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May 28, 2009
Originally published in Prefab's Promise

The entire town of Solomonville, Arizona, heard their bickering, even through the thick walls of their adobe house, and they say that when my great-grandfather left my great-grandmother and lit out for the border in 1898 he was one step ahead of a well-aimed cast-iron frying pan.

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homecooking iron pan

So maybe my reliance on my ten-and-a-half-inch skillet runs in the female line, although I have never lobbed it at anyone. I like it too much.

I’m not sure when that pan entered the family, but I do remember it hanging on one of the barn doors in my parents’ house in Connecticut, as a counterweight. One day many years ago I made off with it, scrubbed away the rust, and put it back in use. Since then I have rarely cooked with anything else. Oh, if I’m making a vat of something, I’ll drag out its daddy, a huge and incredibly heavy 12-inch skillet, also cast iron. But that ten-and-a-half-inch pan is my favorite. These days, it is slick and black, a handsome, substantial thing, totally superior to lighter pans with their silver gleam and suspicious nonstick coatings. It has a pleasing weight in the hand, a lip at either side for pouring, a hole in the handle for hanging in the kitchen—or, as it did for so long, in the barn. If there ever was a maker’s name on the bottom, it has worn off. All that is left is the legend “10-1/2 Inches Made in Taiwan.”

A friend who had used cast-iron pans as a hut boy at a hostel on the Appalachian Trail told me never to wash cast iron with soap, and I never have. A well-seasoned pan is easily cleaned with hot water and, if necessary, a quick pass with a stiff brush. When food does stick, I give the skillet a good soak, attack it with coarse salt or, in dire cases, copper wool, re-oil it, and return it to the stove.

I use my pan in the morning to make omelets or pancakes and in the evening for stir-fries or steaks. I’ve baked upside-down cakes, cornbread, and tarts in it, indoors and out, and used it as a comal to warm tortillas. Put a lid on it and it’s a casserole. I wouldn’t trade it for a fancy dishwasher-safe titanium sauté pan—unless, of course, I found one hanging from a nail on a barn door.

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