Lately, I’ve been engrossed in Mildred Kalish’s memoir, “Little Heathens: Hard Times and High Spirits on an Iowa Farm during the Great Depression.”
It’s a fascinating book that details a pioneering way of life that is long gone for most of us. The recounted pleasure of “running barefoot through the fields, as free and wild as they dared” sounds a bit magical and rather enticing to a town kid-turned-farmwife.
But when I stop and think about it, running barefoot through the fields sounds downright painful and not at all enjoyable, darn it all!
I’d love to imagine myself as a tough pioneer woman, cast iron skillet in hand, cooking over the fire, living the rustic, unrefined life. But let’s be honest: In the last two years, the closest I’ve gotten to the wilderness are the times I encountered a mountain lion and a rabid skunk on our farm, and that was purely accidental.
(They are good stories, however. The former, I was helping my husband fence when a mountain lion was scared out of an abandoned building nearby. My town kid response was to run in circles – literally –, sprint toward the trees, then finally redirect myself to safety in the tractor. I’ve since been informed that this is not the proper response. The latter, I was chased by a rabid skunk and fell headfirst in the snow as I tried to escape. I cannot make these things up.)
So, in the spirit of pioneering but considering the reality of my upbringing, I have learned to content myself with cooking great food in my cast iron skillet, but staying in the comfort (and safety) of my own home.
Now, cast iron skillets are wonderful tools, whether you are made for the great outdoors or not. They are inexpensive, heavy-duty and get better over time as they become seasoned (seasoning refers to the oil baked on that creates the easy release of food, not the spices you use). You can use cast iron skillets on induction, ceramic, electric and gas cooktops, in the oven, on the grill, and over the campfire, making them super versatile.
Caring for a cast iron skillet seems to be a common question among new owners. To clean, simply wash with hot water, dry immediately and rub with a light coat of cooking oil to restore the sheen, protect it from moisture and keep it seasoned. While not using soap can be concerning to some, the instructions by Lodge – a well-known cast iron manufacturer – note that its cookware hits 400 degrees in four minutes on medium heat, and becomes sterile at 212 degrees, making soap unnecessary. If it is still a concern, the company recommends washing with mild soapy water and drying and oiling immediately.
While I really don’t foresee myself cooking over a campfire in the wilderness any time soon, I do relish the idea of making homemade s’mores, so when a favorite former teacher of mine shared this recipe for s’mores dip on Facebook, I had to try it out. It takes only a few minutes, yet looks impressive. I used a mix of leftover dark and milk chocolate chips for the base, and cut up jumbo marshmallows for the top. Stick it in the oven for a few minutes at 400 degrees to get the chocolate melting, then broil the top to get that beautiful roasted golden brown look (careful, you don’t want it to burn). Serve with graham crackers, and if you’re like me, pretend you’re in the wilderness. I like to think of it as a taste of frontier living from the comfort of your porch. Enjoy!
Cast Iron Skillet S’mores
Chocolate chips (enough to cover the bottom of the skillet)
Jumbo marshmallows, cut in half
Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees. Cover bottom of skillet with chocolate chips. Using kitchen scissors, cut each marshmallow in half lengthwise, then place on top of chocolate chips smooth side up. Place entire skillet in oven for three minutes, then broil for a minute or two until tops of marshmallows are golden brown. Remove and serve immediately with graham crackers.