[Sca-cooks] ISO resources for history of cast iron cookware

Terry Decker t.d.decker at att.net
Mon Jun 13 15:07:56 PDT 2011

Cast iron cooking vessels were found on the Pulau Buaya wreck (12-13th 
Century), so there are examples of cast iron cookware within period.  (Ridho 
and Edwards McKinnon, 1997, "The Pulau Buaya Wreck", Himpunan Keramic 
Indonesia, p.84. ).  What we don't seem to have are any known European 
examples of cast iron cookware from within period.  Please note the "known," 
dating can be tricky and there is the possibility that worn out cookware was 
resmelted.  Some of the woodcuts show what appear to be cast iron pieces, 
but actual materials and construction can not be accurately discerned.

Archeological evidence suggests that cast iron was first produced in Europe 
between 1150 and 1350 at two Swedish furnaces, Lapphyttan and Vinarhyttan. 
(PDF on reconstructed Lapphyttan furnace: 
http://www.jarnetpalapphyttan.se/English%20version%202011.pdf  , Tholander, 
Erik & Blomgren, Stig, "Some aspects of the origin of the blast furnace," 
The Journal of the Historical Metallurgy Society, Vol. 20:2, 1986, ORB:Iron 
and Steel Production in the Middle Ages: 
http://www.the-orb.net/encyclop/culture/scitech/iron_steel.html ).  These 
furnaces are similar to the Chinese furnaces, so there is an open question 
of technology transfer from China by trade over the Volga/Steppes route to 
the Silk Road.  It is possible, but there is no evidence for or against, 
that cast iron cookware found its way into Europe over this route.

European manufactured cast iron cookware did not exist prior to the 12th 
Century based on current evidence.  Cast iron was used largely to remove 
impurities before being reworked into wrought iron and later for casting 
cannon and cannon balls.  However, if you can cast a bombard, you can cast a 
kettle, so there is no barrier to the possibility of European manufactured 
cast iron cookware within period.

The reason why cast iron cookware was not prevalent is cost.  The technology 
arrived in Europe when the forest were being depleted and the cost of fuel 
was on the rise.  While coal was being used in England and a few other 
places by the end of the 13th Century, it didn't come into major use until 
the 16th Century and the coking process which makes coal a superior fule for 
smelting didn't occur until the 17th Century.  The increase in cast iron 
production for general use appears to be directly proportional to the use of 
coal as a fuel and the reduction in smelting costs, which is probably why 
cast iron's major use before the 17th Century was martial.


> Yes, cast iron has reared its blackened head yet again, on another SCA 
> cooking list. Someone there, when asked for evidence of cast iron pots 
> within SCA period, quoted passages from several, mostly cookware, sites, 
> none of actually specified a date for cast iron cookware within SCA 
> period, but did mentioned forged and riveted iron ware during that time.
> From what little i have seen, the technology of cast iron appears to have 
> been used primarily for military weapons, not cooks' tools until the end 
> of SCA period or the mid- to late- 17th c. This is not an area into which 
> i have done any research.
> So i would like to present some information from more reputable resources 
> for the benefit of the listees. I know this topic has come up here 
> multiple times, and a rapid search of my archives indicates that Dook 
> Gunthar and Bear, among others, have been fairly specific about the use of 
> cast iron technology for cookware, rather than just the existence of the 
> technology of casting iron.
> Thanks for any reliable bibliographic references,
> Urtatim (that's urr-tah-TEEM)
> the persona formerly known as Anahita

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