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If you look in the background of many of my cooking photos you’ll find cast iron – and lots of it! This post is about how to maintain it and use it every day!

On a Facebook page someone asked about purchasing some cast iron skillets – if they were a “good price”. I asked if she was purchasing them for the value or to use them. She replied that she wanted to start using cast iron again as it had been many years since she had.

Many people love the idea of using cast iron, but either are afraid to use it or simply don’t know how to care for it. I’ve used cast iron my whole life, so I thought I’d share how I care for mine. Note – this is simply maintaining their use. If you are buying antique cast iron, I’d recommend getting a lead-testing kit from your local hardware store to check if the cast iron has been used for other purposes in the past. I bought the dutch oven in the photo above at an antique tractor show. Before I used it I scrubbed it and tested it for lead – and now it’s a “daily user” in my kitchen!

I love cooking in my cast iron skillets. I have a dozen or so varying size skillets, a couple of Dutch ovens and a “chicken fryer”. Most of these have come from my and my husband’s parents, grandparents and great-grandparents. Who knows how old they are. Many people avoid using cast iron because they say it is a pain to maintain, or it sticks. If it sticks, it is not seasoned properly – and the maintenance is not as bad as you might think. Cast iron is the original “non-stick” cookware. It is actually beneficial to your health to cook in cast iron – plus – you don’t get any of those “Teflon-y” particles in your food!

There are varying opinions on whether one should wash cast iron – my mother always did, therefore, so do I. (I make too much gravy not to wash mine!) If you have really cruddy cast iron, have bought flea-market cast iron, or your cast iron sticks horribly – you might want to strip it and re-season. There are several YouTube videos that explain the process; however the best videos (and recipes) are from “The Culinary Fanatic” (Jeffrey B. Rogers).

For a quick and easy re-seasoning process, or for just occasional maintenance of your cast iron you can do the following (this is how I season mine):

Wash your cast iron in mild warm soapy water, using a plastic “scrubby” if necessary. Rinse and dry with a paper towel. Wipe the cast iron lightly with Crisco, covering well, but not gobbed on. Place the cast iron in the oven set on 200° for 20 minutes.

After 20 minutes, wipe the cast iron with paper towels or an old dishrag and then place it back in the oven – upside down – and increase the heat to 300° for 15 minutes.

After 15 minutes, wipe the cast iron again, and return to the oven increased to 400° for two hours. If your cast iron still sticks, check your recipe or method of cooking (right temperature for what you’re cooking, or maybe trying to turn the food too soon – that often is the cause).

If possible, simply wipe the cast iron after use, but if food is stuck on or you make a lot of gravy, too – then wash it, wipe very lightly with Crisco and place in a hot oven for just a few minutes each time you use it.

Just a few photos of things I cook in my cast iron:

 

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I went by a local market this morning to pick up some peaches for canning (we have a rather nice orchard coming along – but no fruit just yet). When I got there I saw that they also had some “June Apples” AKA “Early Transparent” apples! SCORE!

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The peaches will hold a couple of days so I set in on the apples. First I washed them with water and a little vinegar in the water (since I didn’t raise these, I don’t know if they’ve been sprayed or not) and then I got ready to peel them.

When I do apples I prepare 3 pans – 1 for the peeled and sliced apples, 1 for the peelings and cores, and 1 for the “blossom ends” and any imperfections. The pans for the apples and peelings each contain water and about 1/4 cup fruit fresh to keep them from turning dark.

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You may wonder why I save the peelings. I have mentioned before in this blog that my parents and grandparents lived through the Great Depression, and in addition to that we were very poor as I was growing up. My mother learned to “make do” and stretch foods to use every scrap. So, following in her footsteps, I save the peelings to make apple juice. 

Most recipes for making juice call for cooking the whole apple, but my mother learned that by peeling the apples and using both the apples and the peelings they went twice as far!

I debated whether to dehydrate the apples for making stack cakes this Fall or to make applesauce. Applesauce won out. So after peeling about 8-9 pounds of the apples, I put them on to cook.

To make applesauce, put the peeled and sliced apples in a pot with a little water to keep them from sticking and turn on med-high.

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Most applesauce recipes call for cooking the apples until soft and then running them through a strainer or food mill, however Early Transparent apples are very tart (which keeps me from snatching slices as I peel) and they cook up to “sauce” consistancy without the milling step.

When the apples begin to get mushy, add sugar for sweetening. For this many apples add 2 cups of sugar and taste for desired sweetness. I ended up using 3 cups of sugar to get them just right. If you want, you can add cinnamon and other spices, but since this is mainly for our 9 month old grandson, I left this batch plain.

