[Sca-cooks] Period dutch ovens-metallergics point of view

H Westerlund-Davis yaini0625 at yahoo.com
Wed Dec 9 21:32:30 PST 2009

My other "hobby" besids cooking is "casting." My hubby and I have been researching and working with the alloy smelting process from the Bronze Age and Iron Age. We have successfully built a smelting furnace in our backyard and we have melted copper, tin, bronze, iron and aluminum. We do try to keep our research in Europe and how trade helped developed the various cultures. The current belief is that the Iron Age developed on top of Bronze Age technology and many of the Iron Age foundries are actually on top of Bronze Age foundries. 
Many of you are correct on the dates of when iron was discovered. But, there is a signtificant metallergic difference between what we are calling "cast iron," 'pig iron," and "wrought iron." The dates for when the science develops varies from region to region. Metallergically, pig iron is created at the smelting process where iron ore is smelted down to blooms, then melted and then sand casted into ingots. The way the ingots formed apparently looked like suckling pigglets. Let your imagination run on that image. The second stage would either take the ingots and either use them in a "cast" method or they were cast into iron rods. Through various experiments that we have done ourselves and others have done the casting method, in large scale, is inconsitant. For every 10 pours you will get 1 good cast. ( I can send you links and data on that information if you are interested). What is being considered as "cast iron" in the Middle Ages is actually "wrought
 iron." All the iron cauldrons, buckets,pots and utensils found from this time period are actually wrought iron, with a few exceptions. The blacksmith takes a piece of iron rod or pig iron and then "works" it through heat and hammering into the shape they want. The heat process aneals, makes the iron less brittle, and stronger. But, only the real wealthy could afford these pieces due to cost. 
The cast iron dutch ovens that we know and love are actually modern take on cast iron ones brought over from England and Holland between the 1700-1800s and then modifed for the pioneers and cowboy chuckwagons. They were created to be packed tightly and carried long distances. 
How is this related to cooking?? Check out a couple of our favorite sites:
The last two are bronze age historians, but they do have links and information regarding the Iron Age. You can get an idea how hot it is to cast. Umha Aois has casted bronze bowls before. 
If you would like more detailed history on this, I can chat with you off list. It's kinda of hard to cram 4 years worth information in a brief email.
I would also advice caution for anyone who would like to buy a "period" dutch oven or ones made prior to 1980. Many contain large amounts of lead or zinc, which leaches out with various acidic foods.

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From: Terry Decker <t.d.decker at att.net>
To: Cooks within the SCA <sca-cooks at lists.ansteorra.org>
Sent: Wed, December 9, 2009 5:07:42 PM
Subject: Re: [Sca-cooks] Period dutch ovens

The problem with producing cast iron is getting pig iron hot enough to burn out 1 or 2 percent more impurities.  This uses a lot of fuel, which if you are using charcoal is very expensive.  The first foundry in England shows up in 1161 (IIRC), but cast iron in quantity doesn't turn up until Tudor times, when the first deep shaft coal mines occur.

Abraham Darby's contribution isn't so much a process to make better cast iron, but the process to turn coal to coke, which produces a a hotter fire with less fuel.

I haven't gone looking at the Chinese processes, but I bet they were using surface coal (likely with an improved draft furnace).


> I'm not aware of the technology being available in Europe to cast an iron pot of any significant size. I'd think that if the ability to cast large iron pots of any depth and structural integrity existed in period Europe, it'd have been a LOT easier to build cannons than it apparently was. Iron pots made in panels have survived from both our period and antiquity, but, again, I'm not aware of any cast iron pots that have survived, or even text references to them (versus lots of text references and actual pieces for pots of earthenware of various sorts, brass, bronze, copper, tin, pewter and even lead).
> I haven't made an in-depth study of this; perhaps you can point me to something more concrete...
> Adamantius

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