Wednesday, June 27, 2012

If you don't like the weather . . .

This post has been a long time in the writing, interrupted at least a dozen times!  Never mind, I'm going to just finish it off and vow to do better tomorrow!

Grandma has been "on vacation" while her daughter visited for a couple of weeks,  and then catching up on all the many things left undone.  Meanwhile, it has done almost nothing but rain and then rain some more, so she's been putting the heating pad to very good use.  All of that rain did bring one blessing with it though.  Many of the houses in the neighborhood Grandma lives in have been here for a hundred years - and so have some of the rose bushes!  Look at this beauty - bigger than a Volkswagen:

Meanwhile, Grandma's youngest daughter and son-in-law showed up with another couple of truckloads of stuff from storage.  (They tend to do that just about the time Grandma gets everything put away and straightened out.)  The first batch had lots of the cookbooks, some of Grandma's precious strawberry dishes and a big crate of not run-of-the-mill cast iron, all sadly in need of reseasoning after months in storage.  The second had the rest of the cookbooks, including the one with the spectacular recipe for a blueberry coffee cake.

There are about as many ways to season or reseason cast iron as there are people who use cast iron and Grandma has now been at it for weeks.  Here's one:


Grandma always wipes out her cast iron pans, then puts them over a burner for a few minutes until you can feel the heat coming off the pan when you hold your hand over it and there is no more visible water instead of drying them out in the oven.  Trust me, you do not want to drop a hot-from-a-450F-oven cast iron pan on your foot like Grandma did recently.

Someone asked recently what kind of fat Grandma uses to season  cast iron.  That depends.  Some folks swear by lard, but of course that wouldn't be either vegetarian or kosher.  Grandma tends to use either Crisco or some neutrally flavored cooking oil.  Most of the cast iron she's reseasoning at the the minute has lots of nooks and crannies, so vegetable oil and a paintbrush type of pastry brush instead of a paper towel is in order.

A couple of points to remember:

The layer of oil that you apply should be very thin.  If you end up with visible pooled oil take a paper towel and wipe most of it out.

Have you ever noticed that cast iron skillets and corn bread almost define Southern cooking?  Maybe that is because one of the best ways to season cast iron is to bake in it, killing two birds with one pan of cornbread.

When Grandma was a girl, there was a clear difference between real Southern Cornbread and the stuff baked up North, usually known as Johnny Cake.  Real Southern Cornbread has no flour (great for all Grandma's gluten-free friends!) or sugar.  Johnny Cake does.  This difference seems to have been forgotten, even by the likes of Paula Deen,  but Grandma still prefers her cornbread without either flour or sugar.

Good Southern cornbread starts with the cornmeal.  In most of the South, there is a distinct preference for white cornmeal rather than yellow, though Grandma has learned to make do with whatever color happens to be handy.  You want a finely ground meal, stone ground if you can get it,  Grandma's long preferred brand is Indian Head Stoneground White Corn Meal, which comes in either white or yellow.

This particular brand is available in many grocery stores nation-wide. Martha White and White Lily are other brands commonly used in the South, and in a pinch you can use regular old Quaker, though it will not be nearly as nice.

Here is Grandma's Favorite Cornbread recipe:

Southern cornbread comes in two basic  types:  regular and buttermilk.  Believe it or not, you do not need two separate recipes!  The mark of a cook is being able to make do with what you have.

Take your 8, 9 or 10" cast iron skillet, place about 2-3 tablespoons of oil, Crisco, lard or bacon dripping in the bottom, rub it around a bit with a paper towel to coat the inside of the pan (don't take all the oil out - you need that much!) and put the pan into an oven that you are preheating to 425F.

In a medium bowl,  place 2 cups cornmeal and 1/2 teaspoon salt.  Now, decide if you are going to make regular cornbread or buttermilk.

For Regular Cornbread:  Add 3 teaspoons of baking powder (the stuff in the round can) to the dry ingredients and give it a quick stir.  Add 1 or 2 eggs and 2 tablespoons of oil or melted bacon drippings to the bowl.  When your oven has preheated and your pan is hot, quickly stir in 1 1/2 cups regular milk and immediately pour this into the hot pan.*  Bake 20-25 minutes until the cornbread has pulled away from the sides of your skillet and the crust is a light golden brown.

