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Posted January 14, 2009 | Copyright © The Northern Virginia Daily
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Iron-clad kitchen: Traditional long-lasting, functional cookware gaining in popularity

Susan L. Dolinar
Susan L. Dolinar, owner of Nibblins Edibles & Gifts at Apple Blossom Mall, shows some of the cast-iron cookware the store carries. Dennis Grundman/Daily

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Cast-iron cookware, which has a long tradition in kitchens around the world, is becoming more popular. Dennis Grundman/Daily


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By Elizabeth Wilkerson -- Daily Staff Writer

WINCHESTER -- Whether because of its heft, unique maintenance or aversion to water, cast-iron cookware can be somewhat intimidating to first time users.

But, in spite of its idiosyncrasies, the traditional cookware, which is a great choice for high-temperature cooking, is enjoying something of a renaissance.

"I think there's been a resurgence of using cast-iron cookware," said Susan L. Dolinar, owner of Nibblins Edibles & Gifts in Winchester's Apple Blossom Mall. "What's great about it is that it holds the heat and you get even heating."

She said TV networks devoted to cooking and food and the economy have contributed to the resurgence of the cookware. "Restaurants are expensive," she said, and people are trying recipes and entertaining at home more.

There are two types of cast-iron cookware -- traditional and enameled, Dolinar said. Traditional cast-iron cookware comes both natural and preseasoned, she said.

For cast-iron pans, seasoning is a process in which a pan is coated with a neutral oil, heated and cooled. With seasoning, the cooking surface of a new pan develops a nonstick quality because the formerly jagged and pitted surface becomes smooth, according to the Web site, www.whatscookingamerica.net. And, because the pan's pores are permeated with oil, water cannot seep in and create rust, it says.

But, she said, "it really isn't that hard to take care of" cast iron cookware. Just wipe it out, reapply a light coating of oil to maintain the seasoning and allow it to dry completely, she said.

"You don't want to let water stand in [the pan]," Dolinar said. "You really don't want to scrub it out drastically. ... You really never want to put it in the dishwasher."

It can be hard for some people to get past the thought of not traditionally washing the cookware, she said, and some do prefer to wash and reseason their pans.

Cast iron pans can be stored most anywhere, she said, but they should be kept dry. Even if the cookware rusts, she said, you can scour the rust off with steel wool, reseason the pan, and continue using it.

Dolinar said she loves baking biscuits in her cast iron pans, and her husband often cooks his "brats and beer" or deep dish pizzas in them. Cast iron pans are also great for cornbread and other skillet breads, and frying chicken.

Everyday cast-iron cookware didn't achieve great popularity until the 18th century, though it was produced as early as the fifth century B.C., according to the site, www.therustypot.com. The Chinese developed furnaces for making cast iron in 513 B.C., the site says, though Europeans did not develop the cast iron process until 1161.

Cauldrons were developed in the early 15th century, the site says, but cast iron at that time was brittle, expensive and time consuming to make. With the development of the annealing process, which allowed the cookware to be made thinner, and tinning, in which it was covered with a thin coating of tin, in the 18th century, the cookware became very popular, it says.

Enameled cast-iron cookware appeared in the late 19th century, it says.

Traditional cast iron is reactive, Dolinar said, so it's not something you'd want to cook a tomato-heavy dish in. Enameled cast iron, which is non-reactive, is a good alternative for soups, stews and chilies with tomatoes, she said.

"What's nice is, it can be in the oven or it can be on the stove," she said. Cast iron pans don't warp, she said, and they can "go to all sorts of heats."

Though the skillet may still be the archetypal cast-iron pan -- Dolinar said 10- and 12-inch skillets are her best sellers -- there are a variety of pans available, including grills, fajita pans, Dutch ovens, chicken fryers and cornstick pans.

After the skillets, the Dutch ovens and chicken fryers, which are essentially deeper frying pans with lids, are her most popular cast-iron pieces, Dolinar said. She said she thought she and her husband, whose mothers were "city girls in the Midwest," have had to do more learning about cast iron than the store's customers.

"Really, actually, a lot of the people that come in for it have seen it on Food Network or have used it for years," she said. "There are people, also, that kind of collect it."

Dolinar's shop, which is now in its third location, has carried the cookware since it opened four years ago, she said. This was the first year her inventory was not "totally decimated after Christmas," she said, though that could be because she ordered more before the holidays.

"In terms of cost, it's not that expensive," she said, "and people have realized that it wears forever if it's taken care of."

*Contact Elizabeth Wilkerson at ewilkerson@nvdaily.com

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