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Once the apples are the consistancy you want, fill clean, hot jars (pint or quart) leaving 1/2″ headspace. Wipe the rims, seal “finger tight” and place in a waterbath canner (or large pot with a rack to keep the jars off the bottom) with water covering the jars by 2 inches.

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Once the water comes to a rolling boil, process the apples 20 minutes (both pints and quarts). When the time is up, turn the heat off and let the jars sit in the water 5-10 minutes before removing from the water.

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The reason this fruit separated was because I put just a little too much water in the apples when I started to cook them. This was my first turn of apples for this year and was out of practice. I’ll make a note of that for next time. This won’t hurt the apple sauce, I’ll just need to stir it up when I open a jar.

While the applesauce was processing I put the apple peelings in the same pot that I had cooked the apples in (no need to wash it first – it’s all apples!) Add water just to nearly covering and turn on med-high.

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After the peelings have cooked down let them cool and then strain.20160614_19515520160614_195200

Cheesecloth works pretty well for straining the juice, but I prefer an old cotton diaper. Squeeze the peelings until all the juice is out – or – until you’re tired of squeezing.

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I had a half gallon of apple juice from these peelings. I put the juice in the refrigerator and will can it in pints tomorrow. I use this apple juice for the syrup mixture in canning other fruits.

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8-9 pounds of apples = 9 pints of apple sauce and 1/2 gallon of juice – pretty good for an afternoon of work, wouldn’t you say?

Edit: A couple of days later I made chunky apple sauce out of the rest of the apples. I had 19 pints from this half-bushel of apples.

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We have 2 hay fields. Since we don’t have stock any longer we don’t really need the hay, so a friend of ours puts up the big field. He has all new fancy equipment and even a gadget that loads the hay onto the wagon.

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That’s almost like cheating!

All of our equipment, on the other hand, is old – antique – you might say. We decided to put the hay up from the little field, just to keep the baler running.

Our baler is a 55T McCormick. It is a beast!

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We keep it in the barn. It hadn’t run in 3 years. We weren’t even sure it would start.

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But it started right up!

The raking was done with a Case side-delivery rake, pulled by a 430 Case tractor.

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And that’s a 1947 M Farmall ahold of the baler.

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And that’s my hubby (of 41 years) ahold of that Farmall!

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There were about 75-80 bales – not all that many, but enough to keep the equipment running and to satisfy our hankering for a “hay day”!

Antique people running antique equipment! It’s been a good day. We are blessed to be able to live here.

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When I was little, my favorite after school snack was a peanut butter and pineapple preserves sandwich. Since I’m all about “do it yourself” I make my own.

Last year our local grocery store had a “midnight madness” sale where peeled pineapple was at a GREAT price. I bought 10-12 pineapples and canned them.

Canning pineapple is really easy. Peel and cube pineapple. Because pineapple is really sweet, it doesn’t need additional sugar for canning. It can be packed in plain water, unsweet pineapple juice, unsweet apple juice or white grape juice.

In a large sauce pan heat the liquid and let it simmer 10 minutes while you fill jars with the chunks of pineapple. Add liquid to 1/2″ headspace. Remove air bubbles, wipe rims with a damp cloth, seal and waterbath pints for 15 minutes and quarts for 20 minutes.

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To make pineapple preserves I took 5 pints of canned pineapple, drained the liquid off (and enjoyed drinking it!)  Then I chopped the pineapple into small chunks. (I’m sure you could this in a food processor – but since I don’t have one – hand chopping it is!)

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After chopping pineapple, measure out 4 1/2 cups pineapple into a 6-8 quart saucepot. Add about 1 tbsp butter to reduce foaming (opt). Stir in 1 pkg of pectin (Sure Jell or I used Jel-Ease) and bring to a rolling boil that doesn’t stop bubbling with stirred. Stir pretty much constantly to keep from sticking.

When it is at a rolling boil, add 4 1/2 cups sugar and return to a full boil. Let this mixture boil for 2 minutes. (Sure Jell calls for 1 minute, Jel-Ease calls for 2 minutes). Remove from heat and fill jars.

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Fill jars to 1/4″ headspace. Wipe rims with a damp cloth and seal. Waterbath for 5 minutes. Let the jars sit in the canner for an additional 5-10 minutes after turning the heat off, then place upright on a towel to cool. Let them sit for 24 hours and check for a seal, then remove rings.20160610_150656

You may have noticed that I had a half jar leftover – and it was lunchtime – so what better lunch than a peanut butter and pineapple preserves sandwich… Folded over, of course, because that’s how Mother always made it! Enjoy!

