My parents had a cast iron skillet. It wasn’t very big, but many of the meals we had came out of it—eggs, burgers, chicken, steaks, fish, and grilled cheese sandwiches.
The color of pitch, every surface of that pan was so slickly well-seasoned that nothing stuck to it. I have no idea how long they had it, or how long it took to season it, but it was perfection.
A few years after my mother died, my father moved into assisted living. Since he wasn’t going to be cooking there, everything in the kitchen, along with the rest of the apartment, had to be cleaned out. It was difficult to make the choices—what to keep, what to give away, or toss. My brother and I pulled the pan out of a cabinet and stared at it, then looked at each other. It was as though the mere sight of it brought our childhoods back in floods.
We had a lot to go through that day, and left the pan on the stove to finish sorting. It seemed right at the time.
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You can throw a lot into a pan when you’re cooking. Sometimes you plan, and other times it’s whatever you have in the house. The pan, of course, especially if it’s cast iron, has to be seasoned.
Having grown up with a perfect pan, one of the first things I wanted after getting married, was a set of cast iron frying pans. I found a pair the hue of matte pewter, and bought them. When I got them home, I oiled and heated and wiped them down. Then I oiled and heated them again, but nothing I cooked in them tasted right. I didn’t get it. How could my parents’ pan be so magical, and these pans be so completely not….
Then one morning, I decided to fry some bacon and split it between the two pans.
So much depends on what goes in.
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When my brother was in his teens, he’d use our parents’ pan to cook breakfasts for himself. He’d start with eggs, whatever else sounded good—onions, peppers, ham, ketchup, cheese, and throw it all into the blender for a few good whirs before pouring it into the pan. He claimed the results were delicious. I wasn’t convinced.
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My head feels like a blender these days. The spinning jumbles everything in a way that separates and connects without reason, or time to find reason. And, from the whirring, come stray thoughts—about personal space, how our definition of it has changed over the decades, how those changes shape our social interactions, and thoughts about personal and business interactions, those I’ve written off as jerkiness, or, as a former boss used to call it, “Terminal Assholery,” and those I’ve recognized as threats to my safety and well-being. In the mix are thoughts about unwarranted self-righteousness, greed, abuse of power, cruelty, hypocrisy, bigotry, warmongering, unfettered mania, and a dwindling awareness of what is real and what is not. Worst of all, emerging from the slop, is a fear that our collective sense of humor is waning, our ability to laugh, find reasons to laugh.
You can throw too much into a blender.
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There was a day, not so long ago, when my brother and I had begun to gray, that he plied his alchemy with the bounty we bought at a local farmer’s market. This time, he chopped and sautéed, giving each ingredient a chance to express itself, complement others, develop and transform, and used his own favorite pan to create a meal of many flavors which had both of us swooning.
~ ~ ~
My own frying pans are the color of pitch now, just as my parents’ was, and their surfaces are perfectly sealed and seasoned.
But I can’t stop thinking about the pan forgotten on the stove—what went into it, what came out.
And I wish I’d taken it with me.
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