That’s a pretty bold statement, I know, but colonizing, exploring, pioneering, and trailblazing is hard work and the brave men and women who led the way needed to be well-fed and cast iron cooking played a huge part in nourishing their bodies and souls.
Cast iron cookware, such as skillets, griddles and Dutch ovens have been used for centuries and to this day are appreciated by cooks for its durability and strength. Cast iron distributes heat evenly and retains heat to keep food warm even out of the oven. Unlike most other cookware, it is versatile, easily moving from stove top to oven to table.
From the colonial hearth fires, to the campfires of Lewis and Clark, to the chuck wagon trails, cast iron Dutch ovens cooked the food that kept America going. They fed the colonists, helped tame the wilderness, and did their share in settling the American West.
Around 513 B.C. in China and A.D. 1100 in England, the first cast iron cookware was created by pouring molten iron into a mold of sand. By 16th century Europe, the art of casting iron was widespread and cast iron cookware had become a valued commodity. Although the colonists brought their cast iron pots with them to the New Word, soon they were casting skillets and Dutch ovens of their own.
In 1704, Abraham Darby traveled to Holland to inspect a Dutch casting process using dry sand molds. When he returned home, Darby experimented with the same procedure and eventually patented a casting process using a better type of molding sand. He also baked the mold to improve the casting smoothness.
It is believed that the name “Dutch Oven” may have derived from this original Dutch casting process. Others have suggested that early Dutch traders peddling cast iron pots may have given rise to the name “Dutch Oven” while still others believe that the name came from Dutch settlers in the Pennsylvania area who used similar cast iron pots.
Paul Revere, a blacksmith and silversmith by profession, is credited with the flanged lid of the Dutch oven. The flanged lid, which is a lip around the rim, and bottom legs allow for a fire source to be under the pot and on the lid, making it an actual baking oven at the hearth or campfire.
By 1776, Adam Smith, in his book, The Wealth of Nations, could note that the actual wealth of the nation was not its gold but in its manufacture of pots and pans.
Cast iron cookware was treasured so much that George Washington’s mother even specified the recipient of her cast iron cookware in her will.
In the 1800s, cast iron cookware enjoyed tremendous popularity. Manufacturers that arose during that time included Wagner, Lodge, Griswold, and John Wright. Some of these manufacturers still exist today.
In 1803, President Thomas Jefferson engaged Lewis and Clark to explore America’s new territory acquired with the Louisiana Purchase. During their amazing two-year Corps of Discovery, many things were discarded to lighten the load, but never their cast iron pots. In fact, the only manufactured items returning with them were their guns and their iron pots. Little did they know that this would become the preamble to the settling of the American West.
And settle we did, but never without our cast iron cookware. To make the journey to lay claim to their parcel of Western America, each settling family packed their covered wagon with only their most necessary and cherished possessions. Needless to say, that always included their cast iron pots and skillets.
Dutch Ovens were especially useful as the country expanded westward. Families could not bring their large cook stoves with them so they learned to cook complete meals, ranging from stews and soups to breads and desserts, in their Dutch Ovens over an open fire.
During the Great American Gold Rush, no matter how hurried a fellow left his home to travel to the American West to hunt for gold, he never left without his cast iron cookware.
Every chuck wagon was built with special compartments for the iron Dutch ovens and skillets and “Cookie” was the most important person on every cattle drive.
Cast iron fed the pilgrims and colonists as they settled the American East, and it fed the settlers, hopeful gold miners, and cowboys as they settled the American West.
From the cannons of the Revolutionary War, to the iron-shod horses that carried settlers westward, and the skillets and Dutch ovens that fed the adventurous explorers across the Rocky Mountains, cast iron has been an integral part of the forging of the American experience.