SOUTHERN WEEKEND: The Fry Pan

This has been an emotionally-draining roller-coaster of a holiday weekend, dear ones. Of course we went over the river and through the woods to my brother’s house — seriously, the man lives in the depths of Piney Woods, North Florida, far from any sort of civilization or 4g service — and that was lovely. Approximately 2 million Weight Watcher points were consumed. And that was just me. 
But after that, things went a bit south on the mental-stability front. We visited my mom in the Memory Care Facility, and she predictably did not recognize any of us. She’s on the very edge of non-verbal now; she said “good” once. But she is safe, warm and fed, and she receives medical care. At this point, that’s really all Brother and I can do for her. I cried copiously, and we left.
After that, the gaiety continued with a visit to my childhood home. The grownups did the heavy lifting of sorting through years of accumulated stuff (the itinerary from my senior band trip in April, 1978, Mother? Really?) but this was the chance for the granddaughters to come see if there were any mementos they wanted to take. Each one found a little something that reminded them of Mammaw and Granddad-Honey, and they left feeling nostalgic. One of them found my old baton, and I spent the time in the back yard, doing front hand spins and little Joes and trying not to think.
Here’s the old home place:

  
But I did take one more thing with me when I left my childhood home, and it is something that any true Southerner would have made sure did not get left behind. I got my daddy’s cast iron skillet. It doesn’t look like much — a 16 in diameter, 3 inch deep cast iron pan, suitable for fish dinners and my momma’s good old fashioned fried chicken. And baby, you better believe it has seen its share of such bounty. Many, many is the time Momma or Daddy stood over that pan, hotter than a July corncob pipe, and fried up delicacies known to generations of Southern gourmets (and gourmands, for that matter).
The pan brings back a lot of good memories, and I can’t wait to start frying up some good times of my own. But the pan has been sitting for a long time, getting dusty and dirty, and it needs a good cleaning. The problem is, soap and water are the natural enemies of good cast iron — that whole thing with rust, ye ken? 
So after scrubbing my pan with hot water, Dawn detergent, and a good stiff brush, I’m going to have to bring back that lovely black patina that makes cast iron such a killer cooking surface, in a process called seasoning. If you, like me, have a pan to restore, or (poor thing!) you had to buy your own pan at the store, here’s what you need to know.
Begin with a clean, dry cast iron pan. Heat oven to 300 degrees. 
Rub your cast iron down with a paper towel soaked in good-grade vegetable oil — I use LouAna canola oil, but Crisco is good too. Don’t be skimpy. You want to really coat it well, inside and out. Put the pan in the oven upside down, with a piece of aluminum foil underneath to catch drips. Now just let it cook for an hour and a half.
My pan: post-seasoning:

  
When you take it out, you will have a very rudimentary version of the black surface you’re looking for. Go ahead and use your pan, as often as you can, but clean it ONLY by wiping with a damp cloth. As the years go by, you will get a surface that is as stickproof as teflon, and the pan will be the best, most evenly heating cookware you will ever find.

If you don’t believe me, check with any good old Southern granny — they’d give you their firstborn before they’d hand over their cast iron fry pan!

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