Despite all of the technological advances to the present time, not everything has become better. That has become apparent when it comes to cookware. In the past several decades, much effort has been given to producing new and improved cookware that is both cheaper to produce and attractive for efficiency. It seems that in the process cast iron has been cast aside, perhaps intentionally by marketers, and probably eagerly by us consumers in our quest for the popular, the easier, the stuff “everybody is buying.” The packaging of cookware sets has, indeed, set them up to be popular gifts. But are these newfangled cookwares the ideal gift? Do they keep on giving?
Since the 1970s or so there have arisen concerns about toxic chemicals in the manufacturing process of nonstick coatings, worries about the cumulative effects of heavy metals in humans and non-humans alike, an increase in dangerous or tragic events in kitchens, or – in a less gloomy context – just plain disappointment in the quality of the cookwares and the foods produced in them. Now, health-conscious consumers and the ever-enduring quest for the best, cast iron cookware is finding favor again across the U.S.A. and around the globe.
When the cost-to-value ratio of cast iron cookware is pondered, there is little surprise that it beats all other choices. Most cookware made of other metals or materials may have their own advantages, yet it takes them all to task and beats them fair and square.
Compared with any cookware of reasonable quality, they costs less new. At yard sales and flea markets an old piece, maybe found tucked away in an attic or buried in the garage, will catch the eye of someone in-the-know like a glittering piece of gold. (Like wine and old fiddles, well-kept cast iron seems to get better with age.) Even long-neglected and rusty old skillets can be easily restored – reborn to please its lucky finder!
Cast iron cookware has a centuries-old reputation-literally! Well-kept pieces and multi-piece sets have been handed down generation to generation, ever performing superbly, yielding up that old-fashioned taste, just as in old times. First produced in China around 513 B.C., it was the mainstay of cookery in the Old World since 1100 A.D., coming to the American colonies to continue the traditions, even clamoring on the sides of covered wagons across the continent. Chefs are proud of their heirloom cast iron skillets and campers are adamant about cooking over smoky campfires. It is durable like no other cookware.
Superior in heat conduction and retention properties, cast iron cookware is untouched by all cookwares. It is a source of dietary iron – the higher the acidity (as in applesauce and tomato-based sauces) the higher the iron content is likely to be. Unlike aluminum and copper, iron does not carry the consequences of cumulative heavy metals. Cast iron is a safe bet for people with diabetes and for people who are struggling against high LDL (bad cholesterol) – you can cook without adding oil or fat! Unlike other metal cookware, properly seasoned does not react with other foods.
Should you ever stumble upon a cracked piece of cookware, or if you should happen to crack yours (as can happen by forgetting it in the campfire, or pouring cold water onto it while it is still very hot), there is hope. Cracks can be welded by an expert welder.
It is hard to beat cast iron in the home kitchen, the gourmet restaurant, or at the camp site. Still, a couple of cautions are in order. Persons with iron sensitivity – an inherited metabolic disorder known as hemochromatosis – should avoid cast iron-cooked foods. Can scratch glass and ceramic flat-top stoves. Boiling water is not recommended, nor can cast iron cookware go into the dishwasher (but you can almost clean it quicker with warm, mildly soapy water and a brush or sponge than you could put it into the dishwasher, anyhow!).Thermal shock (for example, cold water on a hot cast iron; from the fire into the snow) can cause it to crack. And, finally, backpacking with cast iron cookware should be left only to the most hardy and determined souls.
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