Of Basements, Skillets, and Aging

Having grown up in a house with an unfinished basement (and by unfinished, I mean a small stream runs through it along the earthen floor), I’ve always associated sub-levels with cobwebs, spiders, silverfish and mold. Consequently, I spend little time in my own cellar, in spite of its flashy concrete floor and Mr. P’s routine blitzkriegs on any potential troglodytic squatters. My exceptional post-holiday venture downstairs to deposit packed up decorations normally involves heaving boxes as far into the abyss as possible from the bottom step in an attempt to avoid brushing up against web-wrapped pipes that hang at 5’4″(at 5’6″, I’m unable to stand at more than a 45 degree angle without compromising my web buffer zone).

During this last descent, however, I discovered that my chuck-and-run technique had transformed my originally delightfully barren basement into the set of a cathartic and trope-laden Steven Spielberg WWII film. Billy the Kid and I immediately suited up with caps and bandana masks, pulled our socks up over our trousers, and went in armed with garbage bags, fly swatters and our vacuums (one real and one popper). Few items met the have-we-used-it-in-a-year challenge, and much was tossed. But as always, a handful of misplaced friends was recovered, among which was the brand new cast iron frying pan I purchased last summer for a camping trip that fell through. It wound up in a box, under a couple of sleeping bags, along with my intent to season it and incorporate it into my cookware.

As I type, my new vessel is enjoying an hour in a 350 degree oven, after being rinsed, dried and generously greased with Crisco. I’ll pour off the grease after and wipe it out with a cloth before cooling it completely, and then repeat the entire process twice more to achieve the perfect initial seasoning. This process of seasoning your cast iron, coupled with proper care, is imperative unless you’d like to enhance the flavor of your dishes with a hint of soapy-steel-wool.

I assume I’ve conveyed my abhorrence for improper food handling as well as my borderline hypochondria regarding raw chicken over the past few months, so I hope you’ll trust me when I forbid you to clean your cast iron with soap. No matter what you cook in it, a thorough scrubbing with a stiff nylon brush and a good scalding with boiling water is the appropriate way to clean your pan. If this concept renders you unable to eat food cooked in it, feel free to execute as many grease-and-bakes as necessary to ease your mind. Having worked in the burger industry as a teenager, I have first-hand confidence in the germ-fighting power of 350 degree oil, as well as a splatter of tiny scars on my right wrist. Dry your pan immediately after rinsing with a cloth (a paper towel will leave behind a film of fluff), and store it in a place insusceptible to summertime grease ant invasions.

It seems to me that cookware care, like gray hair and thermostat fascism, is a concern that often correlates with age, but if you get started right now, you’ll have an inheritance-worthy skillet by the time you’re an AARP member. Lest anyone glean a whiff of ageism from the previous statement, let me clarify: as soon as my card arrives in a few decades, a celebratory round of sherry is on me.

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