I have always loved cast iron cookware. My Grandmother used it exclusively and I was always fascinated with it as a kid whenever I would sit in the kitchen and watch her cook up sausage and eggs for us. When I got married a quarter century ago, I purchased a shiny new set of skillets from a localdepartment store which consisted of a 6, 8 and 10 inch bare iron lot. I was going to build my own heirlooms since I had none to call my own. I set about seasoning and using those for several years. I never seemed to get the hang of it, and never quite believed in the “magic” of cast iron cooking. I just never understood that what I bought new was a set of modern cast iron made in China. The surface was rough as mid-grade sandpaper and so heavy that I was sure it was the ideal tool for everyday cooking.Not saying there is anything intrinsically wrong with cast iron from Asia, but as everyone who has mastered the art of cooking on cast iron knows, it is just not the same quality, fit or finish as cooking on vintage American iron. I never knew the difference and just felt like while I enjoyed using cast iron, the results showed me that it was really more of sentimental myth than truly amazing cookware.That was until one Thanksgiving when my father-in-law walked in to our home and handed us a skillet that had belonged to his mother. We were very appreciative, and added it to our kitchen cabinet. I was very happy to own a true family heirloom, and pretty much left it at that. It took me quite some time to really think about actually using it, as I never wanted to damage an old antique family heirloom with actually cooking in it! Wow, I had a lot to learn.All of this changed one day when I was moving my wife into her first ever space as a vendor in an antique mall. She took up the hobby of restoring and repurposing furniture and accessories, and this was her newfound venture. As we were moving furniture in, I noticed all the cast iron hanging in several of the booth spaces. My eye was immediately drawn to it, and I started handling and inspecting all of the great old pieces. The different weights, glass smooth finishes and ornate markings really lit a spark in me.I immediately went home, dug out our old piece and started looking it over. It had a couple of markings, but no brand name or logo. I started googling, and quickly found a myriad of information that helped me begin to identify the skillet I had in my kitchen. The first thing I came upon was a Youtube video by a member known as “cast iron chaos” also known as E.W.Modemac. His informative and entertaining videos can be found at: https://www.youtube.com/user/modemac I also found his “cast iron cooking” Facebook group and was hooked. His video instantly grabbed my attention as he brandished the exact skillet I had and went into great detail as to what exactly it was. I then knew for the first time that I owned a 1940’s vintage #6 Lodge“three-notch” piece of true American history. More digging led me to Jeffrey B. Rogers, alias “The Culinary Fanatic”http://theculinaryfanatic.com whose notoriety has mushroomed exponentially since even I discovered his many videos. To my father-in-law, and to these two fine gentlemen, I owe a large debt of gratitude, and also my eternal scorn, for they infected me with a virus for which there is no cure.
For the first time ever, I laid out our vintage piece alongside myoffshore iron that I had worked with for so long, many times only to frustration. I was struck with how rough and heavy my retail store pieces were in comparison. I would have thought that the modern feeling heavy iron would be far superior to the thinner, lighter antique pieces. My how backward thinking can distort your entire concept of something.After a few hours combing the internet, I was now armed with a wealth of exciting new information, and a brand new disease. The disease of collecting cast iron cookware.Just as I’m sure everyone else has, I became immediately enamored with the highly collectable Griswold and Wagner pieces, favored for their distinct markings and light durable castings. But I decided that since I probably would never actually be able to find or afford such high end collectables, I would take a different approach.I decided first that I should begin to build around that first piece. That #6 Lodge would be the anchor of a starter set I would build around that skillet. I would begin to look for pieces that matched that one, and build my own antique “bridal set” that most newlyweds began with many decades before me. So I set off in that direction.I have only been collecting for a short time now, and I only have around two dozen pieces currently, but to buy it all at once off the internet, or to clean out the first antique dealer I found seemed a testament to overspending and impatience, also possibly a leaning towards hoarding. So I try as best I can to keep calm and collect slowly, fanning the flames of my fever just enough to keep me from bursting.
The first and foremost rule I set for myself was to collect only pieces I will use. I am not in it to purchase wall hangers. I do not have the disposable cash or more importantly, the storage or display space to buy up all that I see based on its collectible status or its amazing artful designs. Don’t get me wrong, I can see where that would be an enjoyable pursuit under the right circumstances, but my purpose, for now, must be to be able to use and enjoy what I collect right here, right now. The rest we will worry about later. Fortunately, I have allowed some leeway on this principle. Chiefly, if I find that #14 Griswold large block heat ring at the local flea market for 5 bucks, yeah, it’s coming home.An unexpected twist to this newfound affliction is that all of a sudden, I’m not dreading my wife yelling to pull in to every yard sale or antique store she spots on the roadside. I have spent many hours bored out of my mind waiting on her penchant for “junking” to subside so we could go get lunch. Now, we are elbow to elbow poring over every yard sale ad and googlingantique stores in all of the places we visit. I am in deep my friends, and it has brought one more layer of ribbon binding us together.
For now, the true joy of collecting vintage iron is not just the hunting, but the getting to use it every day. Just like my penchant for obtaining nice guitars, which is a whole other story, it’s one thing to admire your collection, but a whole other joy to get to help it get a little older and better.As any collector knows, you never want to repair or clean a collectible antique lest you diminish it’s monetary or collectiblevalue. The truly enjoyable thing about this particular hobby, it is really one of the only true collectible piece of American history that you only increase the value by restoring, polishing and using it each and every day.Happy Hunting! – j.davis
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