“The cast iron skillet had been seasoned before she was born…”
-Kelly J. Ford
Cast iron skillets aren’t like other pans. They aren’t meant to be washed with soap, or replaced when they get old. They aren’t meant to be pretty or change with the times. They aren’t trendy. No, just the opposite. They are meant to age into matriarchs of families, where they hold all the secrets of every ingredient ever tasted. They hold onto the smallest morsels, and carry memories with their lingering specks of cornmeal.
My grandmother had a lot of mouths to feed when the family came together. I was blessed by a family flowing with aunts, uncles, and cousins. Oftentimes, “Mamaw” would make a huge pot of beans and serve it with a cast iron cornbread; inexpensive, but so delicious. She taught me that cornbread should always be made in cast iron. It keeps the edges crispy, and the cake perfectly held together; and of course holds in the unmistakable flavor that gets better every time. It’s made on the same surface as her famous seared pork chops and buttermilk-battered chicken, almost undetectable influences from both dishes lingering in the depths of the pan. This was the beginning of my love affair with the cast iron; the makings of a great romance.
Now I watch my own daughter, Eleanor, named for the cast-iron grandmother, make her own rendition of smores in the 8-inch pan, while I reminisce about learning to make sausage gravy and biscuits in it. Then we move on to the 10-inch version of the pan, perfect for serving up Chicken Pot Pies. But whatever we put into the heat-holding skillets, we are only adding to the story, building onto that narrative that is our family story.
I share this story with you in hopes you will start your own. We keep photo albums to pass down what we’ve seen, videos to include what we’ve heard. The homes we grew up in hold all the smells, and a ragged old teddy bear, the touch. But it is only in cast-iron that we may pass down what we have tasted, the memories baked in so hard, they can never ever leave.