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.