iron Chaos – YouTube channel
My post on Medieval Food Links which has plenty of recipes for the medieval time period.