For Buttermilk Cornbread:  Add 1 teaspoon of baking soda (the stuff in the orange box) to the dry ingredients, mix and then add 1 or 2 eggs, 2 tablespoons oil or bacon drippings and 1.5 cups of buttermilk or sour milk**.  Immediately pour the batter into your hot skillet* and bake 20-25 minutes, until the cornbread has pulled away from the sides of your skillet and the crust is golden brown.

*Grandma usually accomplishes this by standing at the oven with the bowl and the milk, quickly dumping in the milk and giving it a whisk, opening the oven door, pulling out the rack with your hot skillet on it and pouring the batter in.  That avoids any possibility of dropping the hot skillet on your foot or losing all  of the heat taking the pan in and out.

** If you want Buttermilk Cornbread but don't have buttermilk, put 1 tablespoon of cider vinegar or lemon juice in the bottom of your measure, add the milk and wait about 5 minutes, then proceed as usual.

Why would you want Buttermilk Cornbread but not have any buttermilk?  Grandma has always found running out of baking powder to be a pretty good reason.


If you want to fancy things up a bit, you can always bake your cornbread as corn sticks.  You wouldn't think that just a change in shape would make such a difference, but cornsticks are like little pillows surrounded by crust.  They are a bit more time consuming, you will need either a couple of pans or will have to fill the pan a couple of times, and you will probably want to cut the recipe in half unless you are feeding a crowd (See below), but they are well worth the trouble - and scrumptious with butter and honey! The most common cornstick pans look like small ears of corn, but they also come in cactus and fish.  Here are some that Grandma has in her collection:

Cornbread Recipe for Cornstick Pans:

1 cup stone ground white cornmeal
1 teaspoon baking powder OR 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon oil or bacon dripping
1 egg
3/4 cup of milk OR buttermilk

Mix as directed above, being careful to use baking powder with regular milk or baking soda with buttermilk.  Yes, you can still sour the milk with vinegar or lemon juice if you have no buttermilk.  If you need to work with only one pan you may need to add a couple of tablespoons of extra milk for the second baking as cornmeal absorbs liquid like crazy. 

Be sure to brush every nook and cranny of your cornstick pan with oil and preheat the pan in a 425F oven just as you would if you were baking in a skillet.  Pull out the shelf your pan is preheating on, spoon enough batter into each cavity to fill it 2/3 to 3/4 full, then bake about 15 minutes until golden.  If you haven't overfilled your pans you will see that the sticks have pulled a bit away from the pan and you should be able to just dump them out of the pan.  

If your pan isn't yet very well seasoned be generous with the oil (do NOT use cooking spray &/or flour!), make sure the oiled pan is adequately preheated (the oil should be almost smoking hot) and use the tip of a very small sharp knife to gently dislodge the sticks if necessary.
Cornsticks hot from the oven!  As you can see, I got 9 cornsticks from the recipe above.

Here they are turned out of the pan. The one with the "ding" stuck a teeny bit.

Dinner!  Chili with New Mexico chile and hot cornsticks with butter & honey.  Sheer heaven on a chilly day!

Why Cast Iron?

1.  A well seasoned cast iron pan is every bit as non-stick as the best non-stick ever made and, unlike regular non-stick cookware, it does not give off any nasty chemicals at high temperatures.  Because it is nonstick, you can use much less oil.   Even better, unlike non-stick cookware, if you mess up the seasoning on your pan you can always fix it instead of throwing the pan away.  Here's how:

2.  Cast iron is every bit as suitable for cooking on your gas grill  as it is in your kitchen and is the GoTo cookware for cooking over a wood fire.

3.  Studies over many years have shown that people who cook mostly in cast iron only very rarely have iron anemia (low iron levels) because minute amounts of iron leach into your food.  Cooking food, especially things that contain tomatoes,  in cast iron can increase the iron content of the food you eat by as much as 20 times (not twenty percent - twenty times as much!)  Yes, yes - Grandma knows you hear people say all the time not to cook tomatoes in cast iron.  Did you ever notice that most chili recipes contain tomatoes or a tomato product?  If you do cook spaghetti sauce in your cast iron, it may not be quite as vibrant a red and you will not want to let it stand in the pan, but it absolutely won't hurt either you or the pan!

