Monday, January 28, 2008

Seasoned

I was washing our cast-iron skillet tonight and noted the surface, which is a little rough. Not sandpaper rough, but it’s not super-smooth. My parents’ two cast-iron skillets—I think they got them for their wedding fifty years ago—have interior surfaces that are the envy of baby’s cheeks, so smooth they are. If you enlarged the cooking surface of one of these pans ten thousand times so that it was 2.36 miles across, the largest imperfection would be the size of a grain of sand. That’s smooth, brother.

Years of cooking for a spouse and five children and uncountable relatives and friends will do that to a pan. Scraping hard steel spatulas across the comparatively softer iron wears slowly away at the dark metal. Mountains of eggs. Continents of tomatoes, zucchini, hamburgers, grilled cheese. How many turns of wrist, how many flips of pancake, to burnish the metal until it becomes that featureless iron plain?

At Weight Watchers we talk about how easy it is to equate food with love and acceptance and how easy it is to make food the shortcut to feeling loved and accepted. And how that’s not the best way to go about things. But look at the evidence of the skillet. How many hours, how many accumulated years spent before that hunk of metal, scraping, scraping, scraping it smooth in order to provide for loved ones? How is that texture not a message of love?

Our pan is new, just four years old or so. The tiny jags in its surface make the steel spatula ring like an old Western Bell telephone when I cook. It’s already incrementally smoother than when I bought it. But I’m in no rush. It’s not about always being able to cook on a perfectly smooth surface. It’s about making the surface smooth.


10 comments:

Amy H said...

Another great post, Bill! And, if I may say, "May your saucepans be smooth." Actually, that would be a good toast.

Magpie said...

Charming.

I'm fond of finding cast iron stuff at garage sales and the like. They tend to be well-seasoned or well on the way.

evenfurtherupstate said...

"The point of the journey is not to arrive." - Neil Peart

wcs said...

Smooth skillets signal successful sojourns, so sauté some salsify, simmer several sauces, singe succulent spinach, savor squid salads, satiate souls, satisfy stomachs, surrender sobriety, and sing.

evenfurtherupstate said...

Great use of alliteration, wcs. I can almost hear the sizzle of the pan as I read your post.

wcs said...

evenfurtherupstate: Sizzle! Of course!

Sizzle sirloin steaks... why didn't I think of that?

Michael said...

I enjoyed the spirit of the post Bill, but as a former chef, blah blah blah, I feel obliged to point out that your parents' pans are not scraped smooth, but are just very well seasoned. That is, your bumpy pan gets smooth by it getting filled with fat, etc., which fills in those crevices over time, making the pan naturally non-stick. There is of course some release of iron from the pan whenever it gets used, but the smoothness is mostly from the cured fats. Sort of like the baby's cheeks. So, don't scrub it so darned hard. It'll get smoother faster. http://housewares.about.com/od/cookware/f/curingcastiron.htm

Bill Braine said...

Of course I seasoned my own pan upon purchase (it came pre-seasoned, in fact, but I did it myself to be sure). The metal surface itself is irregular, while on my parents' pans the surface is super-smooth from years of use.

If your point is that my parents' don't in fact love me, well, touché, sir. Touché.

Claudia in Toronto said...

I deeply enjoy this post. It's so well written and very moving.

I could feel quite guilty about not having a cast iron pan. I don't think my mother had one either. Or I would know, wouldn't I? Well-seasoned love from a supersmooth saucepan, never to be forgotten.
The important words: FROM YEARS OF USE (as you say), whichever symbol we choose to remember our parent's love. Presence, faithfulness, patience, daily attention, doing and redoing...

Keep scrubbing and seasoning, Bill. You were at a good school to learn of love. It's a lifetime job. And (as wcs said) sing...

Barb said...

My father was electrocuted in Vietnam when I was five. One of the few memories I have of him is of his amazing fried shrimp --fried in his cast iron skillets with his secret breading. When those skillets got too heavy for my mom to lift anymore, she gave them to me. (Being the baby of the family gets you some perks, if only to make up for all the cold showers you took after everyone else used all the hot water.) And it's the most amazing thing --everything I've ever cooked in them has been a spectacular success.

I almost never wash mine with soap, though. I wipe them out with paper towels and then I oil them with my fingertips. And yes, they are incredibly smooth from years and years of use. I wish I had been around for more of the years my dad used them. If I close my eyes, I can still smell that shrimp frying.