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Copyright 2010 Ozarkhomesteader.  Short excerpts with full links are welcome.

Seasoning cast iron can be an unpleasant task.  Lodge Manufacturing, the best American cast iron company, recommends re-seasoning using vegetable shortening and a hot oven for an hour.  The Lodge method works, but it leaves the house smelling of overcooked vegetable shortening, plus it uses a lot of energy.  When my cast iron surface needs a little work, I prefer to either fry in it (something we don’t do very often) or just pop popcorn!Earlier today. my 2-quart cast iron Dutch oven looked disreputable.  I know; I should be ashamed for mistreating my cast iron this way, but I swear it just happened because I cooked high-acid tomato sauce in it.Here’s a close up.  I know, I know.  I may get kicked out of the Cast Iron American Society.The solution?  Make popcorn!  Start by pouring enough oil in the bottom of your warm Dutch oven to coat the bottom, at a depth of about 1/8 inch.  The warmth will help the oil spread.  Otherwise, you may end up with too much oil and greasy popcorn. Now pour in just two corn kernels.  Heat the pot on high (medium-high for some electric burners!–or use a pyrex wire diffuser (example) to get less direct heat on high) until the two kernels pop.  Scoop out the two kernels with a slotted spoon.  Now pour in the rest of your kernels, about 1/4 to 1/3 of a cup for a 2-quart Dutch oven, 1/2 to 2/3 cup for a 4-quart Dutch oven, and so forth.  Put the lid on the pot immediately, because the kernels will start to pop right away.  Position the lid so that it vents steam.

Do you like real butter?  Do not use “lite” margarine!  If you have real butter and want it in your popcorn, make sure you have it standing by.  Cut off a pat and slip it in under the lid, taking care not to let kernels escape.  More butter????  Sure, just slip it in on the other side of the pot.

Very quickly, the corn will go from exploding rapid fire like a hundred machine guns to sounding more like an occasional pop. Turn off the heat.  If you have an electric stove top, remove the pot from the hot burner, or else you’ll burn the popcorn on the bottom.  A few kernels may still pop after you turn off the heat, so don’t open it yet.  Instead, get the salt.  Okay, now open the lid carefully.  Shake on some salt.  Taste.  Add a little more if you want.  Scoop off the luscious popcorn.

Mmmmmmmm.  Let’s eat!

Oh, you say I was talking about cast iron?  Oh.  I remember!  Yes, we’re making popcorn to re-season my neglected cast iron.  Yes, I ate the popcorn.  Then I rinsed the salt out of the Dutch oven and dried it off.  Do you want an “after” picture?  Here it is, showing the thin layer of hot oil that the popcorn neatly distributed across the surface of the Dutch oven, re-seasoning it all over.I wonder if my 4-quart Dutch oven needs re-seasoning too?  Yes, I’m grinning from ear to ear.  Oh, I’m so sorry for getting corny! Oops, there goes another pun!

Thanks to Linda Watson at CookforGood, who referred to this post in an article on making turmeric-seasoned popcorn.  I do have one little correction to the CookforGood article.  Watson said you need to shake the cast iron pan while you’re popping.  No, you don’t have to do that!  The heavy bottom of the cast iron, the high heat with which you start (after you test pop those two kernels) and the short popping time will allow you to pop without shaking the pan.  Just be sure to turn off the heat (and remove the pan from the burner if you use an electric burner) when the popping slows.  You’ll have great, burn-free popcorn.

Do you have questions about caring for cast iron or making old-fashioned popcorn on the stove top?  Feel free to post here!

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Copyright 2010 Ozarkhomesteader. Short excerpts with full links are welcome.

Beans and ham, beans and cornbread, navy bean soup, ham-bone soup, Senate bean soup:  no matter what you call it, this old Southern favorite that’s not quite soup, not quite vegetable stew can include pork ham, turkey ham, or no animal flesh at all.  The beans can be pretty darn healthy, really healthy, or phenomenally healthy.    Today I’m going to give you all three variations (smidgen of red meat for a low-fat bowl, ultra low-fat bit of poultry, or fat-free vegetarian) on classic Southern beans, any of which can be prepared on the stove top or in a slow cooker.  Oh, they are soooooo good!To duplicate the Southern experience, serve these beans with cornbread (to complete your vegetarian protein), good greens (like turnip or collard), and pickles, chow-chow, or tobasco.  My ancestors made these beans on the top of a wood stove or in a kitchen fire in a big cast iron pot in colder months.  They might have cooked them all day, slowly, on a March or April day after they’d polished off an Easter country ham and just had the bone left.  They might have gathered wild greens, or perhaps they had greens growing in their kitchen garden.  Regardless, these beans with cornbread and greens made great healthy, frugal cuisine then, just as they do today.  They are a classic case of “meat and three,” where any meat included is a seasoning, not the main focus of the dish, and they are a great choice for today’s environmentally and economically conscious culture.

