Memories of My Mother's Cast Iron Skillets
My mother swore by her cast iron skillets, her dutch oven, and her collection of spices and seasonings. Teflon? "Get that cheap stuff out of my kitchen, and I mean now," she said one year when my father (inadvertently) brought home a new Teflon frying pan to cook his breakfast eggs in. I think he got it at K-Mart. We'll never know.
Mom was a World War II bride, and she raised my father and my two brothers and myself and made sure none of us ever went hungry. That was quite a feat given how much my father made at the time. But somehow we never felt poor. We actually felt blessed and safe.
But mother, being a 1950's stay-at-home mom, had her collections of kitchen cookware that she swore by. She had what I remember being about a one gallon dutch oven that she made homemade stews and spaghetti sauce in. Man, that thing was heavy. But she swore by it, and to this day, I swear by her scratch spaghetti sauce recipe.
Then she had a collection of cast iron frying pans. There was what we called the "chicken fryer" pan; a deep full-size skillet that she used to fry chicken in. She had an aluminum lid that fit it perfectly that she used to keep the grease from splattering all over the stove.
Cooking with Mother: She Never Measured Anything
Then there was her regular everyday cast iron skillet that she cooked everything (and I mean everything) in: hamburgers, meatloaf that she baked in it in the oven, fish, pork chops that we all loved, cinnamon rolls, you name it. Mom's pork chops were my favorite. We grew up in Iowa, and that's pork country, and my dad knew this little butcher shop that he'd drive 20 miles to on a weekend to get just the cuts he wanted.
Mom didn't get fancy when she cooked. She was in the business of keeping a tidy house, and putting three squares on the table seven days a week for a family of five. But her pork chops were a masterpiece. It started with a heaping tablespoonful of lard, a blazing hot cast iron skillet, salt, pepper, chopped onions, and the best garlic seasoning she could find, even when she tried growing it in the backyard garden one year.
Mom would start supper about 4:00 in the afternoon. Dad would get off work at 5:00, and he'd come in the back door about 5:15 or so. Mother would have us all at the table by 5:30. After supper, my brothers and I went outside to play (after we took turns drying the dishes which mom washed), and dad would settle into his chair in the living room to read the afternoon newspaper (the Des Moines Tribune).
Years later, when I settled down and started a family of my own, we didn't have much money, and the kitchenware we got was cheap, but it got us started. it wasn't cast iron, and it didn't last long. Then I started buying my own cast iron cookware collection. That was 30 years ago, and my very well used skillets and my own chicken fryer are in better shape today than they were the day I bought them.
I don't do anything special to take care of them. I wash them like I do everything else, but I always dry them with paper towel and put them on the stove and heat them up to get rid of all the water and make sure they don't rust. Once in a while I may take a paper towel and some vegetable oil and polish the cooking surface of the skillets. I store them in the oven. It's too much trouble getting them into and out of the kitchen cupboard under the counter. After all this time, the cast iron cooking surfaces are smooth as glass, and a joy to cook with.
Non-Stick Cast Iron Cooking
I swear cast iron is the original non-stick cookware. The more you use it, the better it gets. Now don't get me wrong. I've been through my share of other frying pans too. Teflon has it's place and is undoubtedly a wonderful thing. Just keep it out of my kitchen.