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Today I had bean with bacon soup for lunch  that I’d canned a few months ago and I thought I’d share the recipe. I only have one picture which I’ll share at the end.

2lbs dried navy beans – soaked overnight, or “quick soaked” by bringing to a boil, boiling for 2 minutes then allowing to sit for 30 minutes and rhen draining.

2 qts tomato juice (or a thin sauce)

3 cups chopped onions

2 lb bacon or ham

2 cups sliced carrots

3 cups diced celery

Black pepper

2 bay leaves

1 tbsp cumin

1 cup brown sugar (to taste)

(No need for salt due to bacon or ham)

Combine beans, carrots, celery, tomato juice, pepper and cumin. Cook on medium.

Meanwhile, fry bacon to cripsy, remove and drain well on paper towels. Fry onions until soft and also drain well, then add to bean mixture.

Add brown sugar to taste.

Simmer a while (30-45 minutes – you may need to add water to make as “soupy” as you like).

Remove bay leaves

Fill hot sterilized jars leaving 1″ headspace. Remove air bubbles and wipe rims with a paper towel dampened with vinegar.

Pressure quarts for 90 minutes at 11lb pressure (adjusted for your altitude)

Pints pressure 75 minutes.

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First of all “Dinner” at our house means the noon meal (Jesus and the disciples ate “The Last Supper” – not the last dinner… but I digress…)

I needed to fix a quick dinner and didn’t have time to fry the thawed fish and to bake potatoes like I wanted, so I opted to bake the fish, and tried a new way of baking potatoes.

I had some huge baking potatoes so I cut one in two, rubbed on a little bacon grease (you could use butter) and placed it face down in a cast iron skillet. I put it in a preheated 400° oven and baked for 25 -30 minutes.

20160605_113431(That is NOT as much bacon grease as it looks. It was cold and in chunks – that’s my story and I’m sticking to it!)

While that was baking, I lined a baking pan with foil and poured in a little olive oil. I dipped and turned the pan until I made sure the oil spread over the entire surface. Next I sprinkled lemon pepper on the pan and laid the fish on top. (I’m not sure what kind of fish this is, I traded a friend some tomatoes for fish last summer. They caught it in the river near their house.)

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I sprinkled lemon thyme, salt and pepper over the fish then turned it to coat it with the olive oil. Next I put a sliver of butter on each piece and sprinkled with bread crumbs.

(Make your own bread crumbs by saving the “heel” pieces of light bread, keeping them in the freezer until you have several. Dehydrate them and then crush to your desired consistancy. Keep the crumbs in a jar in the freezer. Easy and cheap!)

I baked the fish for about 20 minutes @ 400°. It turned out great!

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I forgot to take a picture of the potatoes when they came out of the oven (hubby came in and was hungry!) They were beautifully golden brown, but, this is how mine looked covered with cheese and ranch dressing (when I finally remembered to take a picture).

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I’ll definitely be adding this recipe to my recipe book!

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Our garden is coming along nicely, but until I need to start canning garden produce, I thought I’d take this opportunity to can up some beef and vegetables, and some full blown vegetable beef soup.

I started last night by putting about 5-6 pounds of beef stew in the crockpot.

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In hindsight, I really didn’t need to precook the beef stew. If I was using a roast, I would need to precook so I could remove any fat from it.

This afternoon (after working in the garden all morning) I began peeling and cutting up vegetables. I cut up about 12 cups of potatoes, 6 cups of carrots and 6 cups of celery. I divided these up about 60/40 between 2 pots because I was going to add lots of other vegetables to the soup and also wanted a few jars of just beef, potatoes, carrots and celery together.

To the soup pot I added about 2-3 cups each of: chopped onions, frozen peas, and frozen whole kernel corn. I also added about 1-2 cups frozen green beans and 3 quarts of canned tomatoes. I seasoned to taste with salt and pepper and added about 1 tsp thyme and 2 bay leaves.

And then I added the meat.

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I strained the broth from the crockpot and removed as much of the fat as possible. This little cup allows the broth to be poured from the bottom, thus avoiding the fat on top!

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After this I let both pots come to a boil, then reduced the heat and let it simmer about 30-40 minutes while I got the pressure canner and jars ready.

I filled the jars with the beef mixture first since there wasn’t as much of it and any amount less than a jar full could be added to the soup.

I had 5 jars of beef mixture and filled two more with the soup mixture. Since both of these had meat they would need to pressure 90 minutes @ 11lbs pressure (for our altitude) and could pressure together.

