**Please note: To see the photos contained within a post, you must click on the title of the post to open it separately. Why? I don't know. I just know that it needs to be done to see the pics. :)

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What I have loved most about my tenure as The Pan Handler:

Our Customers! We have wonderful kind and friendly customers, and it has been my pleasure to work with you. To everyone who has purchased a piece from The Pan Handler LLC to date, thank you so much. We couldn’t have made it to where we are today without YOU. The People We’ve Met! Though this cast iron journey, I have had the opportunity to meet and work with so many people, and have made many new friends. Many, many long-time collectors of cast iron have helped me in my cast iron education along the way. I’ve been invited into the homes of people for a cup of coffee, and cast iron stories have been shared with joy. Special thanks to members of the Griswold & Cast Iron Cookware Association and the Wagner & Griswold Society for sharing their vast knowledge of cast iron. The forums of both groups have been a wonderful learning venue for me, and I truly appreciate the opportunity to learn from the long-time collectors in those two groups. I have especially enjoyed meeting and writing articles about our cast-iron-collecting friends Marg and Larry O’Neil of Tacoma, Washington and Harold R. Henry of Hamilton Missouri. And of course I need to give great thanks to our excellent friend Randy Young of Springfield. Randy has been our champion since day one!

Randy Young, Maisie, and Linda. Somewhere in Missouri.

Randy with Maisie at an auction in Ozark, MO.

With Maisie at a GCICA auction.

Linda, Randy Young, Mary

Our dear friend Randy Young.

Marg & Larry O’Neil, Scott Price & friend, Linda, and Randy at the GCICA convention in Maine, 2016.

Larry O’Neil discussing the characteristics of a pan with Josh Miller.

Larry O’Neil showing Linda and Maisie an old Griswold pattern.

Linda, Larry & Marg O’Neil, Josh Miller (editor of Taste of the South and Southern Cast Iron magazines), me and Miss Maisie the Maltese.

Josh Miller, holding a blue enameled Griswold no. 20 hotel skillet.

Working and traveling with Linda, The Pan Apprentice! Linda has been a great friend to me throughout my time as The Pan Handler. She has turned into pretty much the world’s best cast-iron cookware cleaner. Linda loves these old pieces of iron. She and I have had the opportunity to travel across the country in our pursuit of the finest of fine cast iron cookware. We have had such fun and made such wonderful memories.

Linda, The Pan Apprentice

Pan Apprentice Linda working on a waffle iron base with a small brush as it comes out of a vinegar and water solution.

Linda holding a Griswold #20 hotel skillet, me holding an ERIE spider skillet, and Maisie hanging on for dear life!

Linda popping an upside-down cake out of the skillet

With some new acquisitions, at the home of Randy Young in Springfield MO.

Maisie supervising Linda as she cleans.

Restoring neglected pieces of American history, and sending them off to new homes where they will be admired and used. I can’t pinpoint exactly what it is, but there is something sublimely gratifying to me about acquiring an old piece of cast iron – especially those from the late 1800s to early 1900s – that may have decades of crud and carbon built up, perhaps some rust…it may have even been found buried in a farmyard, and cleaning it back to its original state. These old pans have beauty and worth, and I feel privileged to had the opportunity to restore these old pieces and to put them back into service.  Kind of like preserving American history…one pan at a time.  The opportunity to personally learn and grow. When I bought one pretty Griswold gem pan some years back, I had no idea where that little spark of interest would lead. I have always loved learning new things. In this journey not only have I learned how to clean and restore vintage cast iron cookware, I’ve learned the history of the cookware, how to identify, care for, and maintain the cookware, how to establish a business, how to properly pack pieces for shipment, how to create and run a website, and oh…so much more. I learn something new every day!

My version of heaven – at the O’Neil residence in Tacoma Washington surrounded by cast iron and ephemera.