A Note of Caution

Not so long ago most cast iron was made in America.  These days, most cast iron is not made in America.  The only American manufacturer of cast iron cookware in the US is Lodge Manufacturing of  South Pittsburgh, Tennessee.  Currently, all of the cast iron sold by Lodge other than that which has been enameled is made in the US.  (Their enameled cast iron is made in China.)  They have two other product lines, a new collection of seasoned carbon steel skillets that are made in the US (Grandma would love one or two of these!)  and a collection of Lodge Stainless Elements, also mostly not made in the USA.

Lodge also makes some unique collectors items.  If you've happened into a Cracker Barrel store  in your travels, you may have noticed the wall of cast iron, some of which bears a picture of a Cracker Barrel store on the bottom.  Those are all made in the US by Lodge, as is the Lodge Logic Boy Scouts of America Pre-Seasoned 12-Inch Skillet and the Lodge Logic 6-Quart Boy Scouts of America Pre-Seasoned Camp Oven.  (The camp oven is intended for use over a wood fire.)

Most other cast iron available is now made outside the US.

Cold and rainy here today so Chili is on the stove.  I'll add a picture of some cornsticks when dinner is ready!


  1. Oh, I miss your cornbread! Take it from me, internet people - no one does cornbread like my momma! You should use her recipe.

    1. I'll bring you some cornmeal when I come over in the fall!

  2. I have one of those cornstick pans from my Grandmother - but I was not careful and it now has rust. How do I clean it out to use again ?

    Thank you

    1. The first thing to do is to get the rust out. You can use steel wool & elbow grease or resort to a metal brush. Or, you can try a trick to dissolve rust that my Dad used to use on the flight line when he was in the Navy during WWII. The planes on a carrier are held down with steel cable that screws into the deck with big bolts - and of course they rust in place almost immediately in all that salt sea spray. To get them out you pour a bottle of Coca-cola over them. If you have baked on stuff along with the rust, you can put the pan into your self cleaning oven and run it through a cleaning cycle.

      Once you have most of the rust out, dry out your pan, either in the oven or over a burner, then give it a thin coat of oil and bake it at 350 for an hour or two. Turn off the oven and let it get cold - I usually leave the pans in overnight - then heat the pan up again, give it another thin coat of oil and bake it again.

  3. Thank you for this informative post, Grandma. I look forward to trying your cornbread recipe.
    I was recently handed down my Mom's ancient square cast iron skillet - I am a lucky girl. She was having a hard time using it any more because it was getting too heavy for her to use - she is 85 and so adorable. We live 3,000 miles apart and miss each other terribly, but we chat on the phone about what latest thing we are cooking or baking and it is so heartwarming. Sounds like your family.
    All the best. Thanks for the great post.
    Denise (Urbnspice)

  4. I so miss being able to do that with my mother and grandmother Denise, but I do have my mother's mother's cast iron frying pan and the baking book Mom used in Home Ec many years ago. I know you'll think of your mother and all the wonderful family times every time you see that pan. Those old square skillets are very hard to come by as they weren't all that common. Take good care of it - which means use it a lot!

  5. I will use it often - thank you! (I too have my Mom and Grandma's old cookbooks - they are my treasure of treasures in my vast collection of cookbooks). I learn so much from reading these books.

  6. My grandmother had a large cast-iron "spider" with 6 feet. She used it for cooking most everything, but my favorite was her fried potatoes with bacon grease, onion, (occasional) green bell pepper, salt, pepper, and vinegar.

    I use a Cuisinart stainless steel frying pan (which I've owned for 35 years, and it's like new), and try to duplicate her recipe, substituting canola oil for the bacon grease. I'd use bacon grease, but most of the time I cook bacon on paper towels in the microwave which doesn't use much usable grease.

  7. Came back for the corn meal recipe - had taken notes before on the cast iron "seasoning". My cast iron is from sheep wagons that were used on my grandfather's ranch in the beginning of time! We had used the pans in our camping days and they have just been resting in storage. I am anxious to do the corn meal in my waffle iron. Thanks for the great info. Maleta

    1. Oh I would love to see your cast iron! I hope you'll send me pictures when you're done reseasoning it!


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