makes about 7 cups

the vegetables:

  • ½ large yellow onion (a full cup diced, give or take a bit)
  • 1 cup  to 1 ½ cups (split) carrots, diced
  • 1 cup to 1 ½ cups (split) celery, diced

the dried beans:

  • 1 1/2 cups dried navy beans (the classic!), pinto beans (more like chili), black beans (think southwest), or another bean like Jacob’s cattle or Anasazi (I used navy beans, black beans, and Anasazi!)


the liquid:

  • 5 -6 ½ cups water, vegetable broth, chicken stock, or turkey stock (or 1/2 smoked turkey stock*, half water)

Use the larger amount for Anasazi beans, the lesser for most other dried beans.  (Anasazi beans need 4 cups of water for every 1 cup of beans, whereas other beans of similar size need 3 cups of water for every one cup of beans.  We’re adding ½ cup more liquid to make the beans a little brothier.)

optional animal products:

  • 1 ham bone
  • 2-3 slices pork bacon, diced, rendered, and drained of fat (save it!)
  • ¼ cup turkey ham steak, diced

Stove top method:

Measure, sort through for pebbles, and rinse the beans—something you should do with all dried beans.  Soak the beans overnight or at least all day in a very heavy-bottomed stockpot or a cast iron Dutch oven.  This recipe may be a bit too big for a 2-quart Dutch oven, but you could start with just a portion of the liquid and add the rest as the beans absorb it. You’ll need to cover the beans by at least double or possibly even triple the depth of water.  (You could easily start soaking the beans in the morning and then cook them in the late afternoon.)  Drain off  the soaking liquid and add the cooking liquid (water, stock), onions, half of the carrots and celery, and any animal product you are adding.  Simmer beans, covered, for 1 ½ to 2 hours (less for Anasazi, more for black, the full two hours for navy).  Stir occasionally, but if you’ve picked a suitably heavy pot, you shouldn’t have to worry much about sticking.  After the initial cooking time, add the rest of the carrots and celery and cook the beans for ½ hour to 1 hour to finish softening them.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

Slow Cooker (Crock Pot) Method

Measure, sort through for pebbles, and rinse the beans—something you should do with all dried beans.  Add the beans, the chopped onion, half of the carrots and celery, all of the optional animal flesh and/or bone, and all of the liquid to a slow cooker (known often by the trade-marked name Crock Pot).  Put on the lid and set the slow cooker to low.  Let the beans cook all day.  An hour or so before supper (depending on the type of beans—more time for navy beans, less for black and Anasazi–and your slow cooker), add the rest of the carrots and celery and crank the slow cooker to high for about an hour to finish cooking the beans.  What if you come home and the beans are already soft?  You could turn off the beans, saute the carrots and celery, add them to the beans, and then turn on the cooker right before dinner to reheat it. Add salt and pepper to taste.

In order to get the best nutrition from these beans, serve them with whole-grain cornbread (recipe to follow in a future blog post) to make a complete protein (something you can get by mixing whole grains with beans).  Add gently cooked seasonal greens, like mustard greens, turnip greens, or collard greens—or you could even just make a side salad of healthy baby greens.  Serve with cucumber pickles like bread-and-butter or chow-chow (pickled vegetables).  Some people add pickle juice or tobasco hot sauce to the beans and greens.

*Smoked turkey stock. Did you smoke a turkey this year or get one as a gift?  Did you toss the carcass?  Don’t do that again!  For a great smoky stock, cover the smoked-turkey carcass with water, add aromatics (a stalk of celery, some onion chunks, herbs), and simmer for about two hours.  Strain off the bones, vegetables, and herbs then cool the stock.  Skim off the opaque fat that forms at the top.  Use your stock in soups and beans.  I recommend using it for no more than half of the liquid in a recipe, since it is quite strong.

Do you have questions about cooking with dried beans, Southern food, or vegetarian options?  I’ll do my best to answer them!

I’ve posted a traditional, hearty cornbread recipe.  It is all corn meal and minimally sweet, like people used to eat before every bread came to taste like dessert.

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