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History of Cast Iron Cookery

Cast iron is basically iron that is poured into a mold to create some useful implement. Cast iron pots and pans are made in this way. Pots and cauldrons were originally made from brass because iron could not be worked until furnaces creating heat enough to melt it were invented (about 513 B.C. in China and not until 1100 A.D. or so in England). At this point, pots could be made by making molds out of sand and pouring molting metal into the mold.

The original cooking pots generally had three legs because they were designed to be used over an open fire. Cooking in the home was done in the hearth or fireplace. Stoves with tops for cooking did not come into common usage until the 1700s. This allowed tremendous advancement in cookware, especially cast iron cooking when pots and pans began to be made in mass quantities.

By 1776 Adam Smith, in his book, The Wealth of Nations, could note that the actual wealth of the nation was not its gold but in its manufacture of pots and pans. Cast iron cookware was highly valued in the 18th century. George Washington's mother thought so much of her cookware she made special note to bequeath her cast iron in her will. In their expedition to the Louisiana territory in 1804, Lewis and Clark indicated that their cast iron Dutch oven was one of their most important pieces of equipment.

In the 1800s cast iron cookware enjoyed tremendous popularity. Manufacturers that arose during that time include Wagner, Lodge, Griswold, and John Wright. Some of these manufacturers are extant today. In the late 1800s enameled cast iron cookware became popular and is still commonly used for Dutch ovens. In the 1900s cookware made from other materials began to become popular, stainless steel, aluminum, and pans with Teflon coatings. Today cast iron cookware, because of its many qualities, and questions about the health effects of other metals, is experiencing a resurgence in popularity.

Next Page: Cooking with Cast Iron

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