Not long ago we talked about where to find cast iron at a reasonable price. As we discussed, sometimes getting that deal means picking up a piece that's less than show room quality. So how do we get that rusty gold looking new? Well, it should be said up front that it didn't get this way overnight, so it stands to reason that its not going to get cleaned up in quick fashion either. The other important thing to remember is that no amount of cleaning and re seasoning can cure severe pitting. Now with that in mind, lets roll up our sleeves and get to work.
1)Get it HOT!!!
There's two options here. The first is to build a nice fire, pitch the iron in and leave it be for a while. Let that cast get good and hot. The fire will help to burn away and loosen much of the surface rust. A caution about this method; antique cast iron tends to be much thinner walled than modern cast iron. This amount of heat COULD cause older cast iron to warp or possibly even crack. If you are working on old iron, this may not be a safe method.
The other option is to put the piece in a modern oven on self-clean mode. This method is much less likely to cause the warping and cracking issues with older iron.
Now that we've got that surface rust burned up and loosened, time to grab the ole' wire brush and go to town. This works best when the iron is still pretty warm so make sure you've got a good pair of leather gloves on hand ( pun intended). Give the cast a good wire brushing all over to get all that rust cleaned off the surface. A wire wheel attached to a drill may make this job a little easier.
3)Time to Exfoliate!
OK, we aren't really exfoliating, but salt scrubs aren't just for fancy spas anymore. Pour some salt into your piece, and scrub away. This can be done with a sponge, but if you can get your hands on a piece of harness leather this works even better. The salt scrub offers two benefits. The first is that salt is a good natural abrasive and will help to further buff any remaining surface rust away. The other, and at this point perhaps more important benefit is that the salt will help to draw the rust out of the pores in the iron. Remember, it didn't get this way over night so this is going to take several times repeating this step. Scrub, rinse with hot water, rewarm the piece (it doesn't have to be burning hot, just good and warm to open the pores) then start the process again.
4) Baking Soda and Vinegar
If, after several salt scrubs, you are still getting rust from the pores, try pouring some baking soda and vinegar in the piece. The chemical reaction will help to eat away at any remaining rust deep in the pores.
5)Oil Her Up
Once you've done all of the steps above and you are fairly certain that you have removed as much rust as possible, heat your iron up to a nice warm temperature again. Now, using a lint free rag, wipe the piece down with oil. I prefer to use olive oil due to its resistance to turning rancid over time, You will probably find that you still get a little rust color on the rag. That's OK, Rinse it with HOT water, and do it again.
With some patience and elbow grease you will eventually end up with a piece of cast that will make a great addition to your collection. Now all that is left is to season it (a topic for a later blog) and put it to good use.
A WORD OF CAUTION!!!!
There is a method out there where people are spraying their cast iron with oven cleaner, putting it in a bag for a few days and then cleaning it. I ABSOLUTELY DO NOT ENDORSE THIS METHOD! Remember those pores and all that pesky rust they absorbed? Well they absorb other things also, including chemicals. If you wouldnt eat it, why would you want it soaked into the pores of your iron.
So thats it, really nothing to it. Get out there, find that rusty gold and start adding to your collection! Good luck. If you have any questions, ask away. I will give you the best answers I can.
This weekend, (Jan 21st and 22nd) the roar of cannons and the thundering of hooves will once again shatter the silence of the Sand Hill Boy Scout Reservation as the 37th annual Brooksville Raid Civil War reenactment kicks off. Based loosely on events that took place in July of 1864, this event offers a great opportunity for the public to experience what life and warfare were like during one of the most tragic times in this great country's history.Although a spectacular event, and one of the biggest civil war reenactments in Florida, if truth be told, the battle it commemorates really wasn't much of a battle at all.
