Many years ago, on my Christmas list, I asked for a cast iron pan. My grandmother had long used them and had hers for many years, and eagerly picked one up for me. And I used it a couple times. But it was heavy and a little cumbersome and ended up in our small kitchen at the bottom of a pile of pots, rarely to see light again.
That changed this week. I need a nonstick pan but don’t like teflon, and remembered my old buddy, the cast iron skillet. I took it out and realized it needed some TLC. In a desperate attempt to avoid working on anything else, I assessed the situation–it had some rust, but looked to be just surface-level stuff–and dug out a sheet of fine sandpaper, and went to town. I sanded, wiped clean, and sanded again, four or five times. The rust came off pretty easily. I then gave the pan a thorough washing and drying, coated it with shortening, and propped it upside-down in the oven, over cookie sheets, to season. Cast iron isn’t nonstick right away, you see–it needs to be seasoned, deliberately like I was doing, maybe a few times, and then just with use. It starts off shiny and silver and ends up black–and very little sticks to that darkened surface. I baked it in a 300 degree oven for an hour, then let it cool, and washed it.
My goal was to make a Spanish tortilla–a potato/egg omelette cake type thing–which you cook over low heat and flip. This was, however, more than the pan could handle on its first day out. You start by cooking thinly-sliced potatoes in oil for a long time until they soften, and then add eggs. I had a couple potatoes stick and didn’t think too much of it; unfortunately, they then stuck to my eggs, and burned, and there was no flipping, no lovely crust, nada. It was a bugger to clean, too. But that’s ok. The tortilla didn’t taste bad but only looked ugly. I washed the pan, heated it on a burner, and coated it with a little oil. Next time I’ll wash it again (for some reason–and I should probably investigate this–when I coated it with oil my paper towel got all brownish–this was after washing, and so I’m not sure why) and keep cooking. Give it half a dozen uses and it should be as good as grandma’s.