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I inherited cast-iron skillets, what do I do now?

Hello dear readers!

Well, it was my birthday last week and my mother sent me two of her beautiful cast-iron pans that have been in our family for years.  This gift was pre-arranged and discussed (I mentioned that I wanted them).  I patiently waited to see what this "surprise" would be.  Would the cast-iron skillets need to be restored? Will I ruin them?  What meals do I remember my mom making in them?  What should I make in them?

I was so excited that I must have mentioned that I was getting these pans to everyone I met. 

And the people I talked to had stories to tell: from having them ruined by helpful guests who zealously cleaned the pans with soap, to just forgetting about them - only to find them later rusty and ruined, to searching for pans in vintage stores to try and restore them back to their former beauty.

The pans that my mom sent me are beautifully seasoned.  Their patina are perfectly black.  I suspect, knowing my mom, that she probably dressed them up a bit prior to sending them to me, but perhaps not.

Given that my mom was a busy working woman her whole life, I somewhat expected a disaster to arrive in the mail. I expected to need to restore them and not be able to use them right away. Since these are in such good condition the restoration project has been diverted.  Thanks, Mom!

They arrived perfectly seasoned and ready to go.  Now what?  A bit of fear ran through my body.  Most of my cooking experience is with using woks, sheet pans and my Le Creuset Dutch ovens. What do I do now?

I texted my mom - so what do I make with these?  She quickly texted me back several ideas.  I have to admit, I am a little nervous having these heirlooms.

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Part of the fun of receiving an heirloom cast-iron skillet is to try and look up its history and learn where it might be from. 

Most likely my mom’s skillet on the right was made in the 1960’s or shortly thereafter.  It clearly shows that it was made in the USA. The 1960s was about the time when the there were new trade requirements for manufacturers to identify the country of origin on their pieces.

According to this article, if a pan has one or more notches in the heat ring, it is likely a vintage Lodge.

My kitchen is small and my townhouse has an open loft style.  The smoke alarm is too close to where my stove is and our exhaust system is just what is attached to the microwave hung above the range.  

I have been begging my husband to just remove the microwave (we never use it) so we can put in a hood exhaust system; because when I cook, I like to get things hot and sometimes smoke happens. 

My husband has made some comments about these pans: "So should we expect the smoke alarm to be going off when you use those skillets?" or "Should I be ready and waiting to shut the alarms off?" (Just ignore him! He means well and supports my numerous projects!)

So what to cook? 

Epicurious warns what not to cook, which is pretty much anything with acid.  No tomatoes, no vinegar, nothing sweet (although one of the ladies I discussed skillets with told me she that has two: one for sweet recipes and one for savory, which I thought was a pretty good idea) and nothing too delicate, like a flaky white fish.

There is nothing delicate about these pans!  They are heavy.  When I was asking people about their stories and memories about cast-iron pans and skillets, I heard many colorful, funny and sometimes alarming examples of what not to do with these pans.  Some of these stories didn't involve cooking!

My first attempt to cook with these pans will be simple pan-seared filet mignon, with a side dish using my mini Le Creuset cocottes.  I will toss a salad in my new wooden salad bowl that I bought for my birthday last weekend while we were in Sonoma, Ca.

These days, I am cooking for just two, but one of my daughters will be home soon from college for the summer.  I think she has some meals on her wish list. 

If you are interested in shopping for your next heirloom cast-iron pans to pass on you your future generations, try Milo or  Kerekes kitchen & Restaurant Supplies

I will update this blog with the results! Stay tuned and please share your family stories with me. 

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