A Birthday Blessing.

This week at Wildwood Acres…
Summer’s humidity gradually subsides, delicately nudging native trees & shrubs to begin their fade into lesser vivacious tones. Leaves, once emerald and bottle green sense Father Sky’s ever so subtle breath of change & slowly sway their way into variable hues of olive & lime. I’ve always loved this season. And not just because I get to celebrate with birthday cake around mid-September, (although that part totally rocks) but because the walls between the worlds of the living & of the decay silently become sheerer with each passing day, visibly dissolving into one another. Quite frankly, that whole process strikes a chord deep within me. It sounds odd, but somehow as the earth begins to prepare for her long rest, it stirs my spirit in such way that I am reminded of inevitable change, it’s beauty & how purposeful it is, even when it’s challenging to let go & to embrace new horizons. Personally, I need that reminder, almost like a sort of earth-wired alarm clock, quarterly awakening my spirit to the remembrance & beauty of transformation. I say this with certainty because I once lived in the Deep South with summer & then more summer & then a “sort of winter,” which was wonderful, especially for a NON cold-weather-loving-gal like myself. I embraced that life experience to the fullest & I loved it dearly. But when September rolled in, my spirit longed for that lifelong change of familiarity. Of course, family & friends up north would find our winter’s here in coastal Virginia laughable, but unlike what I experienced while living on the gulf coast, there is a sure similarity to what I grew up with in the Buckeye State for almost 30 years. That inevitable, quarterly hark back to the cyclical occurrence of life giving way to death, giving way to rebirth & so on & so forth, casts a spell of belonging on my soul. A seasonal shift has only just (sort of) been set into motion around here, but I feel the mark of distinction, Mother Earth’s wardrobe change just around the corner.
So it was a lovely birthday week here on the home front! I celebrated turning 39 on Tuesday & on Wednesday, that sweet spouse of mine galloped in, flaunting good ole’ #41 like the total beast of a “hunk-a-licious man-stud” he proves to be on the daily! Happy little birthday to us both, if I do say so myself! You know what they say… Like a fine wine…
Anyway…
I decided to give us an extraordinarily special & sentimental birthday gift this year. Over the summer, while visiting family in Ohio I stumbled upon an old cast iron Dutch oven that formerly belonged to my grandparents. I can remember my Granny frying up chicken and pork chops in that old pot & I desperately wanted to put it back into service, to clean it up, make it functional again & feed my family with the same piece of iron that fed all of us so deliciously well while I was growing up. It has been at least (the very least) 12 years since this old family relic has been put to use. The neglect is evident in the attached photos. Between a thin layer of mold & a fairly significant amount of corrosion, I didn’t know if I’d be able to breathe new life into the old gem or not. But where there’s a will, there’s a way. Long story short, I woke up Tuesday morning on my 39th birthday thinking about that old pot. I began dreaming about how rewarding it would be to cook our birthday dinner within the loins of that piping hot vessel. So, I spent the majority of my birthday investigating & experimenting & (ultimately) successfully bringing this chunky piece of history back to life in my very own country kitchen. I felt connected to my Granny in the most special way. I felt connected to my past, my childhood. I worked on this pot & meditated on how blessed I am to have the present moment & furthermore, to have the future to look forward to. It was a magnificent way to ring in my last year of 30-something. In a peculiar way, it felt like I spent my birthday with my Granny. Magically blessed.
I want to share with all of you the process I used to refurbish the Dutch oven, but most importantly, I want to inspire you to visit yard sales, auctions, thrift stores & antique shops in search of these precious gems from yesteryear. They are out there, most likely affordable & just waiting for you to seek them out, to fall in love with them, to put them back into service, to feed your families. Josh & I have acquired quite a collection of them over the years – all different sizes. I can tell you from my own cooking experience, nothing tastes more delightful than a homemade meal seared to perfection on a well-seasoned, cast iron skillet. Truly a tantalizing taste of the past, made with love.
Make it happen ya’ll!

ABOVE: A before picture of Granny’s old cast iron Dutch oven.

 

ABOVE: Crusty & rusty.

 

ABOVE: “Please save me birthday girl,” begged the dirty old pot. “I want to feel new & worthy of feeding a family again!”

