Saturday, November 13, 2010

These Are A Few Of My Favorite Things: My Cast-Iron Cookware

I've been mulling beginning this feature for some time. In Tom Robbins' book "Still Life With Woodpecker," (which will be a future "My Favorite Thing"), Robbins discusses objects. He points out that a dime-store philosopher would say that your stuff owns you-- that you orient your life toward keeping stuff-- but our stuff has the magic we impart to it. For example, the piece of the Berlin Wall that I have safely stashed away has value to me not only because it's a piece of history, but the fact that my friend Mark, who was murdered four years ago, broke the piece off for me during a back-packing trip through Europe in 1990, only months after the wall came down. It's cool to have a piece of history, and it's a keepsake of one of the best and most important friendships I've had in my life.

This new feature is also based on a conceit: that people who read this blog give a shit about my life. I think that this is pretty much an assumption between the bloggers who read one anothers' blogs.

One of the things I've thought about for my future is the possibility of purchasing an Airstream, maybe renovating and updating an old one, vacationing in it, and maybe even living in it as I get older. This would, of course, entail condensing my life, my stuff in particular, down to a minimum. I've frequently thought of how I would do this. If you had to essentially reduce your belongings to one or one and a half rooms, what would you do?

A computer, with a large hard drive would enable one to bring along tons of movies. An internet connection would increase it further. A Kindle would knock the number of books down considerably-- maybe 30 or so physical books (I'd have to have a copy of "Still Life," being as much as a totem or talisman as a book to me).

What about cookware? In "Kitchen Confidential," Anthony Bourdain correctly points out that a cook really only needs a couple of good knives. A decent set of pans, and of course plates, bowls and flatware. But one of the things I will not do without, despite it's weight and bulk, is my cast-iron cookware.

Cast-iron cookware is one of those things in life that is rare: it actually improves with increased use. You "season" it-- basically burning oil onto it in order to fill the spaces between the iron molecules with carbon molecules-- and with each time you use it, being careful to clean it with little or no soap, in order to keep from washing the seasoning off-- it becomes better. Each layer of carbon you cook onto it makes it stick less. The cast iron spreads the heat, making anything you cook on it cook evenly-- the heat is not concentrated right over the flame like in lesser cookware (aluminum-- I'm talking to you!).

The pan that is right and front has a history. I remember seeing the three-pan set for only ten bucks in the Ace Hardware on Lincoln and Diversey (despite the gentrification that overran it, it's still there, right by Delilah's, one of Chicago's only remaining punk clubs). It had to be right around 1992. I had no car, so I had it on the bus, along with a couple of picture frames-- the kind with the clips on it. I remember oiling and heating the pan, along with the other two pans in the set, which were smaller. I had to open the window in my kitchen, since the burning oil was billowing out of the stove.

That pan is one of my favorites; it has a nice thick handle that doesn't heat up too much. It's also large, making it perfect for cooking up a couple of turkey burgers, making hash browns or cooking up turkey bacon, all without burning the food.

The set is a Wagner set. The company went out of business since I bought the set, but another company has begun manufacturing it again. I plan on buying a set for my son after I finish nursing school; this will let us get it reasonably seasoned before he takes them off to college.

The pan to the right and back was from a co-worker, who'd bought a set a while back. I seasoned the set and have used the big pan a lot. I'm not crazy about it though; the handle is thin, and heats up a lot. I don't think this one will make it to the Airstream.

The big griddle probably will. I had another one that my mother had sent me, but it's been missing since our kitchen renovation a couple of years ago. It's possible it went to Goodwill by mistake. It's also possible it's in a box, buried in my basement. In any event, a while back, Aldi's had them on sale for only $14.99. They're awesome-- a flat griddle on one side, for pancakes, burgers, etc. The other side has ridges, so you can cook a steak to perfection. I bought two of them, and alternate using them. This way, when my son goes off to college, I'll have a one perfectly seasoned griddle for me, and one for him, along with the Revereware pans I grew up cooking with-- given to me by my mother and like all well-made stuff still in perfect condition.


Churlita said...

I love griddles. I own one and use it all the time.

Erik Donald France said...

Hey man, I love it ~ the idea, the concept, and the deets. It's all good.

Less is more in living spaces, certainly.

SkylersDad said...

I am really looking forward to this series!

Mnmom said...

Love my cast iron! I mostly use it on the grill or campfire - don't know why I don't use it in the house. I got a groovy little hot pad that slips onto a cast iron pan handle and works like a charm. Your preseasoning ideas for your son will be much appreciated someday.

Pat Tillett said...

I have some friends who restored an old airstream. They take it everywhere. they talked about living in it full time, but decided that they couldn't find room for all the things they want around them. You are right, about only keeping what is essential. I'm not sure if i could do it. but I'd like to try.

As to the pans. You are so right! Very even heat and easy to cook on and clean up. My granny had her griddle and two frying pans for most of her life. they were a gift from her mom. I don't know what happened to those pans, but I would have liked to have them.

great post! You made me do some last post was about Kindle. It can save a tremendous amount of space.

LegalMist said...

I Love my cast iron pan and dutch oven. Need to get a nice cast iron griddle...