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Cast-iron cookware passes test of time

Are you getting ready to cook up a green-bean casserole, bake some tasty corn bread, or stir up some stuffing for Thanksgiving?

Maybe this year you can do your holiday cooking the old-fashioned way.

Our great-grandmothers didn't have Teflon-coated pots or throw-away aluminum pans. They cooked with time-tested cast-iron cookware.

Although very heavy to handle, cast iron remains a popular choice for true chefs today.

Why? It's durable, stick-resistant (when properly taken care of) and an excellent heat conductor, heating food quickly and evenly.

Some also like the fact that, when used correctly, you don't need to coat cast iron with butter for cooking — making it a good way to cook fat-free.

Aesthetically speaking, too, if you have a big old farmhouse or other type of period home, cast-iron cookware can be prominently and beautifully displayed, giving your kitchen a warm, vintage ambiance.

If you opt to buy and use old cast-iron cookware, keep this in mind: Cast-iron cookware needs to be “seasoned” in order to be used correctly.

My husband Brad, who likes to take out the big old cast-iron skillet to make Sunday pancakes from time to time, says the proper way to season the cookware is to coat it with cooking oil before use (canola or sunflower is good, but you can also use a shortening such as Crisco), then put it in a 350-degree oven and repeat these steps a couple of times.

This, he notes, gives the cookware a nice, shiny, waxy finish, which serves as a natural “Teflon,” so to speak. Food won't stick.

In addition, the more you do this, and cook with the pot or pan, the better it gets.

Proper care of cast iron is imperative if you want it to last for years and years.

Never harshly scrub your cast iron, or put it in the dishwasher to clean. This can ruin the finish.

It's best to gently clean with warm, soapy water and, when it cools, coat it with oil again and dry with a paper towel before putting away.

Brad likes to cover his cast-iron skillet with plastic wrap to protect it until the next time he takes it out.

Note that cast-iron pots or pans can be used in the oven or on a stove-top, but they are best used with a gas stove, rather than electric.

If you do use an electric stove, keep the temperature on a lower setting.

Also, very cold liquids poured directly into a hot cast-iron pot could cause the pot to crack. So be careful.

There are many varieties of cast-iron cookware.

Pots and pans are, of course, the most common you'll find at flea markets or antique shops, but you can also search out Dutch ovens (great for stews), griddles, pie pans, tea kettles, waffle irons and more.

One great cast-iron item we have in our shop, more for display than actual use, is a sausage stuffer from the 1800s.

Now that's something your great-grandmother probably would have loved.

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