 

ABOVE: The potion.. You will need: sea salt (doesn’t have to be Celtic, but way cooler if it is!), distilled white vinegar,  Dawn liquid detergent (forget about the other brands of dish soap, they suck. BUY DAWN), a massive hunk of lard (if you don’t dig animal fat then feel free to use some other gross, gooey substitute… Or olive oil. But it won’t work nearly as well for seasoning), wire scrub sponge, kitchen tongs, paper towels or old dishtowel, heavy duty oven mitts… Let’s do this!

 

ABOVE: Fill your pot over halfway full of warm water. Pour in about 1/2 cup of distilled vinegar. Scrub the pot, inside & out with wire sponge. Really work on scraping those tough, cruddy spots. Elbow grease people!

 

ABOVE: Remember to examine those hard to reach spots where mold & gunk can easily hide & go unnoticed. Scrub, scrub, scrub the crap out of those spots in particular! Put some stank on it y’all!

ABOVE: Never, ever, ever, ever wash your cast iron skillets with any type of dish detergent or soap EVER… Except for this once! 😉 Dump out all of your vinegar water & refill your pot with warm sudsy Dawn detergent water. Scrubby, scrub, scrub a little more. Go over those tough spots again & again. Then let the sudsy water sit in the pot for about a half hour or so. This stuff is wonderful for cutting old grease & gunk.

 

ABOVE: The blessed pot… Read a book, call a friend, weed the garden, use the crapper… DO SOMETHING, but leave your pot alone. Let it soak & soak & soak for at least 30 minutes.

ABOVE: After your pot enjoys a long bubble bath, be sure to rinse him off thoroughly – inside & out, until all of the bubbles & soapy residue is surely gone. Now scoop out a massive hunk of lard & smear it all over the inside of your pot. Top to bottom. This is the important part, so get it caked in there nice & thick! Embrace the grease, become one with the grease!!! Let the grease guide you! 😉

 

ABOVE: Place pot on the stove top & turn the burner up to about medium, add a couple Tablespoons of sea salt.

ABOVE: Once the lard begins to melt & drip & smell like hog heaven, grab your tongs & go to work. Scrub the wire sponge all over the inside of the pot, pushing the salt around & around & around. This will help to remove any leftover, stuck-on gunk while also seasoning your pot. Do this for a good 2-5 minutes depending on how badly damaged your pot was to begin with. Ours was nasty, but not horrid. I turned up the heat on the burner just slightly & salt scrubbed for about 3 minutes or so.

ABOVE: Turn off the burner, remove your pot from the heat & let it stand until cool. Like, leave it alone completely. It is as hot as the depths of Hell & you will burn the holy heck out of yourself if you try to wipe it out before it cools completely. I may or may not have learned this the hard way… Just take my word for it. If you think it’s finally cool, it’s not. So just wait longer… While you’re waiting, turn your oven on & preheat to about 240 degrees.

ABOVE: Once you are CERTAIN the pot is completely cool, wipe out the grease & salt as best you can with either a dry paper towel, thick napkin or an old, thick, beat up rag.
ABOVE: Once oven is hot, place the pot (& lid if there is one) face down on the top rack. BE SURE to place a cookie sheet or something on lower rack to catch any excess dripping. Nothing is worse than grease on the bottom of your oven! Talk about a staaaaankin’ kitch! Bake for 2 hours. After the pot is finished baking it is completely seasoned & ready to go! Be sure to let it cool completely on a very thick rug or pot holder or simply place on stove top. Make a blanket anouncement to every living human and/or animal within your home to stay the HECK AWAY FROM THE MOLTEN LAVA(ish) POT until it’s completely cool or their skin will most definitely melt off. Feel free to put a little homemade sign next to pot that says something like “You will need a skin graft if you touch this”… (Trust me, you’re not being too dramatic.)

ABOVE: Beautiful, finished, seasoned cast iron goodness!

 

 ABOVE: “Thank you lady,” the pot beamed with pride. “I shall feed you & yours like kings & queens for lifetimes to come!”
ABOVE: And our juicy pork tenderloin birthday dindin! Bon appetit & CHEERS to many more!

 


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