I went to make funnel cakes last night and wanted to use the smaller cast iron pan I own. It had been hanging on it’s hook for a few months, and we had not used it for quite some time. However, when I turned the pan around, there was a big circle of rust in the middle of my pan.
I showed it to my husband. He had no idea how it had happened, especially such a perfect circle of rust where the seasoning was gone. It was a puzzle.
I cleaned it up and jumped on Facebook to lament about having to re-season the pan, wishing I could just remove all the seasoning and start over, making it a fresh start. Someone suggested I throw it in the oven with the self-cleaning cycle on – which it was due for anyway. So I popped the pan into the oven, turned on the cleaning cycle, and tried to think good thoughts.
After seeing the results, I knew *exactly* how the event had occurred. We had put the pan on the stove to cook something, left it on the stove and then forgotten about it. Luckily the house didn’t burn down, but the pan was smoking. I told my husband to just put it in the oven and let it cool down naturally. And then we forgot about it.
There is something deeply satisfying about taking care of a cast iron pan. It’s a link to the past, which seems to have skipped a generation in my family. You see, I don’t remember my mother ever having a cast iron skillet. She preferred her Revereware set with the copper bottoms, and I don’t think she owned anything cast iron at all.
It’s funny the things I remember about her kitchen. She had a set of colored Pyrex bowls, the largest being the yellow bowl, and the smallest being a blue bowl. I had named them – Potato salad, cookies, pudding, and Jell-O, for the things my mother made the most often in them. She gave them to me when she sold her house, and I still have Potato Salad and Cookies (Yellow and Green). Pudding and Jell-O were missing in action before I got them.
She had all the Pyrex casserole dishes, the turquoise on white Butterprint set, She had lots of Tupperware – the plastic Pancake batter bowl, the large white 12 cup bowl (in which her famous Potato Salad would be brought to many a family picnic) and the 8 cup bowl (for storing cookies), and endless amounts of juice cups, salt and pepper shakers, and freezer storage bowls. Oh, and the rolling mat for making pie crusts on.
She was also fond of kitchen gadgets. She bought electric skillets, popcorn poppers, convection cookers, electric hotdog cookers, steamers – mostly things she thought would save her time.
Now that I think about it, everything in her kitchen was about convenience. When instant mashed potatoes became available, she was a convert. Instant rice, instant pudding, boxed macaroni and cheese – she was mad for things that took less time to cook. The microwave oven was a Godsend to her, even though she did little more than reheat leftovers and make baked potatoes in hers. I don’t blame her, she really just wasn’t all that interested in cooking. At least, not in the same way I was.
It’s not surprising that she wouldn’t have a cast iron skillet. Cast iron takes attention. Cast iron needs loving to be kept useful and clean. You can’t just throw the cast iron into the sink with soapy water and soak the stuff off – you have to attend to it carefully and quickly so that stuff doesn’t get baked on in the first place. My grandmother had a cast iron skillet. She used it, she loved it. It was her weapon of choice in the fight against family hunger – and occasionally against the family. No, I tease. She threw knives instead.
I have my cast iron, and I have the two Pyrex bowls. I have a little bit of Tupperware, including a rolling mat of my own. I discovered Pampered Chef and have the glass batter bowl, which is less likely to melt if it comes in contact with a hot pan (as mom’s Tupperware bowl did as it met it’s fate on the stove one morning) I have a couple of Reverware saucepans (hot cocoa and soup, or the 1 quart and the 2 quart pans). I’m not really tied to one thing, although I suspect a lottery win would find me at the nearest Sur la Table.
No, the one thing I seem to stick with is the cast iron. It’s sort of a metaphor, I suppose. It’s not pretty and light – it’s heavy, sturdy with purpose. It’s not fancy and shiny – it’s plain, glistening with the sweat and oil of a thousand dinners. It’s not decorative. It’s just meant to slowly gain heat and retain it, evenly cooking your food, and then be quickly cleaned and oiled again, ready to be used once more.
As my grandmother once said to me, “It’s a damn good thing you’re such a good cook. Remember, looks don’t last – cooking do!”
I guess she thought I was the cast iron pan in our family.