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VOL. 35 | NO. 43 | Friday, October 28, 2011

Cast party! It’s time for cornbread, soups

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The cooler days and nights we have been experiencing lately have me craving big, hearty pots of soups and stews accompanied with piping hot slices of fresh-from-the-oven cornbread or cornbread sticks.

Stews are so simple to prepare in a slow cooker. All the ingredients can be assembled the night before and, with about 15 minutes of time the next morning, you’ll have a hot, delicious dinner waiting when you walk in from work.

Mix up some cornbread and you have a hearty meal in no time!

I was curious about my cast-iron skillet I love and use to cook cornbread, and decided to do a bit of investigating into cast iron’s history, which takes you back to the pioneer days – in other words, the days of my grandmothers.

We never had a meal without cornbread and sliced onions! For dessert, Dad always had chunked-up cornbread, in a glass with a bit of sugar. Occasionally, he would put a banana in with it. Actually, it is quite tasty!

Cast iron has been used in the United States since the early 1600s when settlers brought it from the Old World. It was common in New England for wood-fire stoves or piles of coal to blaze away under cast-iron skillets that fried breakfasts, or Dutch ovens that roasted meats for the night’s dinner.

When Lewis and Clark set out to find a Northwest Passage, they claimed their cast-iron Dutch oven as one of their most important pieces of equipment, using it to cook salt pork and stews of wild game. During the California Gold Rush, miners used it for cooking and to pan for gold.

Cast-iron cookware endured in the kitchen until the 1940s when aluminum cookware started pushing its way in. Even now, however, the cast-iron Dutch oven remains the official cookware of Tennessee, Arkansas, Texas and Utah.

So why is it called “cast iron?” Sand casting has been around for hundreds of years, and the basic technique has changed little over time: pour molten iron into a sand mold to create a shape or form.

The Lodge Company, a family-run business located in South Pittsburg near Chattanooga, has been making its cast-iron products for more than a hundred years. I’d say they probably have a pretty good recipe by now! However, the cookware speaks for itself.

Cast iron is very efficient at absorbing and retaining heat. There are two styles on today’s market: regular and coated with porcelain enamel, the latter being available in a variety of colors. Regular cast iron requires seasoning, which is a simple process of rubbing the inside of a pan with cooking oil and heating it for an hour in a moderate oven. This gives it a non-stick finish.

Cleaning is easy. Wipe with a paper towel or soft cloth and, if necessary, gently scrub with a nylon pad. Afterwards, I always heat mine on a burner to remove all moisture, then rub a light coating of oil on the inside.

Buttermilk cornbread

2 tablespoons butter

1 tablespoon bacon drippings

1 cup flour 

1 cup cornmeal 

1/4 cup sugar 

1 tablespoon baking powder 

1 teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon salt 

1 1/2 cups buttermilk 

1 egg 

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Place about two tablespoons butter and one tablespoon bacon drippings in cast iron skillet; place skillet in the oven during preheating, allowing the butter to become sizzling hot.

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