I mentioned that I seasoned some cast iron pieces during the recent ice storm. I found this great little heart pan at a thrift store a while back, and I had also been given this little fajita pan. It appears that someone had used the heart pan without seasoning it, so they had trouble with their baked goods sticking. That didn't deter me a bit from buying it, since I love cast iron and I knew I could clean it up and season it easily. I had been meaning to season these pieces for a while, and there's nothing like being stuck in your house to spur you to get things done.
There's tons of information on the web about cast iron, but I think often it can sound really fussy. Actually, it's pretty easy to care for and almost indestructible. Seasoning cast iron is very simple. It involves coating the pan with a layer of fat, which bakes on (polymerizes) to create a non-stick surface. The first step is to remove any rust spots. Steel wool works great. Then wash it in soap and water, and dry it well. Thoroughly coat the whole piece with shortening or lard. Coconut oil works well, too. Vegetable oil will do in a pinch, but it's not ideal for seasoning it the first time as it tends to get brown. Butter and margarine will not work. Once your cast iron is well coated on all sides, put it in a 300 degree oven for an hour. It's best to set the piece upside down, which helps to keep the fat from pooling. You might want to put a baking sheet or foil on a rack below to catch any that might drip off.
After I had baked these pieces for one hour, I let them cool a little, coated them again and baked them for one more hour. You don't have to do it twice, but if you have time, it certainly doesn't hurt. The pieces won't seem much different, although they may have a few spots where you can see cooked on oil. That's fine. Also, water should bead on it. Here they are after being seasoned. A little darker and shinier perhaps (part of that may be due to this picture being taken after the sun went down), but I think the main difference you can see is that the heart pan is clean.
When caring for your seasoned cast iron, it's usually recommended that you don't use soap. Just scrape it out and rinse well with hot water. Definitely don't put it in the dishwasher. A bowl scraper is my main cleaning tool for my cast iron skillets. You can scrub burned on bits with salt or steel wool, if needed. Also, I say go ahead and use soap if you feel it's called for. It's really no big deal. I've washed old, well-seasoned pans with soap with no problems. I just give it a coat of oil afterward, and it's perfectly fine. I will try to avoid soap with these new pans for a while, though. You can see the difference in the color between the new pan and one of my old skillets here. Cast iron turns black with repeated use.
Do always make sure to dry cast iron very thoroughly before you put it away, because you don't want it to rust. For the same reason, don't store food in it, or leave it to soak. But if it does get rusty, it's not ruined. You can just clean the rust off and re-season it. Usually it's recommended that you lightly coat cast iron with fat before storing it, but for a well-seasoned piece that you use frequently, that's not really necessary. It is good to do that for pieces that haven't developed the black patina yet, or if it's something that you won't be using again for a while, though.
Naturally if it's St. Valentine's Day, and you have a freshly seasoned cast iron heart pan, the thing to do is bake a little heart-shaped something for your sweetheart. I hope your day was sweet as well.