Though Florida had been important throughout the Confederate war effort due to, among other things, it's ample coastline which allowed countless ports of safe harbor for Confederate blockade runners, by 1863 Florida's importance to the Confederate commissary department had become unquestionable. This was due in large part to the fall of Vicksburg, MS on July 4, 1863. With the fall of Vicksburg and Port Hudson now under Union control, the Confederacy lost all control of the Mississippi River which was a vital supply route for the southern army. With the Confederacy now essentially cut in two, Florida became the breadbasket of the south. The Confederate commissary department now relied almost exclusively on Florida to provide such vital supplies as salt, sugar, fruits and vegetables, and most importantly beef cattle to support the war effort. The Union Army soon took notice of this and began to step up raids into the Florida interior in an effort to disrupt these supply lines.
That my friends, is essentially what the "Battle of Brooksville" amounted to; a Union raiding and harassment foray.
On July 1,1864, a detachment of troops consisting primarily of the Second Florida Cavalry (Union) and the Second U.S. Colored Troops under the command of Capt. J.W. Childs and consisting of around 240 men, boarded transport ships in Ft. Myers and set out for Bayport due west of the town of Brooksville. Upon landing in Bayport the men began to march inland raiding and burning any homes and plantations they happened to come across. Almost as soon as the men disembarked, they began to be fired on by a small handful of Confederate pickets. Being significantly outnumbered however, these few men could do little more than harass and attempt to slow the oncoming Union force. Word was sent back to Brooksville of the invasion and the few soldiers available to defend the town began to gather (most likely near the current location of the Hernando County Courthouse). Among these were members of Charles J. Munerlyns 1st Battalion of Special Cavalry, known more commonly as the "cow cavalry". These men, whose primary responsibility was to gather, drive, and protect Florida's cattle herds, along with a handful of volunteers readied themselves to engage the Union forces. Their numbers totaled not more than a few dozen in all. Fortunately for them, an all out battle never came. The extent of the fighting was reduced to not much more than a small skirmish with both groups mainly firing at each other at long range.
After ransacking and firing much of the Ellis plantation, Union forces were content to make their way back to Bayport and after doing what damage they could to the small port town, re-boarded their ships for the return trip to Ft. Myers. The rag-tag group of Confederates followed, skirmishing with the rear of the Union column, but inflicted little, if any damage. Total losses amounted to one wounded Federal soldier while the Confederates suffered seven men and fifteen horses captured.
Disappointed? Well, don't be. Even though the "battle" it's self didn't amount to much, the story of a vastly outnumbered group of men willing to give their all to defend their homes is one that is well worth remembering. And even though the Brooksville Raid Reenactment isn't so much a reenactment of the actual Brooksville raid, the event is still well worth the effort to attend. It is a great opportunity to immerse yourself in the culture of the day and learn what life in general was like during this tragic time.
So if you are looking for something to do this weekend, I strongly encourage you to get out and attend. Even if it really wasn't much of a battle.
For more information on the 37th annual Brooksville Raid Reenactment, please visit
I had the honor this weekend of participating in the annual Dade Battle reenactment. It was an honor to pay homage to the US troops who lost their lives on that cold rainy day on Dec. 28,1835.
Although I have participated in countless reenactments in the past, this one was particularly special. This particular reenactment turned into a family affair with my daughter participating and my oldest son taking the field of battle for the first time ever. This brings me to the point of this post. It has been said that those who do not learn from their history are doomed to repeat it. Understanding the past is vital to making informed decisions about our future. Unfortunately a lot of our history seems to get glossed over in schools these days. Don't get me wrong, there are plenty of teachers out there who are great at their jobs, but often times their hands are tied by the amount of time they can spend on specific topics. So what can we do about this? Answer; get your kids interested in history. Now this doesn't necessarily mean you have to run out and dive in to reenacting. (but hey,,,,why not?) You can, however, help your kids learn that history is more than just pages in a book, Go to a reenactment. Visit a museum. Take a road trip and go to a historic landmark. Help your kids learn that there were faces and names behind the stories. By doing this, you can help to spark an interest in history in your kids and spend some great quality time in the process, If you instill a love of history in your kids today, they will pass it on in the future. What better to pass on to the future than the past?
One of the questions I am most often asked at my cast iron cooking classes is "Where is the best place to buy cast iron?". The answer to this is; everywhere. From brand new cast iron to used cast iron, there are countless options out there. So here for your reading pleasure, are my tips on buying cast iron cookware.
