Fellow cast iron enthusiasts Brenda Bernstein and Doyle Pregler live in New London, Minnesota, a small community about two hours northwest of the Twin Cities. They have been together 28 years, have 6 grown children between them, and 12 grandchildren ages 3 to 19. If you’ve ever been to one of the national Griswold & Cast Iron Cookware Association (GCICA) conventions and seen a huge semi parked in the parking lot of the convention hotel, it’s a likely indicator that Doyle and Brenda are there. Doyle drives truck for a living, and Brenda and Doyle try to line up his loads so that they coordinate with the GCICA national and chapter meets. They even arrived via semi to the 2016 GCICA convention in Maine! It’s hard to miss Brenda – her beautiful red hair stands out in a crowd.
Accomplice Linda and I first met Brenda and Doyle in 2014 in Fargo, at that year’s GCICA national convention. Brenda and Doyle had come across the organization when they were doing some cast iron research, and saw that the convention was being held near their home. They decided to go check it out. It was the first time any of us had been at one of the national conventions. We were all very excited to meet other cast iron enthusiasts, to see and learn about all of the cast iron on display and for sale, and snag some new old cast iron pieces for ourselves. It is really fun when you find others who share a common interest. Sometimes when I talk to people about vintage cast iron, I can see their eyes glaze over. Not true with this group!
Since that first meeting in Fargo, Linda and I have met up with Brenda and Doyle at various locations throughout the United States – at cast iron auctions, chapter meets, and at the annual conventions in Maine, Missouri, and most recently Louisiana. Brenda and Doyle are active in the association – Brenda was recently elected to an “at large” Director position within the group. Brenda says that their membership in GCICA has played a big part in their fascination with the old iron. Brenda says, “the people are absolutely the best and have a wealth of knowledge and wisdom when it comes to cast iron. The conventions and chapter meets are the place to see rare and unique pieces of cast iron that you won’t see anywhere else.” Brenda has a deep and true connection to the iron. She told me, “I fully believe that preserving, using, and learning about cast iron should be done by everyone and we who are members of GCICA are ambassadors of that endeavor.”
Brenda and Doyle’s interest in cast iron cookware began when they bought a few pieces from Cracker Barrel and began using them for cooking. They had heard about the vintage pieces and the Griswold name. One day they were following an online auction, and their interest was piqued by a Griswold Square Utility skillet. They “bid like crazy” and won it.
After they won the pan they started doing some research, and concluded that they likely paid too much (as happens when you get caught up in cast iron auction excitement), but they loved that pan. They could see the difference between their modern cast iron cookware and the vintage piece. They appreciated the quality and workmanship, and the fine feel of the old iron. They began educating themselves about vintage cast iron, which led to an even greater appreciation for the vintage pieces.
That one pan led to another, and then another. In their five years of collecting they have acquired about 500 pieces – that averages out to 100 pieces a year, if you’re counting. They have traveled (in the semi, of course) to larger cast iron auctions in Missouri, Illinois, and Kentucky. They also have picked up pieces at the GCICA national conventions, and at local auctions. Doyle does the cleaning and seasoning of all of the pieces they acquire via lye bath and electrolysis. Brenda takes before and after photographs of each piece and enters information about each into an inventory sheet that she has created using an excel spreadsheet.
Their iron collection consists primarily of cookware. Doyle has a particular affinity for waffle irons, and Brenda for gem pans. They don’t collect cookware to the exclusion of other types of iron, however; they also have such odds and ends as coin banks, string holders, and a few apple peelers. Brenda also collects Holstein cow items – their kitchen is filled with them. She even has a few cast iron Holstein cows! While their main focus is cookware manufactured by Griswold, they also have pieces by other manufacturers. Brenda told me that while it is hard to pick favorites from the collection, if she had to choose three, she would pick their Griswold four-paddle hotel waffle iron, Griswold #1 Vienna roll pan, and their Griswold rabbit extender.
Doyle and Brenda don’t just collect and display their iron, however; they also put it into use. Doyle is the cook; Brenda is the baker. She likes to bake cakes, bread, and desserts.
Brenda told me that her dream and her goal is to bake something in each and every one of their vintage cake, bundt, and gem pans.
She has her work cut out for her.
Doyle likes to find recipes from “America’s Test Kitchen” and try them out. He is always trying something new, and he likes to eat almost as much as he likes to cook. Brenda says “sometimes” she gets to make a side dish, though the cook in the family is Doyle. They don’t have a favorite pan, though at the moment they really like their vintage Wagner chef’s skillet. Their “go-to” vintage cast iron pans for cooking are their #3, #8, and #12 skillets and a #8 dutch oven.
I don’t know how I learned of Doyle and Brenda’s cooking and baking talents. It may have been through a Facebook group that I belong to called “Black Iron Cooking, Antiques, and Humor.” Each week the group runs a contest for a prize that is donated by other members. In the contest, people submit mouthwatering photos of some delectable dish they’ve whipped up in cast iron, and a winner for that week is determined by the number of “likes” on the photo. I started seeing some dandy submissions from Doyle on the page some time ago. See below for a selection of just some of the dishes that Doyle has posted on the Facebook page. I don’t know about you, but now I’m hungry.
I have followed the page and seen enough submissions from folks that they kind of run together in my mind. But what I vividly remember and what really stood out to me were some fantastic cakes made in cast iron cake molds submitted by Doyle to the page. They were true masterpieces. I asked them the next time I saw them whether it was Doyle or Brenda who made and frosted these beautiful cakes. It is Brenda. Brenda and Doyle won the “Black Iron Master” Facebook contest twice, with these two beautiful cakes made by Brenda.
Brenda learned how to frost cakes from a family member some years back. She also admits to having picked up some tips from the television show “Cake Boss.” Accomplice Linda has sought out Brenda on more than one occasion to solicit tips and advice on how to successfully make a Griswold Lamb cake (see my blog post about Linda’s efforts here), but Linda has yet to make a cake that even comes close to the “Brenda” standard. In fact, I have yet to see a cake made from a Griswold cake mold that even approaches the “Brenda” standard. I’ve seen photos on the web from other bakers and have even seen an awesome site on the web that has featured photos of Easter lamb cakes made in aluminum molds, but nothing I’ve seen to date compares to Brenda’s beautiful cakes.
Brenda was kind enough to write instructions for the blog on how to make her beautiful cakes; that post is coming soon. Thank you, Brenda. And thank you, Doyle and Brenda, for letting me write this little blog post about you and your beautiful collection of vintage cast iron!