MODESTO — Cast-iron cookery took on Teflon in a fiery sales pitch for mineral-enriched food and slow-cooked flavor at a Modesto store that caters to campers.
Down-home iron chef Colleen Sloan brought her wit, wisdom and wilderness-tested recipes to Crescent Work & Outdoor on Saturday. It was a fast pass through slow cooking, demonstrating a caramelized apple-caramel desert, cheesy biscuits, chili with beans and other campfire favorites to about 60 customers at the Modesto store who got to taste a bite of everything.
Through it all she gave tips and advice learned over 70 years of cast-iron cooking – since she was old enough “to lift the lid.” Sloan followed her grandmother’s advice – “Kissin’ wears out, but cookin don’t!” – and now has seven cookbooks under her belt.
She works with the U.S. Forest Service teaching “Leave No Trace” camping, and travels nationwide teaching the virtues and versatility of cast-iron cooking. A longtime briquets afficionado, Sloan said she’s switched to propane for safety and simplicity, now that she’s found the Dutch oven dome to bake with.
“If you burn your briquets full out, they’re perfect pot ash fertilizer. But if you don’t (let them fully burn out), it’s a forest fire,” she said.
Some common sense Sloan tips:
• Cast-iron heats at its own pace, depending on the oven or the weather. “Best way to cook, in my opinion: Wait for the smell. When you smell it, you’re done.”
• Most cast-iron cookbook recipes are written for a 12-inch Dutch oven, which weighs 18 to 20 pounds when full of food.
• No need for non-stick cookware. “The more you use your pan, the smoother it will get,” she said.
• Do not be afraid to wash your cast-iron pots with soap. Rinse in hot water and the soap will be gone. Then dry by warming, which opens the metal pores and lets the last moisture escape. No need to grease a pot for storage. Warm and grease it just before cooking.
• She uses a solution of one part vinegar to four parts water to clean, disinfect and tenderize meat, keeping it and vegetable oil handy in large spray bottles.
• Proper seasoning of cast-iron has to be done outside, heating the pan rubbed with vegetable oil to 500 degrees, Sloan insists.
Sitting in the front row, Reena Pal said she had no cast-iron pans, but planned to buy as soon as the demonstration – and tastings – were over.
“We’re just getting into (cast-iron). I wanted to learn how to use it,” said avid camper Priscilla McCrea.
Also a camper, Wendy Hall said she likes her Dutch oven and uses it at home as well.
Thanksgiving was on Ken Cheeseman’s mind. He and a large group of friends head to a park for the day, cooking a half dozen turkeys and about 30 pounds of potatoes on barbecues.
For Chris Leon, cast-iron cooking is all about making memories. “It is a lot of fun. Food seems to come out better. It’s just impressive,” Leon said.
Craig Stott of Crescent said Sloan has come to the store for the demonstrations for more than 20 years. He’s learned from her and others. “Everything I’ve done in a Dutch oven has come out incredible,” he said.