We're going back out on the road in
a little less than a week. Dulcimer? Check. CD
inventory? Check. Iron Frying Pan? Oh, you better believe --
Check! The dulcimer and the CDs are tools of my trade, but that old black
skillet is an important part of our life.
The pan once belonged to my
grandmother; Meemaw, we called her. It's at least 50 years old and
probably a decade or two (or more) older than that. It's been lovingly,
properly, cared for over the years ... if you know how to care for cast iron
cookware, then you know what "proper care" entails: we never
use soap to clean it. If you don't understand how to care for these
utensils (or if you happen to work for the health department) you probably
think this sounds pretty gross. But this treatment helps to season the
pan and contributes to its non-stick properties. Every year, before we go
on the road, I take time to re-"season" the pan by giving it a good
scrubbing, coating it with a thin sheen of peanut oil and then placing it in a
200° oven for a couple of hours; this accounts for the shine you see in the
I can't even imagine trying to
figure the number of meals I've consumed that have been prepared with that
pan. Nowadays I stir-fry a lot of vegetables, occasionally fix bacon or
sausage, and it's my go-to for certain Cuban dishes.
I make a mean corned beef hash with
it, and there's a funny story associated with the hash: When my brother and I
were little, we used to spend many weeks during the summer with our
grandparents in Brooksville, Florida. Mind you, we called our Brooksville
grandmother "Mimi," and though she was not the owner of this
particular pan, she did have a pan something like it; I imagine that many, if
not most, Southern women of that generation used cast iron cookware.
Among our favorites of Mimi's dishes was corned beef hash, and when we went
back home, we would plead with our mother to make hash. But hers was
never quite as good. I hope I didn't hurt her feelings by telling her
that it wasn't "quite right," and I never could exactly tell her what
was different, but it ... just wasn't the same. As an adult, I tried to
make hash myself, but it just wasn't right ... until this pan came into my
possession. The very first time I made hash with this pan, I discovered
that Mimi's secret ingredient must've been the cast iron pan she used.
Scientifically, it can probably be explained by the evenness with which the pan
conducts heat. I tend to think it must be magic.
The one dish that I've never learned
to make, in spite of possessing the magic pan, is Meemaw's fried chicken.
I know she used this very pan to make her chicken: a perfectly seasoned, golden
brown, crispy yet tender, moist but never greasy masterpiece. I should've
asked her to teach me, but somehow never got around to it.
Scientifically, there's probably a step -- or perhaps two -- that I never
observed and therefore have missed in my own attempts. I tend to think,
though, there was a secret ingredient: Love.
We have to be pretty spare in our
choices of what to take on the road with us. Everything has a purpose,
and if an item can serve multiple purposes, all the better. Like I said
before, the dulcimer and the CDs are tools of my trade. But the old black
skillet serves its purpose as a cooking utensil, as a treasured
"antique," as an heirloom connecting me to my wonderful Meemaw.
All of the memories and all of the love have seasoned that pan, and
consequently memories and love season every meal that is prepared using it.