It has been a tough year, especially for south Louisiana.

But our state is resilient. Like an old, well-seasoned cast-iron skillet, we are able to handle almost anything.

In these times — the likes of which we hope to never see again — we need things we can count on, and cast-iron skillets rank right up there. We can use them to feed our families whether we're cooking on the stove, in the oven or on the grill. Heck, they even work on a campfire.

Well-cared-for cast-iron skillets are the backbone of Louisiana cooking. No matter where you use them, they provide a sturdy, even way to cook nearly anything.

To restore noncoated cast-iron cookware, scrub it with steel wool to remove rust and residue as best you can. Place it upside down on the rack in your oven. According to your oven instruction manual, turn it on for self-cleaning.* The self-cleaning process can get smelly and possibly smoky. Open a few windows and doors or use a window fan in the kitchen to draw out the odors. Set the timer for 3 to 4 hours or as recommended in your oven’s instructions.

Once the process has finished and the cast iron has cooled enough to handle, stand over a trash can and gently scrape out any old residue that should now flake right off. Your skillet will be raw and require seasoning before you use it to cook.

To season your cast iron, rub a good even coating of vegetable oil, or some reserved bacon grease, over the clean cooking surface. Turn the pan upside down and put a baking sheet on the rack below to catch any dripping oil; bake it at 350 F for about an hour. Wipe dry with paper towels. To maintain its seasoning, just rub a little bit of oil onto the pan after every wash and wipe dry, but don’t rub off all the coating.

I use my cast iron for nearly everything I cook. I’ve included two of my favorite recipes here — a Shepherd's-Style Pie and Garlic Cheddar Biscuits.

We can count on our cast iron just like we do our people in hard times.

You've no doubt heard the old saying: “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.” In Louisiana, when the kitchen gets too hot, we help with the dishes.

*My particular oven does not lock in self-cleaning mode. If your oven locks, consider researching other safe methods to restore your cast iron. 

Teresa B. Day is a local food writer and author of the “I Eat BR” blog. Contact her at