My friend JoAnn texted me last night to let me know about a garage sale for the local Boy Scout troop. I asked her if they had any good stuff:JoAnn: What kind of stuff are you looking for? Me: Nothing really… Just maybe good kitchen stuff … a cast iron skillet … a decent man.. JoAnn: LOL Me: I know the decent ones go fast, but a used one is usually best. JoAnn: They are broke in. Depends on whether or not it is seasoned properly. Me: True … or already rusted out. That’s way too much work. Are we talking about men or a skillet? JoAnn: Both
Momma had the same one all of her life. If she traded it out, I don’t know about it. One thing about a Southern Louisiana Mom is they teach you to how to season one. If you get one new, it’s shiny and heavy, but you have to ‘season’ it well. I actually remember this conversation on how to season cast iron. It sounded like a lot of trouble to my young self, and, of course, me being new-fangled and modern, I wanted to try something new. Why would I go with an old stand-by when I could have some of those fancy vessels that don’t stick at all? Momma’s cast iron was always on the stove. After every use, we were told to oil it a little and put it on the gas heat to dry it. It never got put away. It was always there, ready for cooking.
They are versatile. They can take the heat of an open flame and even be used in the oven or on the ground. I can’t imagine there’s anywhere you can’t cook with one. Their rough, rugged strength is used to cook all of the best food in the world down here in Southern Louisiana. You can see them, bubbling away with seafood, spices and laughter at almost every event. It’s made me start thinking about them again … made me start thinking that I’ve been missing something in my kitchen. Their strong exterior surface seems impenetrable, but it actually takes in moisture from oil and keeps things from burning and sticking if seasoned right. They also give off nutrients like iron to whatever touches their surface. Those new non-stick ones are laced with chemicals that leech into your food and can harm you with long term diseases like heart disease and cancer. But, not these old-fashioned babies. They provide comfort and dependability in their smooth, simple lines and rough smoky edges.
I’ve known women that have found old ones at a cheap price that they took the time and considerable effort needed to clean them of corrosion and re-season the newly revealed surface. It’s a lot of work, but I’ve seen it done. I imagine you also have to have a discerning eye to see which ones are still salvageable underneath and which ones need to be left to die in a corroded grave. I don’t seem to have that eye. I’m much better off finding one new or having a reputable friend help me with the selection. After all, the hope is that it will be there for a long time providing comfort, heat and stability. It’s not a choice I take lightly.
I’ve had a couple through my life. I either didn’t season them properly, or I lost interest because it just wasn’t working in the way I needed it to at the time. I felt like a failure for a long time because I couldn’t find the right one … or I couldn’t keep the right one properly. But, I finally had to realize that I can always learn. I can always look at the way other people handle their heavy cast iron, ask questions and try some new ways. One thing I’ve learned is that you can’t be obsessed with clean. They don’t like soap. They get clean because you can scrub them with a stiff, wire brush, but soap just makes them dry. Trying to keep one too clean removes the bad stuff as well as the good. You have to leave the soft oily surface that has developed over years and years of tender, loving use and that intense burning heat.
It’s the initial seasoning that makes the biggest difference. If you can season them right in the beginning, they respond to continued maintenance. A new one loves hot, smoky oil and intense heat to bring out its best qualities. A little salt helps in the process, too. It may take more than a few times to get it seasoned properly. Once it’s done, though, continued care with regular application of heat and oil will keep it performing the way you want it too. Momma always kept bacon grease on the stove for that purpose. Of course, now that she’s healthier, she uses different oils, but it all works the same. If you ignore it too long like I have in the past, they tend to get rusty. Then, it takes a lot more effort to get them back in shape. It can be done, but why waste that time and energy on one that’s cracked or broken so badly that it can’t contain the ingredients needed in a healthy kitchen.
I asked my friends to send me pictures of theirs. My friend Denise sent me several. She said she loves them. My favorite of hers was a cast-iron tea kettle sitting on a cast iron stove. The stove belonged to her grandparents. They were both very rusty. But I can tell that even though she may not use them for cooking, they have great meaning for her in the memories of days gone by. Sometimes their memory can bring back old times and good times that are as comforting as any warmth they ever provided. My friend Keri sent a picture of hers filled with yummy cornbread, and, even through my friend Nancy doesn’t have hers in South Korea, she couldn’t resist responding to a homework assignment. She sent a picture she found filled some kind of yummy cake or bread. I’m sure it was stirring memories of better times for her, too. They come in specialty types and all sizes. There’s one for everybody, and there may just be one for every occasion.
So, I decided it’s time I got another. A good friend told me where to find them down here. So, I put on my cutest yoga outfit and headed down to the Goodwood Hardware Store in search of one. Surely I could find what I needed. I told the salesperson what I was looking for, and he said they had billions. “Billions,” I laughed. “Oh, boy.” He took me to the room where they kept them, and he asked me what size I wanted. “I think a 10 inch would be perfect for me,” I answered. Sure enough, I found exactly what I needed. On the way out, I noticed they even had outfits to wear while you’re cooking. Maybe I’ll invest in some of that, too. But, I have to get it properly seasoned first. I know this is the first critical step, and I’m going to take it very seriously.
Wait a minute … are we talking about men? …….. Or skillets? 🙂