1) Buy American. This is more than just a catchy patriotic sales slogan. American made cast iron including Lodge, Wagner, and Griswold (of which, Lodge is the only company still in business) have a much higher standard of quality than foreign made cast iron. In fact, there are even reports of some companies using reclaimed engine blocks to make their cast iron. Start with the best to get the best results.
2) Inspect the prospect. You don't buy a car without driving it, you don't buy a horse without riding it, and you don't buy cast iron without inspecting it first. If it's new, take it out of the box. Check around the edges and make sure the walls are even thickness all the way around. Make sure there is no cracks or warping. If its a dutch oven, put the lid on and spin it. The lid should spin easily and without wobbling.
4) Old and ugly does not necessarily mean inferior. Great deals can be found at yard sales, flea markets, and estate sales. Often times the savings in money means there will be a trade off in elbow grease. Just because its dirty, rusty, and ugly does not mean it's not good cast iron. As long as it passes all the tests listed in number two above, you may have yourself a piece of rusty gold. We will discuss restoring cast iron in a future post.
5) Don't be afraid to shop around. Cast iron can be expensive. Don't get me wrong, it can be worth every penny. Good quality, well cared for cast iron can last generations. That being said, there's no reason you cant be a little thrifty. Take your time and look for sales. Look around at flea markets and the like. A little bit of patience and diligence can save you a few dollars in the long run.
Hope these tips help.
A word of warning; make sure your cast iron is spayed and neutered. Otherwise when you put it away in the cabinet, it may breed and create new cast iron.......at least that's the story I keep giving my wife.
Dec. 28, 1835. Date doesn't ring a bell? That's no surprise. Like much of Florida's history it has been lost to obscurity. However the events of Dec. 28, 1835 would kick off the longest, costliest Indian war in American history. In fact, it would be the longest war of any kind for the United States until the Vietnam war 120 years later.
Due to increased tensions between the native Seminoles and the US government over attempts to relocate the Seminole to the Indian territories out west, a column of 107 men under the command of Brvt. Maj. Francis L. Dade had been dispatched from Ft. Brook (Tampa) to reinforce Ft. King in present day Ocala, The morning of the 28th dawned cold and rainy. As the troops made their way through the pine flatwoods along the Ft King road in present day Bushnell. Suddenly a war whoop from Jumper and shot from Micanopy's rifle rang out. Maj. Dade was unhorsed by the shot, and died almost instantly. This was the signal to aprx. 180 Seminole warriors to begin an assault that would last nearly eight hours. Half of Dade's command were wiped out in the opening vollies of the ambush alone. In the end, only three US soilders would survive the attack (one would be killed during his attempt to return to Ft King). Many of the men would die in the hastily built log breastworks meant to protect them. This would be the opening conflict of a war that would rage for nearly seven more years costing the lives of countless US troops, and pushing a nearly decimated Seminole population deep into the Everglades.
You can still walk the very road where this tragic event took place today. Now housed in the beautiful confines of the Dade Battlefield Historic State Park, you can visit the very place where America's longest indian war started. I encourage you to take the time to come out and learn about another part of Florida's forgotten history.
It happens every 365 days; New Years. For some of us it's a time to reflect on the ups and downs of the previous year. For others there's the excitement of what the new year to come has in store. And for yet others, it's a time to make a renewed commitment (though be it usually a short one) to some lofty goal for themselves.
For me its usually a chance to take stock of what I have. The holiday season in general usually provides us ample opportunity to be around those that we love and hold closest to us, but often times the rush of the season causes us to loose sight of just what the season is about.
As we launch into the next revolution around the sun, take a minute to to look around you and take note of what is truly important to you. Make a commitment (hopefully a longer one than that upcoming gym membership) to tell those around you what they mean to you each and every day. Greet each friend with a hug and a handshake. End each night by telling those closest to you that you love them. Never go to bed angry. Don’t make the mistake of waiting until it's too late to take stock of the important things and people in your life.
Happy New Year's from the Cracker Historian and those of us here at O'Rays Ranch!