The opportunities I’ve had to share my love of and passion for vintage cast iron cookware. Back in 2013, a writer reached out to me to talk about The Pan Handler LLC and vintage cast iron cookware. Since that time, I’ve had the opportunity to spread the word through a variety of other media venues – both by writing and by interviews. Thank you to all who have given me that opportunity! I am excited to continue writing and blogging about vintage cast iron and cast iron people at vintagecast-iron.com, even as I step back from sales and the business end of The Pan Handler LLC.

First photo shoot. :)

Emergency photo shoot with Sarah Lamb of S.Lamb Photography. I recall it was over 90 degrees this day, and we ran outside from the air conditioning to take the shots and then ran right back inside.

The very talented Sarah Lamb of S.Lamb Photography hard at work.

The food we have cooked, and the fun we have had! Oh my, the food we have cooked in cast iron, and the fun we have had.

At the Trader’s Market with niece-in-law Beth, and Maisie.

Excellent friend Lori helping me haul an old barn door for use as a photo prop. Cart full of vintage cast iron just acquired at an antique spectacular.

Excellent friends Debra and Jerry with shepherd’s pies made in Griswold patty bowls.

John and Mary hard at work on a recipe for individual beef wellingtons made in a Griswold French roll pan.

Deconstructed apple pies made by Linda LU and Chris in Griswold Aebleskiver pans.

The cast of the cast iron cooking competition! Anna and Rob are at far right.

Bonnie!

Doug making camp breakfast in his Griswold #20 hotel skillet.

Drizzling vinaigrette over roasted veggies.

Perhaps the best roast beef I’ve ever tasted. Made in a Griswold no. 5 oval roaster.

Darling grand-nieces Kylie and Lucy, cooking in their #5 cast iron pans!

Starting tomorrow – January 1, 2017 – Anna will take the helm as The Pan Handler, and I will step back into a consulting role. You will love Anna. She is smart as a whip, sassy as hell, and ever-so-enthusiastic and excited about the business. She loves these old pans just as much as I do, and I know she will continue the tradition of excellent customer service that we have established. I am very excited to see where she brings the business in coming years!

Anna and her husband, Rob.

Anna and Mary celebrating the transfer of The Pan Handler LLC.

Anna, Mary, Linda, and our friend Harold R. Henry of Hamilton, MO.

You’ll still see me around. I will continue blogging at vintagecast-iron.com, and I will consult and collaborate with Anna and The Pan Handler LLC. I just won’t be at the forefront of the business – Anna will be. So from me to you…thank you from the bottom of my heart, for all for the memories. It’s been a pleasure and an honor to have worked and shared with you all.

Best to you and yours in 2017! ~Mary (and Maisie)

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Another Blue Apron meal, though admittedly not my favorite. Somehow, the mixture of beef and yellow raisins just doesn’t do it for me. If it does for you, however, perhaps you’ll love this one! If you’d like to see the original recipe, you can find it here.

Spiced Beef Skewers w Roasted Butternut Squash and Garlic Rice

Makes: 4 servings Prep Time: 15 minutes | Cook Time: 25–35 minutes

Ingredients 1-1/8 lb. Ground Beef 8 Wooden Skewers 1 Egg 3/4 c. Jasmine Rice 4 Cloves Garlic, peeled and minced 2 Butternut Squash, peeled, seeded, halved, sliced into 1″ slices 3 T Golden Raisins 1 T Red Wine Vinegar 1/3 c. Panko Breadcrumbs 1/4 c. Labneh Cheese

Directions

Make the rice: In a small pot, heat 2 teaspoons of olive oil on medium-high until hot. Add half the garlic; season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring frequently, 30 seconds to 1 minute, or until fragrant. Add the rice, a big pinch of salt and 11?2 cups of water. Heat to boiling on high. Once boiling, cover and reduce the heat to low. Cook 12 to 14 minutes, or until the water has been absorbed and the rice is tender. Remove from heat and fluff the cooked rice with a fork. Set aside and keep warm.

Roast & dress the squash: While the rice cooks, place the squash on a sheet pan. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper; toss to coat. Arrange in a single, even layer and roast 22 to 24 minutes, or until browned and tender when pierced with a fork. Remove from the oven. Top with half the vinegar and a drizzle of olive oil.

