Friday, March 21, 2014

Cast iron cult

Cult [kǝlt] noun: A system of religious veneration and devotion directed toward a particular figure or object, i.e., cast iron skillets; a relatively small group of people having religious beliefs or practices regarded by others as strange, sinister or silly.

I called it an error in judgment. My friends, or most of them, anyway—the vocal ones—called it a travesty, a betrayal, a sin. I was castigated, condemned, excoriated, pilloried, disparaged and denigrated. So heinous was my crime, so unforgivable, they said, I was unworthy to even possess the object of my mistake, or almost-mistake. It was a curious term to use considering the subject, but then some things seem to bring out the zealot in militant believers.

It reminded me of the time an elderly gentleman wearing traditional Czech clothing stopped by my booth at the Blue Rapids Czech festival to eye my green chile cheese kolaches. A nearby table held prune kolaches and peach kolaches and cherry kolaches and lemon kolaches—a veritable rainbow of fruit fillings—but his eye, and ire, was on my singularly inventive culinary fusion of East Meets Southwest. (I called it Czech-Mex.) 

“Like to try one?” I asked.


“They’re good,” I winked. He frowned.

“They’re sacrilegious,” he said, and stomped off in a huff. Heavy words for a pastry.

So here I was again, a blasphemer, a miscreant, a transgressor of the most vile stripe. My sin? Thinking of doing something. Not doing it, mind you, but admitting that I considered doing it, the old Jimmy-Carter-lust-in-my-heart admission. And we know how well it worked for him.

Much ado about nothing, I say. But here are the facts: on the morning of March 8, as I washed dishes after cooking my wife a gourmet breakfast of smothered green-chile-egg-and-potato burritos, as I, in fact, reeled from the effects of sleep deprivation and exhaustion (which, in a court of law, could justify my clouded thought processes), I considered tossing the cast iron skillet into the dishwasher to save myself some time. 

After all, what would it hurt? When the cleaning cycle was through I’d take it out, dry it off and season it with a thin film of oil. How was that any different than washing it in the sink? 

But then I had second thoughts, or guilt pangs, whichever you prefer. A quick Google for reference brought me to a plethora of offerings, the first of which stated in all caps, “OH, SWEET JESUS NO NO NO NO.” 

Other responses ran the gamut from outright incredulity that anyone would even suggest such a thing to anger, revulsion and threats of eternal damnation. 

Okay, okay, I thought, maybe I should reconsider.

Until that time, I was okay. Flying under the radar, so to speak. And then I did something really stupid, something that in retrospect was almost as idiotic as putting the cast iron skillet in the dishwasher—I posted a short update on Facebook about the previous sequence of events.

It was meant to be lighthearted, one of those can-you-believe-this kind of thing. The response was swift and dire. Several people wanted to come over and remove all items of cast iron from our house, and others provided instructions on how to properly take care of cast iron—no soap, only hot water and a scrubbing pad followed by an immediate seasoning of oil, maybe a dash of lavender and myrrh. Cast iron was the “only” way to cook, I was told, a dogmatic approach that left no room for stainless steel or, saints preserve us, non-stick aluminum. For a chunk of blackened metal, you’d think it was made of fine crystal. 

To their credit, a few admitted to running their skillets through the dishwasher. Universally, it ended up being a very bad move. Another professed her irritation at being repeatedly reprimanded by Boy Scout leaders for using soap on the “precious” metal. “The person washing the dishes and/or cooking gets to decide how clean their skillet needs to be,” she said. “The cast iron cult kind of freaks me out.”

And that was it exactly: there exists, alongside or behind or in front of the Lutherans and Methodists and Catholics and Baptists, a secret sect of cast iron cultists who largely remain invisible and discreet until called to defend their faith, at which time they attack like angry killer bees. The lesson was as painful as it was unforgettable: One should never discuss politics or religion on Facebook, and that includes the care and maintenance of cast iron skillets.


TodMegredy said...

Tom. I love my cast iron pots and pans. I recently joined a cast iron cooking Facebook page. I was immediately overwhelmed by the number of posts (more than 20 every 10 minutes or so). These folks are fanatics.

Tom Parker said...

Sounds scary. So are you still part of that Facebook cult, er, group? Please (oh, sweet Jesus, no no no no!) DO NOT share a link to my story. The last thing I need is to fend off murderous cast ironers.

shoreacres said...

I've got this great cast iron skillet that belonged to my mother and grandmother before her. It has a heavy glass lid and a wooden handle. That handle's a good thing, to the extent that it allows you to pick the skillet up by -- well, the handle.

On the other hand, the usual method for seasoning cast iron (oil that baby and throw it in the oven, or the coals, or whatver) won't work until your secondary goal is a handleless skillet and a visit from the fire department.

So, after some years, I had a cast iron skillet with a build-up of who knows what on it. I couldn't scrub it off, and I couldn't burn it off. What to do?

Purely by accident, I found the answer, and if you post this on your FB page I'll really fuss, because then they'll be after me, too. I made a one-dish meal one night that involved meat, rice, onions and -- tomato. I was tired. I was lazy. I set that baby on the back of the stove and forgot it for a couple of days.

Apparently the acid in tomato products will eat through the crud on cast iron, sort of like the old dissolve-a-nail-in-Coke business. And there you have it. My one and only cast iron tip.

But you're right about the fanaticism. We need to fight it wherever it pops up, like the White House pastry chef who quit because he didn't want to "demonize butter, sugar, eggs and cream." That's my kind of guy.

Tom Parker said...

After trying to season our skillet and failing miserably, I'm ready to break out the tomato sauce and give it a whirl. Thanks for the tip—I'll be sure to credit you on my website, my Facebook page, my Google + account, Twitter, the Associated Press and, yes, Fox News.