Another round of Outdoor Retailer is over. You can get a reservation at a downtown restaurant again and don't have to skirt the center of town when you're driving east to west. All the gadget mongers hawking the latest equipment with which to better enjoy Utah's beautiful outdoors have gone home and we're left to enjoy our beautiful outdoors, with or without the most up-to-date shoes, water bottles, carbiners and clothes.
Some outdoor equipment, though, is eternal. Like a Lodge cast iron skillet.
(iron skillet, ca. 1971)
When I left home at the age of 17, my mother gave me a Lodge cast iron frying pan. I've told that story before. In fact, I told it the last time Outdoor Retailers were in town.
Although over the years, I've acquired a nice (for a poor amateur) collection of beautiful copper pans, it's my iron skillet I routinely reach for. It hangs there from the pot rack with the expensive copper, looking like an ugly duckling. The copper gets polished on the inside and outside. The iron skillet gets rubbed with salt and occasionally soap on the inside and I probably haven't actually scrubbed the outside in years. I use it camping, I use it at home, I use it to fry, simmer, bake, roast and boil.
It's the universal pan.
So I was peeved, awhile back, to read a blog by Sonia Saraiya, an "ex-foodie," (Whatever that is. Does the term means she doesn't eat??) dissing the cast-iron skillet.
I have had a lot of mental arguments with Sonia, most of them rebutting her subtitle, "Why I think caring about food is a way of saying you’re just looking for ways to waste your time until you die."
(Like, if you're NOT caring about food, you might as well BE dead.)
But the cast-iron skillet spiel stuck in my craw. Sonia said: "I bought a cast-iron skillet at HomeGoods, on a whim, because I felt like I needed one. Everyone in the food world is always jizzing all over cast iron skillets. Benjamin’s <her erstwhile boyfriend> family had a whole array of them that they’d had since his parents were married. It was gross but it was also so captivating, this idea that life could be so solid, that a marriage could be encapsulated in a set of cookware. His parents both used them on a regular basis, and they were smooth with years of use, seasoned to perfection."
Then she reveals the embarrassment of the skillet she bought, which because she says right out front it embarrasses her, is supposed to be endearing, not embarrassing: "The skillet is an Emeril brand skillet, which does embarrass me, because, Emeril? Come on. But it claimed to be pre-seasoned (lie), and was only 12 dollars (don’t tell me how much cheaper I could have gotten it for, please). I waffled over it for a while, but I bought it."
Then she trashes it as a cooking utensil: "So, yes: It is versatile. You’re less likely to be anemic when you cook on cast-iron, because you actually eat the iron. It’s good for hitting intruders with. <True.>But it gets really hot, so you can’t like, hold it all the time. And it’s so not nonstick. It is the opposite of nonstick. It is STICK. There were instructions on the Emeril paper label for seasoning it. They didn’t work. After a few initial apparently successful attempts, the skillet developed some kind of gel-like coating on the bottom, part vegetable oil, part congealed animal fat, part rust. But the coating meant it wasn’t STICK, so I cooked on it for a while, but then it was disgusting, so it got put into a cupboard or the oven and forgotten about."
Here I throw up my hands, with oven gloves on. Sonia, Sonia.
Iron skillets are the best. Buy one at the hardware store or the army-navy surplus store.
If you can't succeed at seasoning one–smear on grease, heat–I fear for your survival skills.
You can cook anything in an iron skillet; possibly the only pan you can say that about. To prove it, Lodge put out another cookbook this year: Get it online from Lodge or at Amazon.com.
But mainly, in cooking, the disgusting bits come attached to the delicious bits.
Lodge, which has been making iron skillets since the 1890s
showed pre-seasoned steel skillets at Outdoor Retailers. They look like a pretty good tool, but I wouldn't go for a trade-in.
Here's my Mother's recipe for upside-down cake, made in a cast-iron skillet, which is considerably cleaner than mine, Sonia.
Here's how I make it now:
Peel and slice 2 1/2 cups of peaches.
Preheat oven to 350.
Melt 1 cup light brown sugar and 1/2 stick of butter over low heat in a cast-iron skillet. Spread around so the bottom of the pan is covered.
Arrange the peaches on top of the sugar.
Cream 1/2 cup butter and 3/4 cup sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in 1 large egg. Mix 1 1/2 cups flour with 1/2 tsp. salt and 2 tsps. baking powder. Mix 1/2 cup milk with 1 tsp. vanilla. Add flour mixture alternately with milk mixture to egg and butter mixture. Beat until smooth. Spread over top of the peaches.
Bake for about 45 minutes, until cake bounces back when touched with your finger.
Remove from oven and let cool very slightly.
Place a plate over the skillet and with a mighty heave-ho, turn the skillet over so the cake falls out fruit side up on the plate.
You'll want some good vanilla ice cream.