An iron wood stove creates a unique ambience and adds a blanket of warmth to any room or outdoor living space. It can also be used to create flavorful dishes, boil water for tea and coffee and assist in other food-related services as it heats up a home's rooms. A cast iron stove that has been neglected can be cleaned easily and put back to good working order. Cleaning cast iron with common household cleaners works as well today as it did in the 19th century.
Cast Iron Stove History
The storied past of the pot-bellied stove begins in China when cast iron was first produced in the sixth century B.C. The first actual cast iron cooking appliance pops up in the town of Lynn, Massachusetts in 1642, almost 200 years after the first stove was put down in record history. These had flat rectangular plates that were bolted together to make a box.
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Benjamin Franklin put his spin on the heat producer in the 1740s by creating the Pennsylvania fireplace. This efficient version of a cast iron stove controlled the flow of hot air and therefore more direct heat. These early versions were mainly used for heating rooms rather than a serious piece intended for use by cooks.
Chefs used the larger ovens with removable plates on top and a space in the oven for baking and roasting in the 1850s and beyond. The cast iron wood stove didn't have a thermostat. Instead, the user would know the rough temperature by the feel and smell of the oven. This method also told them which burner worked best for their needs, from boiling or frying eggs to simmering coffee or tea.
Water Stains on Cast Iron
Since the cast iron became a prominent part of a kitchen in the late 19th century, cleaning them has been a constant consideration. Simple techniques and common household cleaners used more than 100 years ago still work well today.
Hard water is a problem in many modern homes across the country and this can be a problem for cast iron wood stoves. The calcium deposits in the droplets of water create a scaly buildup and rust on the surface of the cast iron workhorse.
Removing Stains from Cast Iron
Prep the appliance by cleaning the stove out completely and take away any items that can be removed. With the oven completely cool, wipe down the surface and remove all ash and bits of food, spills of sauces or other easy clean ups. A thick wire brush can remove the buildup of hard water deposits and other caked layers of grease and grime.
Use a sheet of metal sandpaper to further take down stubborn stains and calcium buildup. Work across the surface in small, circular motions until the surface is free from debris. Scour the surface with a mix of a ½ cup of vinegar mixed with 1 quart of warm water using a nylon brush or toothbrush for small areas.
Once clean, cover the cast iron surface with olive oil or lard. This will create a smell when you next use the stove but it will also protect the cast iron over the long term.
Value of Cast Iron Stoves
Antique and vintage cast iron stoves are valued pieces to serious collectors. The more ornamentation on the doors, feet, backsplash and other parts of the cast iron stove the more valuable the piece, according to Collectors Weekly. For curious collectors, Vintage Cast Iron recommends checking the hulking appliance or stove and oven cookware via the "The Book of Wagner & Griswold," often referred to as the cast iron red book.