Assemble the skewers: While the squash roasts, combine the ground beef, breadcrumbs, raisins, egg and remaining garlic in a large bowl; season with salt and pepper. Gently mix to combine. Using your hands, form the mixture into 8 oval-shaped patties, each about 1 inch thick. Transfer to a plate. Working one at a time, insert the ends of the skewers through the patties. Season with salt and pepper.

Cook the skewers: While the squash continue to roast, in a large cast iron skillet (I used my Griswold Iron Mountain number 12)  heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil on medium until hot. Working in batches if necessary, carefully add the assembled skewers. Cook, loosely covering the pan with foil, 5 to 6 minutes per side, or until browned and cooked through.

Season the labneh & serve your dish: While the skewers cook, combine the labneh and remaining vinegar in a small bowl; season with salt and pepper to taste. Transfer to a serving dish.

Transfer the cooked skewers and roasted squash to a serving dish. Serve with the garlic rice and seasoned labneh on the side. Enjoy!

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Man oh man, I could eat this every day of the week. It is DELICIOUS!

If you read my blog, you know that I have been enjoying cooking Blue Apron meals for about a year now (no, I’m not a paid sponsor, yet…Hello, Blue Apron, are you listening?) This recipe for sure is one of my favorites. I made very few modifications to the recipe; added more veggies and liquid and cooked a bit longer. The version below is my version; you can find the original Blue Apron recipe here.

Of course, I made this soup in my Iron Mountain (by Griswold) cast iron chicken pan. That pan sure does get a workout in my kitchen!

Italian Wedding Soup with Pork Meatballs

Makes: 2 servings Prep Time: 10 minutes | Cook Time: 35–45 minutes (I let it simmer longer than this, to ensure the pork was cooked through)

Note: as I added additional veggies; my version easily would have served 4 people or 3 very hungry people.

Ingredients

10 Ounces Ground Pork 1?2 Cup Semi-Pearled Khorasan Wheat (if you can’t find this in your market, I expect that barley or wheat berries would work equally well) 1 15-Ounce Can Diced Tomatoes 4 Cloves Garlic, peeled and minced 2 Carrots, peeled and diced 2 Stalks Celery, diced 1 large Yellow Onion, peeled and diced 1?2 Bunch Collard Greens (Blue Apron sent me two HUGE leaves – bigger than the size of my head!), stem removed and chopped 1?4 Cup Grated Parmesan Cheese 1?4 Teaspoon Crushed Red Pepper Flakes – more or less to taste. 1 Teaspoon Pork Meatball Spice Blend (1/2 t. ground fennel seeds & 1/2 t. ground dried oregano)

Directions

Cook the khorasan wheat:

Heat a medium pot of salted water to boiling on high. Once boiling, add the khorasan wheat and cook, uncovered, 16 to 18 minutes, or until tender. Drain thoroughly, reserving 4 cups of the khorasan wheat cooking water.

Form the meatballs:

Combine the ground pork, spice blend, half the cheese and the red pepper flakes. Season with salt and pepper. Gently mix until just combined. Using your hands, form the mixture into 14 equal-sized meatballs; transfer to a plate.

Brown the meatballs:

Heat 2 teaspoons of olive oil in your cast iron chicken pan over medium heat until hot. Add the meatballs and cook, turning occasionally, 4 to 6 minutes, or until browned on all sides. Transfer to a paper towel- lined plate and set aside in a warm place. Drain the oil from the pan and wipe it out, leaving any browned bits (or fond) in the pan.

Start the soup:

Add the carrot, onion, celery and garlic to the pan of reserved fond; season with salt and pepper. Cook on medium, stirring occasionally, 4 to 6 minutes, or until slightly softened and fragrant.

Finish the soup & plate your dish:

Add the collard greens, diced tomatoes, browned meatballs, cooked khorasan wheat and about 3 cups of the khorasan wheat cooking water to the pan; season with salt and pepper. Bring to a simmer. Once simmering, cook, stirring occasionally, about 30 minutes. Add additional khorasan wheat cooking water if you think it necessary.

