I was excited when I got my first cast iron skillet….To this day I don’t remember how I acquired it.  I do know that I’ve never had a brand new one, but did have a passed down, flea market or yard sale one. Remembering when growing up, Nanny’s, Memere’s and MaMa’s stoves held the coveted spot for the famous Cast Iron Skillet, and it was always used in some capacity or other.  As a child, it never phased me, but remembered that it was never put away, proudly displayed, and something always yummy adorned the table after cooking with it.  This skillet was so heavy that I could never pick it up, and when used always too hot, only to be told in that discerningly voice not to touch it. Maybe you inherited one from your grandmother or maybe you purchased a brand new one, or received it as a gift of some sort.  Either way, if you treat it right, it will last a lifetime. The Ma’s and Southern cooks know good cooking, the kind that crackles and crisps and spatters, the cast iron skillet absorbs and retains the high heat source, and instead of cooling down when you throw in a steak, it creates a crispy-well seasoned piece of protein.

 

Iron skillets are reliable, long lasting and ruggedly handsome. They are just as handy for frying a plate full of bacon as they are for a gooey, sticky skillet cake.

The cast iron pan is the pan that rivals all pans and elevates any kitchen experience as a practical and stunning one-of-a-kind kitchen tool and appliance.  It’s a true workhorse and force to be reckoned with in any kitchen and no other pan even comes close to its league. It touts superior non-stick qualities of a smooth surface for foods requiring more finesse like fried eggs or skillet cornbread, for when “plopped out” leaves no crumbs behind, surprisingly it has a tendency to handle anything from breakfast to entrees to desserts,  basically it CAN handle anything…Beloved by cooks for their ability to impart flavors, these family heirlooms are often misunderstood. There is a very intimate understanding about how these basic, yet fickle, pans work. Maybe that’s because there are a whole lot of myths and warnings that you’ll hear when cast iron comes up in conversation. Don’t let a drop of water touch your pan!, Never ever ever use soap!  Acid is your enemy! and so on, and on.  It’s enough to scare you away from ever using it.  As long as you are keeping it well seasoned and rust free, they are easy to maintain, and quite versatile.

These extraordinary skillets have the ability to hold high temperature, has superior non-stickiness and an ease of cleaning, no need of separate parts to break so they maintain their durability.  Food browns beautifully, it can be used as a grill, comes in many size and shapes. It’s versatility as being used can be utilized on the stove, in an oven or an open fire and can be used as a weapon!…(Hummm).  I also see it used as Bicep curls, Clonking someone, Nut cracking, Ending a romance, Breaking stuff, Stopping burglars a-la-home-alone thing, Frying chicken, Working on two handed tennis…alone, Crust less pies, Throwing one at the crows?

Relatively inexpensive, for example, a 12 inch lodge skillet can be found at Wal-Mart for $15.00, these special cooking apparatus endure years and years of abuse and use.

In terms of Cast Iron, it has been found to have been used for thousands of years. The first impressions are known to have been invented in China in the 6th Century BC.  Conducive to American tradition over the past hundred years, the art of cast iron has been revived.  Food52.com tells us that the entire skillet making process requires 4 steps and incredible amount of human labor and time.

1. Casting…Created from sand molds into which molten iron (at ridiculous heat 500` to 700`) is poured into by men actually churning and maneuvering the large buckets.  From there machines shake the sand off and sent to be grounded down by Foundry men. Noted as well was that the iron is recycled from real old railroad ties. Here you go, Recycling 101.

2. Machining…Craftsmen who sand and smooth the skillet to remove the roughness.

3. Polishing…Process where a pneumatic brush touches up and added with a sandpaper bath prepares for seasoning.

4. Seasoning…in the old days, a Flaxseed oil or a Grape seed oil treatment bathe the skillet to greatness which, used for their properties to such surfaces completed the greatness of the skillet, recently, Beeswax has been added because it’s good for darkening.

So, once you get to using an iron skillet, building muscles in your arms lifting it, and realizing its value cooking with it, you’ll wonder like I did, “Why it was not the first thing I should have bought for my first home?”  It is a solid, dependable thing that every serious cooks needs, and with care it will last forever. You don’t want to buy one casually, since it’s something you could conceivably be giving it to your grand kids someday. In fact, when it comes to cast iron skillets, newer is actually not necessarily better, since it just starts to get better after a few years of regular use.

Oohhh My!  Did I just do a mind Woowie,?  It’s almost like us aging, second time around stuff.

Recipes using your skillet

MaMa’s father was a miner in the Thedford Mines in Canada. How fortunate we are to have this cookbook.

From Miners & Woodcutters Cookbook,  from 1939

Breakfast included Baked beans, Corn biscuits, Buckwheat pancakes with Salt Pork and Molasses

Buckwheat Pancakes (These are favorites of ours)

2 Cups of Buckwheat flour

1 Cup of AP flour

½ tsp. Salt

1 Cup of Buttermilk, plus more in small amounts as needed.

Lastly, mix 1 tbsp. of Baking Soda, dissolved in small amounts of hot water, add to dry mix with Buttermilk slowly until you get pancake consistency.  Mix well. Grease skillet or cast iron griddle with oil, shortening, or butter, when hot, drop by spoonfuls, when edges bubble slightly, turn and cook until brown.

Serve with butter and molasses.

Miners Johnny Cakes  (Skillet Corn Biscuits)

1 Cup AP flour

2 tbsp. Sugar

4 tsp. Baking Powder

½ tsp. Salt

1 Cup of Cornmeal

1 egg, 1 Cup of Milk, 1 Tbsp. Butter

Put all dry ingredients in a bowl, add Egg and Milk slowly into the dry ingredients.  Mix well, add butter. Drop in Cast Iron skillet by spoonfuls, cover with foil, cook on hot Woodstove for 5 to 6 minutes, turn skillet over, your biscuits are upside down, place back in skillet and foil again to retain heat and cook another 5-6 minutes.  Check to see if they are to your done-ness . Serve with butter and molasses.

Happy Fooding and Happy Skillet-ing!

Special thanks to MaMa (Master Chef, Carmen Glidden) for sharing the “Miners Cookbook”, I know that there is a whole new world hiding in the Oquossoc House Restaurant Treasure Box.  Also Food52.com for their insights.

As always, you are most welcomed to drop comments, suggestions, love etc. with  [email protected]  Welcome Summer Guest!…and the last words:

~Pull up a chair. Take a taste. Come join us.  Life is endlessly delicious.~

~Ruth Reichl~