a wonderful memoir about her
mother's cast iron skillet. I thought about her story when I was leaving my sister's house yesterday and noticed this huge skillet hanging next to the back door.
"Is that the one Ronnie gave you?" I asked.
"Yep," Peggy answered. "I use it all the time -- and I think of Bruno everytime I use it."
Our mother cooked in cast iron. The best biscuits ever made, brown on top and bottom, fluffy in the middle, were baked in her old skillet.
I don't even have a cast iron skillet anymore. I'd cooked in them for years, but never could adhere to the age old rule "never wash them with soap."
Cast iron is bad to rust if you wash them with soap because that washes away all the oil that has permeated the iron so they have to be dried completely before storing.
I'm all into quick and easy so after washing my cast iron, I'd put it on a gas burner, turn it on and dry the pan that way. One day something got stuck so tight I couldn't get it all out with a Brillo pad, so I got the bright idea to boil soapy water in it. Maybe that would loosen the hard cooked food. Oops! I forgot about it, and let it boil away and the soap permeated the skillet. Ruined it.
When I was working at Bruce Flowers, Fred Hill said the pan just needed to be "cured" again, so he took it home and did that for me, but as soon as it heated up, it smelled like burnt soap. I eventually threw it away.
Back in the '70's and ''80's when the first "stainless steel" pans came onto the market, the promoters for those lines would stir around in a cast iron skillet and then dump the loosened particles out onto a piece of paper and say, "And you thought that was pepper in your gravy!" leaving the potential customer with the impression that whatever that was that had come out of the pan -- might - just - kill - you.
I always wondered why that was supposed to be alarming. I'd eaten out of cast iron all my life and I wasn't dead yet.
But I did eventually buy some stainless steel pots and pans. They are much easier to keep clean -- but they don't fry taters like cast iron.
One day, many years ago, Ronnie and I were out walking in our neighborhood . Next to a trash can across the street from Cunningham School, we saw the enormous cast iron skillet.
Ronnie picked it up. "Good Lord! Feel how heavy this thing is."
I checked it out. I was already having trouble with pain in my forearms, so I said, "That's way too heavy for me to use."
"Would Peggy want it?"
"I don't know. I guess we can take it home and call her."
We were at least a mile and a half from our house. We switched off carrying the 14 inch, 10 pound monster, wondering, all the way, why we didn't just lay it down and come back in the car to get it. It's hard to convince yourself, though, that no one else is going to want your "treasure" so we persevered.
The Skillet has had some hard times, though. Peggy dropped it and the handle broke off. But her husband, Joe, was able to weld it back on, so it can give a few more years of service.
I don't cook much these days -- but I might have to buy me another cast iron skillet. Lord knows I don't need any fried taters -- but just for old time's sake.