My cast iron skillet is one of my constant companions in the kitchen. I use it to cook breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Last night I made spaghetti and meatballs in my favorite skillet. It is certainly heavy and most definitely metal so it seemed like the best choice of topics today. I can't say that is was a totally original idea. While pondering the prompt for today I found a lovely charcoal drawing of a cast iron skillet that someone did for their project. But isn't that what this creative workshop is all about? Finding inspiration where you will... especially in the creative works of others? I plan on painting a different portrait of the cast iron skillet, however. My medium is not charcoal but words and food. I love to look at the lore behind this most basics of needs. The cast iron skillet is brimming with lore and I will share a little of it here today.
Cast iron has been around for a long time. Cast iron pots were being used in China as early as the 7th century. They made their way to Europe by the 1700s. They are great for cooking in because they go from kitchen to campfire so well. With proper seasoning you can fry an egg in one, cook a delicious stew, fry some chicken...or just about anything . There are many folkways in the southern United States about the proper ways to season and care for a cast iron cookware.
There isn't much dispute on the proper way to season cast iron. The essential ingredients are oil, heat, and to a certain extent time. When you buy new cookware you have to clean off the protective coating, coat it in a new layer of oil, and then heat it up to create a seal. Most of the debate on this topic centers around the right type of oil. Some say lard, others Crisco and still others use coconut oil.... but basically any oil will do. The last ingredient... time... is simple. The longer you use a cast iron pot the more seasoned it becomes.
Cleaning cast iron is a topic of very "heated" debate. Cleaning methods range from merely wiping it out with an old rag and hanging it on the wall to washing it with soap and water. Supporters of the soap and water approach point out that oil does go rancid eventually... so there is a need to wash it and re-coat it with clean oil occasionally. The White Trash Cookbook suggests using dry cornmeal to rub of the leftover food and oil... it also suggests using that "seasoned" cornmeal for corn cakes. To each his own... but I think I'll sit on the fence on this one. I clean my cast iron pan out using all of these methods... it all depends on the last time I cleaned it and what I made in it last. When I cook meats in it I like to wash it out with soap and water. I don't want to risk getting sick from rancid oil just to have that authentic southern flavor. Hopefully my southern grandma isn't rolling over in her grave.
In addition to it's uses in the kitchen cast iron skillets also have a reputation as an instrument of violence...as murder weapon, instrument of domestic violence, or as home security for those of us southerners too squeamish to pack heat. With that I will leave you with these words from off the Dizzy Gillespie album Jambo Caribe:
Poor Joe... he tried to beat his wife
Poor Joe... he nearly lose his life
Poor Joe... everytime he raised his hand... she knocked him in the head with a frying pan.
Poor Joe... he got up off the floor
Poor Joe... tried to make it for the door
Poor Joe... but she caught him as he ran and knocked him in the head witha fring pan.
Here are a few more photos of metal in the kitchen...
I took the following photos on my way out to the herb garden to gather herbs for dinner. Not exactly a nature walk... but we had storms all day and when I was out walking I wasn't able to take a camera with me. I took several pictures using the prompt heavy metal... garden tools, a horse shoe, and a rusty chain. The other photos are just snap shots of my dogs, the tadpoles that we found in a muddy puddle that are beginning to sprout legs and hop away, and the tomato just a day or so from ripening (my first one this year).