By: Elena Rosemond-Hoerr
Growing up, there were always cast-iron skillets close at hand in my family’s kitchen— if not always one on the stove. My dad’s collection is immaculate, well cared for, and in constant rotation. His cast iron cabinet holds skillets that have passed through generations, and it was the first thing I tried to replicate when I struck out on my own into adulthood.
In my early 20s, when I was still trying to find my identity in the kitchen (and life) and still working on building my cast iron collection, my friend found a 12-inch skillet in the backyard of her new house.
It was in rough shape. Crusted with rust, beat up, grimy from sitting through countless Washington, D.C. summers—it looked terrible. But I was young, childless, and looking for a project, so I jumped at the opportunity to rehabilitate this skillet. I made it my personal mission to transform this pile of rust into a functional kitchen tool.
For weeks, I slowly sanded, scoured, and scrubbed this pan. I chronicled the whole experience on my Southern food blog, Biscuits and Such—which mostly meant that every week when I posted an update, I got an email from my dad telling me how I should have done things differently.
I wasn’t in any rush, and I was enjoying the hands-on approach (at this point in my life, I had a desk job), so I cracked at the pan in a patient and steadfast way, watching Criminal Minds episodes and relying heavily on elbow grease along the way. This was back when I had to binge watch shows on Netflix via discs in the mail, if that tells you anything about the pace of this project.
At some point in the process (after so much sanding), my dad suggested that I light the pan on fire and “burn the bejesus out of it,” which is advice I took literally. In our little Baltimore backyard, I coated the pan with oil and put it over an open flame. My husband, the Eagle Scout, stood by with a fire extinguisher.
In retrospect, I understand that I used too much oil, and perhaps lit the pan a smidge too much on fire. But all is well that ends well, because the pan was reborn from the ashes like a phoenix and finally started to resemble something that you might actually put food into. It still required a few rounds of light sanding, but this was the turning point in the process.
When it finally came time to cook in the pan (after seasoning, seasoning, and seasoning, again), the decision on what to make was clear: A fried egg. We made bacon first to prime the pan, and then fried two perfect eggs.
An egg has never ever tasted so good. All that hard work, effort, and accomplishment—you could taste it all. Today, years later, that skillet lives on my stovetop, providing multiple meals a day for my family. It’s become a family heirloom, a tool whose value is dramatically increased by the amount of love I’ve poured into it.
Check out more stories from Elena at biscuitsandsuch.com.