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The Perfect Season for Cast Iron Cooking: Peach Upside-Down Cake

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Do you have a favorite pan that’s your go-to pan? I have one that I can honestly say I use every day. It could be used for any meal—breakfast, lunch or dinner. I would say that my cast iron is my favorite to cook on, whether it’s inside or outside. 

These pans are great for outdoors on wood fire, charcoal fire, campfire, camp stove, gas barbecue, wood smoker or even on a can fire. You can use it on top of the ground or bury it in the ground and cover it with hot coals. Of course, it’s great inside on the top of the stove, gas or electric, and in the oven for baking or broiling. In my house I use it for cooking main dishes, side dishes, soups and stew, baking bread and biscuits, even for desserts. Now not many pans can cover that much territory. You can use it for sautéing, frying, broiling, baking, stewing and grilling. That’s probably why it’s my favorite pan.  

It’s a pan you have to give some attention too, otherwise referred to as giving it a little love. A good seasoned cast iron pan will never fail you but keeping it seasoned is the secret. When I got married over 40 years ago, my grandparents bought me a set of cast iron for a wedding gift. I still use the same set today and I have added some different sizes and shapes to my collection. I also made sure that my girls each had cast iron in their homes when they were married. I would almost bet that if you went to most of my families’ homes you would find a cast iron pan on the stove.

One day about 20 years back, my husband came home from work and said, “I brought you something.” Knowing my husband, I knew it wasn’t flowers. He had a large cast iron skillet that looked like it had been living outside in the rain and weather for some time. He said he found it lying alongside the road. He was right that was a great find; it just needed a little love. As you know, a cast iron pan has a good chance of rusting if it’s not taken care of, and that’s why you need to season it. What is seasoning? It is layer upon layer of oils that have been absorbed in the pores of the pan, making it almost nonstick. So, we needed to give this new find a little love. My husband took his sanding wheel to it and removed as much of the rust as he could. I think that was the rustiest pan I had ever seen in my life. Then in the house it came, to see if we could renew the life of this gem. Using steel wool and hot water, we both went to work removing the remainder of the rust. We then took the wet pan to the stove and turned the burner to medium high to dry the pan. Once the water was gone and the pan started to smoke, we turned off the burner. When the pan had cooled enough to handle, I wanted to start seasoning. 

Here’s my seasoning process for you to follow. Using lard from the store, place about a quarter cup in the center of the pan. Fold two paper towels into a 4-inch square. Use the paper towel to spread the lard completely over the pan inside and out except for the bottom, which is placed on the burner. To start the curing process, heat your oven to 200 degrees and place the pan in the center of the oven for three hours. This will cause the pores of the cast iron to open and the lard to penetrate as it melts. This will be your first layer of seasoning. After three hours, remove the pan from the oven, of course using hot pads, and place on top of the stove. When it has cooled enough to touch again, take some more paper towels and wipe off all the extra lard. In another hour, wipe it down the last time. This will remove any unwanted fat that had not absorbed, but leave the seasoning that you are starting to build on your pan. 

I usually fry bacon in the newly seasoned pan for the first cooking after seasoning. I like to cut up about five pieces of bacon and cover the bottom of the pan with it and turn it on medium high heat to cook the bacon and start the next layer of the seasoning process. I use bacon because it is a natural fat; as the cast iron gets hot, it expands, opening the pores again and adding another great layer of seasoning. As it’s cooking, take a pair of tongs and wipe the inside of the pan with pieces of bacon to cover all the areas inside the pan. When your bacon has finished cooking, remove it from the pan and turn off the burner. Great time to have a BLT, just saying. When your pan has cooled, remove bacon grease from the pan, wash it in hot water with a dish cloth and again dry it on top of the stove on medium high until completely dry. Season your pan after every washing with a light coat of lard while the pan is hot. When it’s cool, make sure you wipe it down again so that there is no lard pooled in the bottom. You want only the light coat of seasoning. Store your pan in a dry place so that it doesn’t rust. The perfect pan will be the one in which you can fry eggs without oil and they slide right out. I’ve been asked why I use lard and not vegetable oil. Lard is a more natural form of fat, so when you’re first using it for seasoning it seems to soak into the pores better, creating a cleaner seasoning. Once a pan has been seasoned for a few years, you can use a vegetable oil, but I have found that sometimes it creates a sticky film on the pan instead of a nice coating. That is because there are a lot of oils that have a high heat point and if it is not reached, the oil will cause the sticky film.

Now, steel wool should only be used on your cast iron to remove rust before re-seasoning a pan, like the one Don found, or if the pan is new and has the anti-rust coating on it. Don’t get confused about new pans; you can get one that needs to have the anti-rust coating removed and start seasoning or a new pan that’s pre-seasoned. If you have a pre-seasoned pan, don’t use steel wool on it; just wipe it clean with a dish cloth and warm water and add a new layer of seasoning. Once your pan has been seasoned, you should use only hot water, a cloth dish rag and maybe a drop or two of dish soap to clean it after every use. You may see some faint color of red rust, but that will come out as you add your layers of seasoning. Remember, when cleaning with warm water, it’s important to dry the pan completely. To do that I place the wet pan back on the stove top and turn the burner on medium high until it’s completely dry and starting to smoke. Then I season with a layer of lard while warm and wipe again when cooled.

There are a few things to never do when it comes to cast iron. Never put a hot pan under water; it could cause your pan to crack. Never soak a cast iron pan in water. This will remove all the seasoning that you have been working so hard to achieve. Never use steel wool after the very first cleaning or you will have to start the seasoning process over. If you need to remove something that’s stuck, take a spatula and scrape the pan. Make sure you keep it flat against the pan. And never, ever put your cast iron in the dishwasher.

My favorite dessert in a cast iron pan is a peach upside-down cake. The peaches here in the Valley were ripening and the crop looked good. I called my grandson and we went to pick some of these peaches. It was a great day and the peaches were so sweet and juicy. We will be able to make a few upside-down cakes with enough left over for peach jam. Peach is my favorite when it comes to jams and jellies or pies, cakes and cobblers. It’s a fast season, and I do as much as I can to preserve the peaches so I can enjoy the flavor into the winter.

Peach Upside-Down Cake

Peach layer
2 cups sliced peaches; you can use frozen
2 tbsp. bourbon (optional)
¼ cup butter
½ cup brown sugar

½ cup butter, softened
¾ cup sugar
1 large egg, room temperature
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1¼ cup flour
1¼ tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. salt
½ cup milk

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Combine the peaches and bourbon together and let sit for 10 minutes. You can skip the bourbon or use something different such as peach schnapps. In a 10-inch cast iron pan, add the ¼ cup butter, place in oven as it pre-heats to melt, about 5-6 minutes. When the butter is melted, take the pan out of the oven with a pot holder; it will be hot. Sprinkle the brown sugar evenly over the melted butter. Arrange the peach slices in the pan, covering the bottom of the pan. You can line them up or just make a single layer with a rustic look. In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs and vanilla. In a separate bowl, mix together the dry ingredients. Alternate adding the dry ingredients and the milk, beating each time until combined. Spread batter over peaches. Bake for 40-45 minutes or until a toothpick comes clean. Remove from the oven, cool 5 minutes and invert onto a serving plate. Serve warm.

This is a wonderful dessert for any dinner. I always have to make at least two so that everyone can have a nice slice. This is also a great breakfast cake. I think I like it better than sweet rolls, and that’s hard to beat. I must say I have picked a great recipe from my recipe box this month to share with all of you. May God bless and keep us all safe, healthy and happy.