Dairyville’s Cast Iron Pam
● By Melissa Mendonca
By Melissa Mendonca
Photos by Eric Leslie
With the nickname Cast Iron Pam, one can only imagine the collection of cast iron cookware Pam Warfield of Dairyville keeps. There’s a fish fryer so big and heavy it takes up two burners on her stove and never really leaves. “I use it for everything,” she says.
She has saucepans, frying pans, Dutch ovens, muffin and loaf pans, a chicken fryer and “obscure pans that people pick up for me,” she adds.
Her journey to cooking exclusively with cast iron came after trying virtually every style of cookware under the sun. With nine children, she had reason to be particular. She cooks in large quantities and needs reliable heat, durability and consistency in performance. “It’s like the original nonstick skillet, because once it’s seasoned, you could cook dry with it,” she says. “It just enhances the flavors of everything you cook.
“It will last a lifetime, for several generations. You can hand it down,” she says, noting that she uses her husband’s grandmother’s 10-quart Dutch oven almost daily.
“I make all my soups in it,” she says. “It’s an antique, over 100 years old, and I use it all the time.”
Between family meals and church potlucks, Warfield became known for her cooking. “A friend of mine at church wanted a lot of my recipes,” she says. “For Christmas one year I was going to hand write all of them.” It didn’t take long for her hand to cramp. In 2011 she decided to type everything out and create a book for family and friends as a Christmas gift.
By 2012, she published the collection as “Cast Iron Pam Healthful Home Cooking.” The cookbook contains not only recipes, but advice for keeping a well-stocked pantry and freezer, meal planning and a sample one-week menu. “I had in mind newly married couples and people going off on their own for the first time,” she says. “It makes a great wedding gift with a cast iron skillet or Dutch oven.”
As for her family’s favorite dishes, Warfield is hard-pressed to name a favorite. “My husband loves my tamale pie,” she says, “Everyone does.” Then she remembers how good her cornbread comes out when cooked in a cast-iron skillet. “You get a nice crust around the edges. They love the cornbread.” Finally, however, she settles on her pizza, which is made from handmade dough and home-cooked sauce and goes into the oven on heavy cast iron pizza pans.
Warfield is at work on her next cookbook, a collection of cast iron recipes that can be cooked on a campfire. “The camping book has a lot of tips for people who have never gone camping before or who have never had to put together a trip themselves,” she says. Her first piece of advice is to schedule in your trips. “If you don’t get it on the calendar it will never happen,” she says with a laugh. “We go as soon as the weather gets good and we go as often as possible.”
Coy about her favorite camping spots, she will say, “We try to find new places all the time. When we go camping, most of the places we go, we have to haul in water.” Still, the family doesn’t suffer too much inconvenience. Warfield cooks up berry cobblers, gingerbread, pot roast and even cakes while camping. She packs specialty cast iron with legs and lids that allow for coals to be placed both under and on top of the cookware.
In fact, it was on their way home to Napa from a camping trip 14 years ago that the couple discovered the Dairyville area. “My husband likes to take all sorts of crooked and dirt roads,” she says, noting that it’s how they came across the land they ended up buying on Electric Avenue. “We loved it.”
Husband Ed is a woodworker and the one who christened Warfield as Cast Iron Pam. They also sell walnuts, pecans, almonds and sometimes hazelnuts from their property directly to customers from their home. Pam is in the process of getting her cottage food license to sell baked goods.
Warfield says when Ed and the kids go off fishing on their next camping trip, she’s going to remain in camp. “I like to stay back and do the cooking,” she says. “I’ll write recipes, work on my book.” She’s made sure to get several dates in on their calendar.