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Friday, January 24, 2014

Do You Have Any Information On Cleaning And Caring For A Cast-iron Skillet?

"Do you have any information on cleaning and caring for a cast-iron skillet?" One of our Newton Falls Public Library patrons had recently inherited a cast-iron skillet and wanted to be sure they were taking care of it properly so that it would perform at its best.

We checked Consumer Reports Books' How to Clean Practically Anything and Don Aslett's How Do I Clean the Moosehead? and 99 More Tough Questions About Housecleaning, but, although we did find out how to clean a moosehead, there was no information about cast-iron skillets. We had better luck with The Good Housekeeping Household Encyclopedia, Jeff Bredenberg's Clean It Fast Clean It Right, and Carla Emery's The Encyclopedia of Country Living, all of which featured a small section on how to clean cast-iron cookware. Putting "how to clean a cast iron skillet" into an online search engine also brought up an article on the Real Simple website.

It's very important to season cast-iron cookware so as to give it its nonstick surface. Season your cookware before you use it for the first time, and then, after that, as often as you like. To season a pot or skillet, clean it first in hot soapy water. Then, grease the inside with suet, vegetable oil, or shortening and leave it to "bake" in the oven. Sources vary on how long to leave it in and how high the temperature must be. The Encyclopedia of Country Living suggests 8-10 hours at 250-275°F, whereas Real Simple suggests 350°F for just over an hour and Clean It Fast Clean It Right says 200-300°F for 30 minutes. However, all sources agree that if your cast-iron pot or pan comes with a lid, remove it during the seasoning process or else it will become irrevocably stuck.

Once you've started using your skillet, wash and dry it with care. Avoid harsh cleaning agents and metal scrapers such as steel wool, as those will scrape off the seasoning, though you can use baking soda or coarse salt if you need some extra scrubbing power. Be sure to dry it carefully and store it in a dry place to prevent rust. (If your cookware does rust, scrub the rust off with steel wool, re-season it, and start over.) You can grease your skillet again before storing if you want to continue to build up the nonstick coating.

Though the care and cleaning of cast-iron is a little different than it is for most cookware and may take some getting used to, properly cared for cast-iron cookware can last for generations.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Did I Experience A Frost Quake?

"When it was so cold out, I heard a loud sound and felt my house shake. I heard it might have been a frost quake. Could you give me more information about that?" The extreme temperatures on January 6th and 7th caused the Newton Falls Public Library to close, and we wouldn't be surprised if they caused some strange weather conditions as well.

Breanna Draxler explains the science behind frost quakes in an article for the Discover Magazine blog. Also called cryoseisms, frost quakes occur when a cold snap follows a warm spell. Rain and melting snow seep into the earth, and then when it's cold again, they freeze and expand, cracking the frozen soil around them as they do. Frost quakes typically happen between midnight and dawn, when the night's at its coldest. They're fairly rare, and, fortunately, they don't often cause any damage.

According to Bob Downing's article in the Akron Beacon Journal, there's no way to prove that the loud boom that some Northeast Ohio residents experienced was a frost quake. However, the conditions were ideal, so it's a strong possibility. If people have been hearing their houses creak a lot lately, that can also be explained by the weather -- wood contracts in the cold, and wood joints may move a fraction of an inch.

For more information on unusual weather conditions, the Newton Falls Public Library has the National Audubon Society's Field Guide to Weather, Christopher C. Burt's Extreme Weather, and Bruce Buckley, Edward J. Hopkins, and Richard Whitaker's Weather: A Visual Guide available for borrowing.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Why Do People Knock On Wood?

"Why do people knock on wood?" While all of us here on the Newton Falls Public Library staff are familiar with the expression "knock on wood," typically used after remarking on one's own good fortune, none of us were sure where it originated.

According to A Dictionary of Superstitions, edited by Iona Opie and Moira Tatem, "knock on wood" (or "touch wood," which is the British equivalent of the expression) has been around for a long time. In nineteenth-century England, it was already considered an old superstition.

While there's no hard-and-fast explanation for how the custom came about, Peter Lorie gives a few theories in his book, Superstitions. It may have something to do with the cross of Jesus being made from wood, or it may date back to the ancient Celts who viewed trees as having spiritual significance. According to Lorie, touching wood grounds evil spirits and renders them harmless.

Matt Soniak in his Mental Floss article "Why Do We Knock on Wood?" also traces the superstition back to the Celts. They may have touched trees when asking for a favor or to show gratitude to the spirit inside it. The custom eventually morphed to touching wood after mentioning a streak of good luck. It may also have originated from the belief that loud noises scare away evil spirits, so the sound of knocking is meant to frighten away any lurking nearby.

For more information on superstitions, Ferne Shelton's Pioneer Superstitions is available at the Newton Falls Public Library. Stefan Bechtel's The Good Luck Book and Deborah Aaronson's Luck: The Essential Guide are both available for borrowing through CLEVNET