The Free Press, Mankato, MN

December 29, 2013

Krohn column: An iron-clad path to manliness


The Mankato Free Press

---- — There is an unending array of kitchen gadgets, from Ginsu knives to high-end mixers, but nothing comes close to one of the oldest of utensils — cast iron cookware.

I admit to occasionally watching a shopping channel as they hawk kitchen products.

I don't buy anything, but it's entertaining and I admire how good the hosts are at making you believe you really need a banana slicer, a cordless warming tray, a zero-gravity magnetic spice rack, a Star Wars toaster that burns an impression of Darth Vader into your toast (yes, they actually have those) or an automatic pepper mill.

Really, if you're too lazy to turn a pepper mill by hand you are probably already living solely off Little Caesars and Banquet chicken and don't need a pepper mill anyway.

But no kitchen invention has held up like cast iron cookware, which have been around for more than 2,000 years.

I remember my grandmother hauling out the heavy iron skillets and filling her old farmhouse with savory smells.

Unlike the Teflon coated pans that scratch and wear out in a few years, the cast iron ones are indestructible, meaning you can use them for generations.

And they are the multi-tool of the kitchen, working on stove tops, in ovens, over coals, grilling, frying, searing and even baking bread.

With everything from muffin pans to skillets the size of a tractor tire, collecting cast iron can be a life-long habit. I've bought some new, but garage sales and second-hand store finds are best for picking up pieces for a few bucks to add to the collection on the cabin wall or cupboards at home.

It doesn't matter what they look like when you get them — scratches and decades of rust can be dispensed of with some salt and a little scrubbing. Then, a coating of oil and a couple of hours in a hot oven brings them back to their seasoned, stick-resistant prime condition.

And nothing says studly woodsman like a cast iron kettle over a roaring blaze searing a hunk of red meat. You get extra manly points if you tracked and hunted down the meat yourself.

That's why they should be used, as often as possible, over wood fires, coals or the open flame of your choice.

But cast iron is a favorite of female chefs as well. Julia Child's kitchen, displayed at the National Museum of American History, features plenty of cast iron cookware.

So skip the Orgreenic ceramic non-stick fry pan, hard anodized nonstick griddle, or any of the other "As Seen on TV" fare. Go to the junk store and get something that will last.

Better yet, see if grandma's old cast iron pans are still around. It'll be a fine way to remember her.

Tim Krohn can be contacted at tkrohn@mankatofreepress.com or 344-6383.