Amber Reddinger, 33, decided to switch to cast iron after readingan article on the dangers of cooking with nonstick pans. According to the American Cancer Society, “The major health effectlinked with Teflon is the potential release of dangerous fumes fromcoated pans that are overheated. These fumes can cause flu-likesymptoms in humans (a condition known as polymer fume fever) andcan be fatal to birds.” Dupont, the maker of Teflon nonstick coating, says on its websitethat the coating is safe for use at normal cooking temperatures andthat the nonstick coating itself is nontoxic. Reddinger, a mother of three, wanted to promote a healthy lifestylein raising her children, who range in age from 3 months to 6 years.
After moving to a new home in Muhlenberg Township a little morethan a year ago and in need of a stove upgrade, Amber, 33, and herhusband, John, 35, found a vintage coil-top stove. Soon afterward, she felt the time was right to make a cookwaretransition to cast iron. “Two days later I got the real basic Lodge brand at Target, the12-inch and 10-inch skillet,” she said. “They are affordable. Youcan easily add a piece at a time.” The basic 12-inch skillet can be purchased at Target for under $20.
Her most recent addition was a 6-inch skillet. “I love my skillets; I can make anything in them,” Reddinger said. Fish, various local meats and vegetables she buys from RenningersFarmers Market in Kutztown are her family’s favorites. She particularly enjoys cooking tilapia, which her entire familylikes. “I love the way fish fries in cast iron, a little bit crispy on theoutside,” Reddinger said, adding that the even heat distributioncast iron is known for is a big plus in cooking.
“It’s like cookingit on a grill without the impossibility of cooking it.” Cast iron is known for its nonstick properties when properlyseasoned, and Reddinger likes the ease with which she can cook. “I can put an egg in there and flip it easily,” she said. A stay-at-home mom, Reddinger started a blog four years ago calledAmber’s Ambry, where she records her day-to-day life of varioushomesteading interests, most of which involve her love of cooking,sewing and other crafty endeavors. Reddinger’s husband was on the same page when it came to switchingtheir cookware. “He was all for it, because we are both pretty like-minded when itcomes to easy things we can do to improve our general health,” shesaid.
Reddinger has also benefited from the iron absorption in her foodfrom cooking with cast iron. “I am always borderline anemic,” she said, “But ever since I havecooked with cast iron, I have found that if I get my iron checked Iam back in the acceptable range.” She only has to invest a little upkeep after each use to insure theperformance of her pans. “After cleaning (the pans), I rub vegetable oil on them with atowel,” she said. The Lodge pans come preseasoned, so she has never had to do anactual oven seasoning that involves a heating process. “If you take good care of them and season them well, they won’tstick,” she said.
“You don’t need nonstick, and you are also notspewing all of these chemicals into your house with a nonstickcoating.” Lodge offers tips on its website for cleaning the pans. “Rinse with hot water (do not use soap), and dry thoroughly” toavoid rusting, Lodge advised on their website. In addition, cast iron is never to be placed in the dishwasher forcleaning. While Reddinger does admit there is a little learning curve incooking with cast iron, she has enjoyed learning throughexperimentation.
“It wasn’t as hard as I was told it might be,” she said. “Somebodysent me a book all about cast-iron cooking and I said, ‘I’m notgoing to sit down and read it, I’m going to do it.’ ” One thing she mentioned she had to get used to was theheat-retention factor of the cast iron with regard to the timing ofcooking food. You have to be aware of when to either turn it down,remove the pan from the burner or remove the food from the panaltogether. “It is kind of a whole lifestyle change,” she said.
“You have torelearn the way you are cooking.” She said it is a common rule with cast iron that you shouldn’t boilwater in it for such items as pasta or potatoes because it breaksdown the seasoning on the pan. “I have an unfinished stainless steel pot for boiling,” Renningersaid. In addition to the health factor and enjoyment of cooking with castiron, Reddinger also appreciates the aesthetic attributes of eachpan. “I think they are beautiful,” she said. “I think all ironwork isbeautiful.
They are an extension of what you would see a blacksmithdoing.” Lelayna Klein, 32, of Kempton grew up in a family that cooked withcast iron, so it was natural for her to carry on the tradition whenit came time for her to live on her own. “My mom cooks with cast iron,” she said. “My mom is from Europe,and using cast iron is normal there.” Despite her mother being the cook of the house, it was her fatherwho influenced her interest in cooking. “My dad is not really a cook, so he inspired me to learn because hecouldn’t,” Klein said.
Klein has amassed quite a collection of pans over the years, mostof which she finds at flea markets. “It is important to be picky and choosy when buying themsecondhand,” she said. She enjoys cooking frittatas, corn bread and pizza in her castiron. “Pizza cooked in a cast iron is phenomenal; it is so good,” shesaid. “The dough comes out really flavorful.
It keeps the crustvery moist. It is a very different style versus a pizza stone.” Klein likes to add rosemary to her pizza dough and places oil inthe pan to keep the dough from sticking when spreading it out onthe pan. What she most enjoys about using cast iron has to do withpreserving something from the past that is effective. “Maintaining this quality, old-fashioned item,” she said, addingshe finds pleasure in “keeping this thing in good shape and itworks better than anything modern.” Contact Courtney H.
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