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Meet the Cooking in Cast Iron Contributors

Rick Mansfield: I’m a Louisiana native who transferred to the the Yankee territory of Kentucky a few years ago (Kentuckians don’t consider themselves Yankees, but they put spaghetti in their chili which proves they are). Cooking has always been a creative outlet for me. I don’t know if I’m a great cook or not, but folks we entertain often get seconds, so that’s compliment enough for me. Plus I married a woman who is quite talented in the kitchen as well, so we don’t suffer in our home when it comes to good dining. I’ve always enjoyed experimenting and trying new dishes. For the longest time, however, cooking was always about the ingredients themselves, and what the food was cooked in seemed incidental. And then a few years back, Mom gave me a cast iron skillet for Christmas. I had to season it myself, and I didn’t do that very well. But slowly that pan won me over. And the more I used it, the more I saw the value of cast iron. Food tasted different in cast iron: it tasted better--whether that was cornbread or chicken marsala. My gumbo not only had a completely different (and better) flavor, but a new consistency as well when I tried cooking it in a cast iron dutch oven. Gradually, Kathy and I got rid of the teflon and “converted” (it’s almost like a religious experience) to cast iron. The contributors at this website consider ourselves “cast iron advocates.” We hope to win you over, too.

Feel free to check out my personal website as well: This Lamp. Or follow me on Twitter and/or FaceBook.

Kathy Mansfield: When I think of cast iron cooking, I often think of my grandma’s well-used black skillet she used to fry chicken and bacon or cook a roast for Sunday dinner. As a child, I thought that skillet was old-fashioned and way too heavy to use and clean. I didn’t understand her need to continue to use something that could be so easily replaced with modern cookware. Mom did the same thing – insisted on baking her cornbread and biscuits in a heavy black iron skillet. I knew that when I grew up and had my own home, I would use modern, stainless, lightweight, nonstick, colorful cookware to match my placemats and accessories. Well, here I am, 41 years old, and using reliable, black, cast iron cookware. Sometimes, Moms and Grandmas do know best.

Pat Delia Hollenbeck: Cooking in cast iron started very early for me. Mom handed me the job of cooking for the family when I was ten years old and she had to go to work to support four children when my dad passed. It was a challenge for both of us. Mom had plenty of phone calls from me that first year until I had a grasp on our family’s regular recipes.  Through trial and error I found that our cast iron skillet was the most forgiving cooking pan for a little kid just starting out on a lifetime’s culinary journey. Through trial and error I learned how to take a recipe and make it one that the family enjoyed and how to use spices and herbs to enhance a dish. I also learned why cooks used cookbooks, pot holders, trivets, and aprons. I gained my deep appreciation for cast iron cookware during those early years and on through today. I rescue and restore abused and abandoned cast iron cookware.

JT McCubbin: Together with my wife and two children, we live just outside Louisville, Kentucky, where the motto is, “You’ll like it’s all right,” I tend to take an introspective approach toward many aspects of life, maybe even philosophical. This is true for the role that food and cooking play in the livelihood of my family. Not only what we cook, but what we cook with, is important as we foster a means of connecting with the history of our family and reach forward, establishing new traditions to build the childhood memories of our kids. Gone are the days of chasing the latest and greatest, celebrity endorsed cookware with chemically derived coatings, or anodized alloys. It’ll be iron, thank you, and maybe a good wooden utensil to go with it. If what we choose to eat plays a vital role in our health and well-being, then the tools we use in its preparation can be viewed similarly. These implements however, do more than get us from raw material to meal. For me, cast iron introduces another layer of joy to the cooking experience.

Leila Wells: Having grown up in a traditional southern family, it seems I have always known the uniquely tantalizing scents and tastes that can be found in a mother's kitchen in the heart of Georgia. Although mom's kitchen was her own, she let me venture into it from time to time, and there, I could assist with smaller tasks while she concentrated on preparing an entree. When I moved into my own kitchen, I made the usual calls home for recipes and advice. Gradually, I understood that the most interesting meals (at least to my taste) were founded in trusted recipes that I could improvise. Ironically, the notions I held about cooking grew as I explored other arts like music and pottery. Today, I am no musician, nor am I a potter, but I value the creativity, spontaneity, and “flavor” of these arts all the more because they season my approach to food. Inspiration may be derived from so many sources, but taking risks in cooking is a direct result of courage. It is a courage familiar to a performer and an artist--one that is nurtured and occasionally forced if it is to mature. Eventually, courage and confidence have blended in my kitchen. This mixture bakes imperfectly over time, but the scents are familiar to me. As a mother now, I look forward to sharing my kitchen with my son when he is ready to explore it. My entrees may not look like my mother's, but I've found they can be just as tasty and just as central to building community in my home as my mother's entrees have always been.

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