Season with salt and pepper to taste. Spoon the soup into bowls. Garnish with the remaining cheese. Enjoy!

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Malinda J. from Indiana wrote to Ask The Pan Handler and said:

“I was told this dutch oven is worthless b/c lid is warped. By pressing on the rim of the pan at various points, you can feel and see the movement, and listen for the clicking sounds that are tell-tale signs of warping.” Yes, it does move when you push on the lid a bit but I used it for years and years with no problem. Is this really a major issue? THANKS!”

Malinda attached these photos:

Malinda, your well-meaning (I presume) friend is incorrect. If you have used your Dutch oven for “years and years with no problem,” then it obviously is not “worthless.”

I suspect that there is not warpage to the lid, but perhaps the Dutch oven itself has some movement when pressing along the upper rim. This is not at all uncommon. It does not render a piece “worthless.” 

Interest in vintage cast iron cookware has soared since I began this business. There are many well-meaning people who put information out there that is incorrect, exaggerated, or “guesses” presented as fact. I suspect that is the case with the person who told you that your pan was “worthless.”

I recently wrote a blog post about warpage in cast iron skillets – you can find it here. I wrote this, in part, to try to dispel this widespread notion that pans must sit completely “flat” to be of use and value. That is not at all the case. The amount of movement might matter to you, however; it all depends on how you are using the pan. In your case, you love your set and it has worked wonderfully for you for years, so feel free to tell your doubting friend that you disagree and that they are incorrect. The set works for you, is a great cooker, and movement does not always equate to value. And even if a pan sits completely flat when placed upon a cold cooktop, it can have movement when heated. Moreover, even if it does sit flat, it could have an upward bow to the cooking surface. Ask yourself what kind of cooking you do – do you do some kind of precision cooking that requires that your pans have no differential in the cooking surface? If so, what kind of cooking, exactly, is that?

Thank you for your inquiry, Malinda. Now go enjoy that beautiful Griswold Dutch oven…I can almost smell the stews and roasts that you’ve made in it!

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In collecting information around the world about vintage cast iron cookware, I keep running across the great “soap \ no soap” debate. Just do a google search for “soap cast iron” and a myriad of articles will pop up. Many sources routinely emphasize that use of soap will destroy your carefully-built up seasoning.

Nonsense. Using a drop of soap when you want to use a drop of soap is not going to remove the seasoning from a pan that has been properly seasoned. I use soap when I feel like my pan needs soap. Just use your common sense! Don’t soak your cast iron pan in hot soapy water, don’t scrub heartily with stainless steel (moderate is fine – just don’t go nuts), and use your chain mail scrubber when wanting to remove bits of food. Some folks use kosher salt – whatever works. And of course, never ever put your cast iron in the dishwasher!

After cleaning to bare iron, we heat-season most all of our pans with either one coat of Crisco vegetable shortening or one coat of a mixture of coconut and canola oils and beeswax. Our process is discussed in the FAQs section of the site. When I use my pans, I clean it of all food debris (using a drop of soap if I feel like it), dry it thoroughly with paper towels (sometimes I also put it into a warm oven), spray some Pam on a paper towel, and wipe it down. My pans are beautiful, seasoned well, and the soap doesn’t hurt the seasoning one bit. You can see my process on my youtube channel.

The misconception about soap use arises, I think, because people think that the “seasoning” is just a thin layer of oil put onto the pan. It is more than that – the heating process changes the chemical structure of the oil and it polymerizes and bonds to the iron. Continued use builds up more layers of that polymerized oil,  eventually resulting in the almost-non-stick surface that is so desired on vintage cast iron pieces. A drop of soap is not going to remove that polymerized coating as it would a simple layer of vegetable oil that has just been smeared onto the pan.

As long as your pan has been properly seasoned, feel free to use a drop of soap to clean it when your common sense tells you that you should. Just be smart about it!