Cast iron skillets were part of my childhood.
My dad was a GREAT cook! My mom had a repertoire but beyond that, you'd probably better go to the Burger King in front of the trailer park.
The food my mom did best was centered around a cast iron skillet:
I can see her over the stove and smell the bacon grease and potatoes. I always thought mustard greens tasted like bacon. Imagine my shock in tasting the raw leaf and its peppery goodness I had no clue about! Mom boiled them to mush and fried them in bacon grease. Yum! (See "Vegetables cooked with pork counts as pork.")
I have a friend who's a chef but she washes her cast iron with detergent which is something I don't do. She says she can re-season it if it loses its non-stick qualities, and this is technically true, but it's about more than that.
Now, I get it. "Oooh, gross! You don't wash it?"
No, I don't.
"You'll get food poisoning!"
Used them my whole life and so far, so good!
Now, I'll soak them in water and wipe them out and scrub them if needed, but I don't wash them in detergent.
It's more than just an issue of having to re-season the pan.
It's an issue of soul. Of family history. Of flavor.
The big pan in the picture above right belonged to my dad. When I cook with it, I imbue my food with the essence of the bacon he fried, eggs he made, and his amazing gravy that I miss so badly and with the fried taters and greens of my mom and the cornbread they both made in it.
I think somewhere on a quantum level, their food mixes with mine and neither will be lost to me because of this connection. Their flavors still teach me and are added to my own and mine are better for it. The whole is more than the sum of its parts.
This pan is memory and a history of the love of food that runs in my family and the love given with food from this pan throughout the decades that now has been handed down to me and is given to my friends and family from me and my husband (also a good cook and as much of a hobbit or more so than I in his love of food!).
It's more than culinary, it's a feeling of handing down an heirloom - of being connected to my family - of the comfort of my childhood.
I feel good cooking with it and with sharing the food I make in it.
Hands reach across the decades and stir, add just the right amount of salt, and get the lumps out of the gravy. His hands, her hands and, one day, my hands.
All of this from this one cast iron skillet.