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Restoring Cast Iron with Mitch

     Tucked away in Washington between the foothills of the Cascade Mountains and the Puget Sound is a man who is passionate for restoring long forgotten iron, our friend Mitch. 

     Driving up to his house and workshop you are greeted with massive trees, moss, and likely a sprinkle of rain. Walking through his house, you see all sorts of peculiar collections ranging from polar bear memorabilia to a little cabinet of interesting skulls, fur, and feathers. He has vast collection of vintage Hawaiian shirts (the only shirts he wears). Most notable of his collections, however, are all the cast iron pieces hanging on walls, tucked away on bookshelves, and on small tables. There are many interests Mitch has, but restoring rare and vintage cast iron pieces is his life's passion.

How did Mitch get started in this?

     Earlier in his life he began casually collecting cast iron, and noticed how so many pans usually ended in disrepair or were smelted down into something else. He started cleaning up pans and realized he could bring them back to life. Much of what fuels his passion now is his desire to preserve the history of these cast iron pieces, made by and used by working-class Americans for so many years. His mantra is 'Let them cook again'. 

     Curious to know how many pans he had one day, he laid them in the driveway to count. The collection was well beyond 500 vintage cast iron pieces.

How does he source his pans?

     Initially, Mitch would go to many estate sales, antique stores, and scour eBay to find vintage pieces. Now he mainly works with other collectors to buy in bulk. About once a year, he takes a long road trip around the country to catch up with friends and load up his van with rusty treasures.

     But he is always on the hunt for rare and collectable a prospector, he is always searching for gold (except in his case...rusty old iron). 

Is there an elusive pan he is looking for?

     The short answer is no. He has found and seen about everything there is to offer. There is, however, a collection of vintage hammered Lodge pieces he is trying to complete.

 What is his process for restoring cast iron?

     They begin in all sorts of condition, ranging from years of charred build-up to completely covered in rust. Sometimes there is so much build-up on the bottoms that you can't even see the markings. 

Step 1 - Soaking the pans
To start, the pans soak in a big tub of lye to remove the build-up. Sometimes they soak for a couple days, sometimes for a couple weeks...just depends on how much build-up is on the pan. 
If there is rust on the pan, it goes in the electrolysis tank for a couple of days. This is where the iron gets hooked up to electricity in a tub of water and baking soda, where it will fry off any of the rust build up.
Step 2 - Scrub clean
After removing from the lye or electrolysis tanks, the pans are covered loosely in grime. Mitch takes a scouring pad or steel wool and gives them a good scrubbing, ensuring they are clean down the bare iron. 
Step 3 - Dry off and prepare for seasoning
After giving the pans a final rinse and making sure they are fully clean, he dries them off and gives them a light coating of Crisco grease in preparation for seasoning. 
Step 4 - Season in the oven
Turning the oven to 400 degrees F, Mitch places the iron upside down and lets them bake for 2 hours. After letting them cool in the oven, they come out restored and are ready to use. 

     As we explored around his workspace, there were beautiful details of his life and work fusing - like a greenhouse full of spicy peppers and some picked Carolina Reapers, drying in the shed, surrounded by hundreds of cast iron pieces. Taking a break from our visit, we fed his chickens and pet his newly hatched chicks. It is a beautiful life he has created, and we're thrilled to partner with him to get to share some of his work. 





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