Tears and Laughter: Iron skillets…

She held it like she would have held a baby before she handed it to me. The handle rested in her left hand and her right hand supported its bottom.

She explained that no matter what, I should never submerge it in water adding, “It’ll stick forever if you do.”

She said, “All you have to do is just wiped it out with a little oil every time you use it, to keep it seasoned.”

This was not the first skillet she had given as a gift. She gave them to all of her granddaughters, and a couple of grandsons too.

She placed value on them.

Anytime she noticed that a new bride received an iron skillet as a shower gift she would nod in satisfaction saying, “Well, at least we know they will never starve.”

There are functional reasons why we use iron skillets, like how they clean easy and last a lifetime, and how they distribute heat evenly. But mostly, it is because we remember our mothers and our grandmothers using them.

Southern cooks tend to believe that the best iron skillets are the old ones because they think the old ones absorbed some of the love from the hands that held the hot handle day after day, meal after meal.

Sometimes when I am cooking I think about what it would be like if our great-grandmothers could share a meal with us today. What it would be like to show them all of the modern appliances that would have made their often difficult domestic lives so simple.

Southern cooks used to place more importance on midday meal. It was not just about the food. It wasn’t just lunch.

It was a reprieve from the day.

It was about having a wide selection of cookbooks to flip through. And it was as much about meaningful conversation and interesting gossip as it was eating.

They also knew there is no reason to even heat the oil to fry catfish if they weren’t going to take the time to make homemade hushpuppies. And they knew one iron skillet is not enough for any kitchen.

Even the occasional cook needs a minimum of two – a big one that is multi-functional and used frying chicken or salmon patties or okra while the other, a smaller one, is used just for baking cornbread.

I don’t think without a pone of cornbread resting to the side on its own plate that anyone would have ever bothered to shell butterbeans. It just wouldn’t have been worth the effort.

But once you have cornbread alongside boiled corn and sliced tomatoes and young turnips, cooked tender with onions and seasoned bacon, you enter a whole new realm of dining.

If we could somehow meet somewhere in the space between spirit and reality to have dinner with our great-grandmothers, I guess cornbread would have to be on the menu as well as fried chicken, butterbeans, sweet tea, and pound cake.

We could sift through the years like flour, tossing around memories, celebrating the latest babies and accomplishments.

They just wouldn’t believe this digital, instant age we live in that has simplified our lives in so many ways and helps keep us connected.

But then again…they probably wouldn’t believe how tightly we still hold on to their old iron skillets either.

Amanda Walker is a columnist with The West Alabama Watchman, Al.com, The Thomasville Times, and The Wilcox Progressive Era. For more information, visit her on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/AmandaWalker.Columnist.