There’s a certain type of story you’ll encounter a lot in DIY or crafting circles. I call it “The Find.” The story generally starts at a garage sale, in a grandparent’s attic or barn, by the side of the road, or at some other unlikely location for discovering anything of value. But there is is… the gorgeous piece of furniture in need of a lick of paint, the amazing antique vase, the long-lost Picasso, etc.
The sharp-eyed writer immediately spots the forgotten masterpiece, her heart beating faster. Later, after a laborious but exciting fix-up job, the true beauty of the piece emerges and it takes up a place of honor in the writer’s household. Readers everywhere quake with jealousy. Why couldn’t that Picasso have been at the yard sale I went to last week?
In my case, the story began on the porch of my father’s rural abode, and the object… it was filled with dog food.
Forgotten completely during the era of non-stick coatings, was an 8-inch diameter cast iron pan — rusted nearly beyond all recognition. When I picked it up, vowing to restore it to its former glory, my husband scoffed. He’d never eat anything made in a dog food bowl! It was just the challenge I needed.
So, I started researching online and found a few resources about restoring cast iron. Here’s the one that was the most useful — Black Iron Blog. This dude knows his stuff. Via his site and others, I discovered that my pan was a Wagner Ware pan, made in Sidney, Ohio in the 1960s. Not a Picasso by any stretch, but any well-made cast iron pan has the potential for long-lasting greatness.
Using everything from vinegar to oven cleaner (yes, disgusting, I know) to steel wool to elbow grease, I worked on it and worked on it. I put it in a super-hot oven for hours, I doused it with every type of oil and grease I had at hand. Still, when I put oil onto its surface with a paper towel, the paper came away with a disturbing brown stain. Did I want that on my food? For a while, I gave it up and put the pan away.
Recently, I began to feel confident again about conquering this challenge. I did a little more searching and became convinced that the brown residue was actually the beginnings of the seasoning I was going for. So, I was on the right track, I just needed to keep going — and keep frying. The cast-iron-pan project coincided nicely with my quest to make good falafel — I filled the pan up with plenty of oil and turned up the heat. The falafel came out really nicely. And I left the oil in the pan for several days afterward. When I finally cleaned it (no soap!) it was clear that the seasoning process was progressing. Yes!
This morning, I decided it to try the ultimate test — scrambled eggs. Actually, I made migas, a Mexican- and Texican-food staple that begins with the frying of corn tortilla strips — and enthusiastic frying is the secret to seasoning. Once I’d fried the tortillas and drained the extra oil, I felt confident enough to pour in the beaten eggs, followed by an even bigger challenge — grated cheese. The result? Total success.
Now I’m just waiting for my husband to come home and rave about the delicious breakfast made in the dog food bowl.