Cast Iron Chronicles: Rescue

Despite growing up in a very Southern household, I never developed an affinity for cast iron cookware. (Don’t revoke my Southern card just yet.) My mother, like many women who married in the ’60s, received a full set of Revere Ware, so most of my childhood kitchen memories involve copper-bottomed steel rather than iron. My grandmothers used iron in the usual ways–to fry chicken or bacon–but it was my mother-in-law’s cornbread pan that I coveted. Mr. Man knew it, so one day came home with a 10″ Lodge pan he bought at a thrift store. My first iron skillet! I promptly cooked something that stuck and was an unholy mess to clean. Plus, it left a rust ring on my counter. Into the dark cabinet it went, forgotten and shunned.

A year or so ago, my MIL gave up her kitchen and moved to assisted living. In the ensuing chaos, I inherited the coveted cornbread pan and another small one as a bonus. Trouble was, they were so coated with gunk on the bottom there was no telling what kind they were or how safe they’d be to cook in. So off I went researching. Jumping from blog to blog, I soon heard the holy names Griswold and Wagner, realized why my first forays into iron cooking failed so miserably and started to wonder just what it was I had under the counter.

Not long after that, Miss Carolyn dragged me to an estate sale and I found, at the bottom of a stack of 1891 Lodge that had never been used, an old pan. I flipped it over and the angels sang. Under the gunk was, distinctly, a large Griswold logo. Score! It was mine for $25. I brought it home to join my other two gunked-up pans, then hit the store for some oven cleaner.

Weeks later, after spraying, scrubbing, more spraying, wearing my arm out scrubbing, and steel wool, I stripped all of them down to the bare metal and unearthed the jewels under the gunk. I am now the proud owner of a No. 9 Griswold slant logo skillet (circa 1909), a No. 6 Wagner Ware (MIL’s magic cornbread skillet) from the 1920s, and a No. 3 Birmingham Stove and Range skillet from the Red Mountain series of the ’30s and ’40s. After reseasoning them with high heat and Crisco, all of them are smooth as glass on the inside and as nonstick as anything coated with chemicals.

2012-08-05 08.32.39The Griswold now lives on the stove instead of in a dark cabinet. I’ve done some reseasoning rescue on Mr. Man’s Lodge, and now it lives in the camping box, ready to go to work. Morning eggs fry up perfectly in the BSR with a tiny pat of butter and slide out so easily I can wipe the pan clean with a paper towel. And yes, I now bake perfect cornbread in my MIL’s skillet.

I am one happy Southern cook!

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