April 15, 2020

Old Time Cast Iron

Posted By: Maggie Stamper April 15, 2020
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Growing up, I don't remember seeing cast iron cookware on the stove or around the dinner table. All of our dinners were either served out of pots, pans, or Pyrex ware. There wasn't an influence of cast iron ware around me.

As a young adult I started to gravitate more towards recipes and started building more of my confidence in cooking. I was bored at cooking the same thing every week and started to explore other avenues that piqued my interest. I set a goal to buy kitchen tools that allowed me to cook with a higher degree of excellence than what I was used to. Most of my purchases were made through yard sales. I didn't want to spend a lot of money on new things. Especially having to feed three kids who have dinosaur size appetites.

I remember the day very clearly. I was at a yard sale that had many kitchen tools for sale. As I started walking along the long line of tables with piles upon piles of kitchen gadgets, I noticed a shiny black handle sticking out of a laundry basket beside the table. I grabbed the handle and picked up a massive cast iron skillet. My eyes glanced at the bottom of the worn out laundry basket and saw another, smaller cast iron skillet. Both skillets were in good shape, with very small specks of rust. I asked the lady at the yard sale how much she wanted for both skillets.

Five dollars!

I was shocked and I kept the two skillets close to my side. My kids were not very happy because they wanted me to buy stained and smelly plush dolls.

That afternoon I started to scroll through YouTube videos that educated viewers on how to season cast iron properly. After watching one video for two minutes, I deemed myself not capable or confident in seasoning cast iron. A month later, I decided to view some sites on Facebook about cast iron. Who knew there were sites for cast iron collectors? I started taking the time to write down a quick step by step process on how to clean cast iron. I was still sulking in the low confidence department. Collectors started showing pictures of cast iron that looked as if they had come from a crime scene. I had no idea that cast iron could look that awful.

Antique spider leg cast iron skillet. 140 years of age or older.

With the click of mouse I saw the after photo. I was done. I was mad. The picture showed the same cast iron but in pristine condition. The man was able to resurrect a cast iron skillet that I would have thrown away.

I was done. My confidence level shrank and I shutdown. Casserole dishes were the best way to go. For months I shut out cast iron. Cast iron was too hard to keep up and people in the cast iron world were crazy. The end.

Or so I thought.

I basically threw an adult version of a temper tantrum over cast iron. Very mature, Maggie.

While cleaning out my kitchen, I noticed the cast irons I had purchased. An instant hit to my pride. I went back to "join" the cast iron community page on Facebook again. I started asking questions again and promised myself I had to try this.

After I purchased the products to strip the old seasoning off the cast iron (you can find how to clean cast iron here), I started to build my first lye tank. I called my daughter outside and handed her my phone. I told my oldest what I was building and the chemicals I was using were very dangerous. I told her if anything happens to call 911.

As I was pouring the lye into the water, I would run to the furthest corner of the house and come back to peep into the container, pour a little more, and run off again. I did this probably fiveish times. After realizing that I was alive and all my body parts were not in a pile of slushy meaty parts, I called my daughter back.

I grabbed my phone to take a picture of what I did. With one stroke of my finger, I pushed the camera icon. While looking at my camera, I had found that while I was doing one of the most dangerous things in my life, my seven year old daughter took about a dozen selfies while throwing up several peace signs and duck lips.

Building up the courage was extremely difficult because I wasn't comfortable. From placing my cast iron in the lye bath to taking it out, it was extremely nerve racking. My anxiety level was off the charts.

After cleaning the lye off my cast iron, I had to season my cast iron skillet. This was even more difficult because I didn't want to ruin my cast iron skillet. My first attempt was a complete failure. My pan was sticky, splotchy, and gross. Back in the tank all over again.

Mastering the art of properly cleaning and seasoning my cast iron skillets took several months. The addiction of finding more cast iron pans started to overtake me. I started collecting cast iron skillets, studying about the manufactures of cast iron pans, and study identification markers.

Southern Mystery skillet. 130 years of age or older.

About a year into my cast iron adventure, my husband and my brothers-in-law suggested that I start restoring cast iron as a small business. The overwhelming feeling of doubt and the low confidence haunted me. I was afraid of not being able to meet the expectations of my customers. Instantly, the lady that I cleaned a house for in college came to mind and I instantly froze in fear.

In college, I cleaned a few homes. A new client wanted me to clean her home. I went inside and the house was in complete disarray. The kitchen was a complete mess and the bathrooms had mold, mildew, and untrained kids who didn't seem know where the toilet was. The lady called me and screamed at me for what seemed hours. I was called pathetic, scum, and a con-artist. She then accused me of inviting my college friends over her home and throwing a massive party. I hung up the phone and cried my eye-balls out. Her words penetrated my heart and haunted me for years and years. The thought of opening another side business scared me because I was afraid.

With much guidance from my husband and encouragement, I started creating the business. I set a temporary name, "Stamper Cast Iron Restoration." After the business started speeding up, I started looking for a new name. The old age of cast iron had to be in the business name.

In conversations regarding cast iron, many people refereed to cast iron as "old time" cooking ware. I often thought of Old Time Pottery when people coined that phrase. One night while watching a show with my husband, I looked at him and said, "Old Time Cast Iron Restoration." He looked at me and said, "That's perfect!"

Cast iron restoration project.

After renaming my business, my friend Sibyl worked on my branding. I gave her a bunch of photos that reminded me of home. Home is only 45 minutes away from where I live at now. My grandmother was a huge influence in my life and inspired me to cook. She was an amazing cook and I loved her very much. My grandfather died when I was 16. I was very close to him as well, but spent most of my days hanging out with Mammie. My childhood is surrounded by wonderful memories of being raised on the farm and spending most of my days in the woods.

When I was younger, I would spend countless hours in the barn. My sister and I would stack hay bales as high as we could and jump off into a pile of hay that had unraveled from loose twine. The barn was a place I would run to and just lay down and take a small cat nap or watch the cars go by from the very top floor.

My grandparents barn

I was excited in the direction that my little business was going. When my branding was complete, I was completely in shock in seeing the barn that was a huge part of my childhood in the background of my logo. It was a perfect combination of my grandparent's heritage, my mom's childhood, and her daughters. All the pieces were connected and unified.

Three years ago I challenged myself to explore new areas in cooking but I didn't realize that I would start cooking in cast iron and restoring cast iron at the same time. It's exciting to see the new things that can be learned through old techniques and the history behind cast-iron pieces.

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Maggie Stamper, Old Time Cast Iron Restoration
Hey, ya'll! I'm Maggie Stamper founder and blogger of Old Time Cast Iron. Thanks for joining me and allowing me to share some of my favorite memories, recipes, and finds with you.

I'm a wife and mother to three children. Born and raised as a farm girl in the small town of Greenbrier, Tennessee, I loved spending time with Mammie (grandmother). That's where my love for cooking started, right at her farm table which launched into cast iron skillet cooking later as a young adult.

Today, I love to blog, restore, cook, and treasure hunt for cast iron skillets. Be sure to check back in often because you'll always find something new to enjoy!

Be sure to follow me.
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