Our family hasn’t handed down many items through the years. However, when my dad passed in 2001, the one item of his that I so wanted to inherit was his cast iron skillet.
I like old things — old cookware especially. So, I was thrilled to have Dad’s old skillet.
I had always wanted a cast iron skillet, perhaps because it’s old-fashioned and potentially historical. When I adopted it, it was black and rough, and I imagined I could still smell the grease from the bacon he’d always fried in it.
Yet because I really didn’t know how to care for it, it slept (if that can be said of a skillet) in my cupboard all those many years. I mostly ignored it, except for occasional bouts of guilt for neglecting it.
A couple years ago, when moving it aside for access to other pans, I realized it was time to season and use it. Online advice stated to put it in a fire — and since we have a campfire pit in our back yard, I did so at what I hoped was the approximate heat required. (Assuming blue, white and orange flames would do.) Left it there overnight.
The next morning it had cooled, but it was covered in grey ash and seemed to be flaking. I thought I had killed it.
Scrubbing couldn’t get it clean. Being sentimental, I could not throw it away, so I greased it and stored it. I felt awful, thinking I’d ruined Dad’s skillet.
It came to mind and was rescued optimistically from the cupboard recently to fry sausage. The sausage tasted great, but what should have been a non-stick surface was obviously not non-stick. I scrubbed and scraped but could not get the cooking surface smooth. I oiled it and stuck it in the oven, with utmost (but naïve) hope.
Later I saw that there was a black, sticky build-up of oil and burnt-on food. Running my fingers over the surface, it felt like tiny, hard bubbles. It seemed like an insurmountable problem, but I did not despair. The skillet and I were rescued by online advice by The Culinary Fanatic that described how to Oven-Off strip and re-season cast iron skillets.
After three rounds and 10 days (of spraying, sealing in plastic, then rinsing) it seemed that I was close to bare metal. Yet with several more steps to go, I was impatient. A steel wool scrub with dish soap, rinse with vinegar and water, then cold water. Then the routine of heating it in the oven, rubbing in Crisco, wiping off Crisco, heating in a hotter oven, then in an even hotter oven for two hours. After cooling, repeat twice.
After several hours, I made it through the first repeat and decided it was done. Or I was done. Either way, it wasn’t quite smooth, but it did finally have a mostly shiny, black patina. Albeit with pits and remaining, scattered baked-on bumps.
First fry — a grilled cheese. Was the taste so amazing because of anticipation or did the cast iron actually improve the flavor? For sure it had a crisp, buttery finish. I wiped it out and later made stir-fried veggies and steak. Final wipe, rub with oil and onto a burner over low heat.
It’s so exciting now to have a properly seasoned cast iron skillet. On the bottom, it is identified as “Favorite Piqua Ware.” They were produced between 1916-1935 by the Favorite Stove and Range Company in Piqua, Ohio.
That cast-iron skillet now is extra special. It was Dad’s, and it is old. Now that I know how to care for it, it can continue to be handed down, well used, cared for and loved.
Susan Anderson lives in Opelika with her husband. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.