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I wiped the rims with a papertowel dampened with vinegar and sealed.

Afrer the first canner came off I filled the next set of jars with soup. All together I had 5 jars of beef mixture and 9 jars of vegetable beef soup. All I need to do for a quick meal is cook some cornbread and open and heat a jar! I love it!

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(The jars to the left are chili that I canned last week.)

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We have tile floors and I love them…

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However – I was having a terrible time finding some way to clean them that was effective – plus it would be nice to be fast as well. Was that too much to ask?

We tried all kinds of mops and cleaners. We have a Shark steam cleaner – but that left the floors streak-y. We tried a Swiffer – still streak-y. The only way to avoid streaks was with a washrag, and on my knees… That ain’t gonna work!

Recently I’ve been making natural cleaners to avoid so many chemicals in our home. I hit upon a cleaner that is super-effective, quick and easy, AND doesn’t leave my tile floors streak-y! I am so excited.

The cleaner consists of:

1 3/4 cup water

1/4 cup white vinegar

1/4 tsp Dawn

1/4 tsp of a cleaning Essential Oil of your choice (some recommend Tree Tea Oil)

Mix in a spray bottle and use for EVERYTHING! I love it.

Now – here’s the really cool part… I still use a washrag… and my swiffer. Just attach the washrag to the swiffer (eliminating the need to buy replacement cloths).

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Then either spray the cloth, or spray the floor directly. Works great – smells wonderful – costs pennies – and is so super quick and easy. It is excellent for quick mop-ups and even works on laminate flooring.

Finally a clean kitchen floor without a big production!

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I mentioned on Facebook tonight that I had Authentic Mexican food for lunch today at a mission trip fundraiser at our church – but, I shared, I had Southern food for supper!

I shared this photo 20160221_185858

We had leftover pinto beans and some leftover meatloaf, but I added fried potatoes and some fried cabbage and onions. A friend then asked how to fix fried cabbage, so I decided to share how I fix both fried potatoes as well as fried cabbage. I don’t have photos for those, but they’re pretty simple – and I’ll do a blog post with pictures the next time I fix them.

First – fried potatoes… I’ve been frying potatoes since I was big enough to cook – at least 50 years! But – they always stuck and made a mess. But now I have learned how to fry potatoes that don’t stick and are easy and delicious!

First – a well seasoned cast iron skillet is a must! (I’ll explain how to do that in another blog post of there is any interest). Peel your potatoes and onions (if you’re adding onions) and put them in separate bowls. Place your ungreased skillet in a 400 degree oven for 10 or so minutes. In the meantime, microwave your potatoes until slightly soft. Drain off any water that forms.

Put the hot skillet on the stove eye, on med- med/high. Add oil of choice (olive oil, bacon grease, etc). Immediately add potatoes and turn them to coat them. Let them fry about 10 minutes, turn and add salt and pepper. In another 5 minutes or so, add the onions (because onions cook faster and will burn if you put them in at the same time). Continue cooking until they are as brown as you want them.

As for the fried cabbage, I usually fix it whenever I fix fried potatoes (they just seem to go together plus my husband doesn’t like onions in the potatoes) So – when I take the potatoes out of the skillet, I add a little additional oil if necessary, then add chopped cabbage and onions. Stir-fry until the cabbage and onions are as done as you like them. If I’m using regular yellow onions, I like them well-done, but if I have purple onions or green onions, I don’t cook them as long.

And there you have it! A couple of side dishes worthy of a pot of pinto beans!

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This recipe makes a great “base” soup. It is good to open and eat as is, add more vegetables for a heartier soup, or add egg noodles for a delicious chicken noodle soup.

Start by cooking 2-3 pounds of chicken. This can be a whole chicken, parts, or boneless chicken.20160212_135744

Or use leftover cooked chicken 20160212_135832

While your chicken is cooking, cut up about 2 cups each celery, onions, and carrots.20160212_135732

Once the chicken is done, add the vegetables, salt, pepper and any other seasonings to taste. Bring to a boil and cook about 30 minutes.20160212_141210

While the  vegetables are cooking, wash jars (quart or pint) and pour boiling water over them. When the vegetables are ready, fill jars and wipe rims with a papertowel dampened with vinegar. Add lids and seal finger-tight.20160212_154939

Pressure 11 pounds (depending on altitude) for 90 minutes for quarts or 75 minutes for pints.20160212_204759

Check to make sure the jars have sealed.

Follow your canner’s instructions for how-to specifics.

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