Not all creative efforts become art. Not all reclaimed items are for visual enjoyment. Some, like the cast iron cookware Julie Wilson is offering, are for use….and a LOT of cooking creativity and enjoyment.
Cast iron has long been a treasured cookware, typically used over time in more rustic environments like cattle drive chuck wagons and at grandma’s house out in the country. But modern cooks everywhere are rediscovering the benefits of cooking in cast iron. Unfortunately, not everyone knows how to care for the cast iron and it can rust and become unusable for cooking.
That’s where Julie Wilson and The Department of Work steps in, complete with elbow grease. She refurnishes the cookware she finds at yard sales and thrift stores by scrubbing off the rust and reseasoning the pans so they are ready to go, good as new.
This is another kind of zero waste; one that restores old items to make them usable again. Julie says, “We rescue unloved cast iron cookware. We clean it and reseason it so it can get back to work. 100% sustainable, healthy, and affordable.” And better than that, Julie adds, “Cooking is a creative act of love which makes the kitchen the heart of the home. When food is prepared in cookware, especially cast iron with a history, magic is at work.”
“I grew up recycling before there was even a name for it; it’s just what you did. I learned from my mother and grandparents. I learned to sew by watching my mother which lead to a career as a professional costume technician: From a two dimensional sketch I made three dimensional items of clothing for performers to wear. I specialized in the non-garment items, the fun stuff like armor, jewelry, hats and shoes. So I used my hands and was often given materials of unknown origins to make the desired object. This life took me to Ashland for 12 seasons, 7 years in Seattle at the various performance venues, and almost 3 years in Las Vegas working for Cirque du Soleil.
I returned to my beloved Oregon and in so doing, knew I was retiring from costuming. There are only so many jobs and I was ready for a “big shift”. The shift came when, after vending vintage decor at flea markets, my beloved and I went camping and he realized he needed the activity of slow cooking to keep him busy – I was good with sitting in the sun with a good book. His research into the use and (consequent restoration) of cast iron cookware created an overstock of items that we needed for that next camping trip. So it got sold at the next flea market, and the next one, and the next one…….. His cast iron became the main attraction and I realized that I had just walked through a major door of opportunity.
I am now fully committed to rescuing unloved cast iron. I love that I am offering an affordable, healthy, and sustainable product. I love bringing these pieces back to life and find such joy when a customer finds just the right piece, whether it is adding to their collection or is their very first piece. I have created a vocation where I continue to use my hands, interact with folks who are passionate about cooking, and am always learning about these amazing products from so many different peoples and cultures. I am living the life of a crafts person and hear from customers, “Thank you for doing this!”, when they see the huge variety of rescued cookware. It’s a good life!”
Julie Wilson and The Department of Work is located at Table #26.