Whenever I take out my biscuit pan — and every Southern cook worth her salt and grease has one — I can’t help but shake my head.
It is not, as my friend Karen would say, "a purdy sight."
I have more than one, of course, for when guests come and I need to make two or three pans of homemade buttermilk biscuits. But the main one is large, round and black from all the years of baking in 500 degrees with Crisco smeared generously on the surface.
Just once, I wish "Southern Living" or other magazines that feature cooking would show a pan like mine instead of one gleaming with newness and beauty. Their standards are impossibly high and it makes things a bit depressing in the real world of cooking.
It has long been my belief that when we are blessed with possessions — clothes, cars, houses, furniture, housewares — we should take care of them and keep them looking as new and pristine as possible. It shows an appreciation, I believe. The glaring exception, of course, is my biscuit pan.
My sister, undeniably the best cook in the family, has a biscuit pan that looks about as sorry as mine. One Sunday while helping her prepare dinner, I pulled her pan out of the cabinet and laughed.
"Your biscuit pan looks as bad as mine does," I remarked. I looked at it for a moment and remembered Mama’s biscuit pans and all the biscuit pans of women I know. Each is dark black, its shiny Teflon-coated beauty long melted into memories of deliciousness. "I guess it’s impossible to have a good looking biscuit pan."
Or a decent looking cast iron skillet.
In the South, every kitchen requires a biscuit pan, a boiler for soup beans (not bean soup as the North calls them) and a hearty iron skillet, well seasoned. I have read in magazines where there is a new-fangled idea that iron skillets can be seasoned in an hour or – now get this – you can buy pre-seasoned iron skillets. An unseasoned skillet is silvery gray in color while a seasoned one is black. (Notice the theme here? Oft used cookware turns black.) Without seasoning (oiling down the skillet), it will not have non-stick qualities.
One night, many years ago, I was at Mama’s, sitting at the kitchen table and talking to her while she fixed supper. She opened her oven door and pulled out a cake of cornbread in an iron skillet and set it on the top of the stove. Then she pulled out a lower rack, sprinkled oil on a cast iron pan and pushed it back into the hot oven.
"What are you doing?" I asked.
"I’m seasoning a skillet for Nicole," she replied, referring to my niece who had just married.
"How long will it take to season it?" Until that moment, I had never considered the art of seasoning an iron skillet.
"Oh, I don’t know. I’ll probably leave in there for a month or so. Then, it’ll be really seasoned good."
As she explained to me that night, she left the skillet in the oven for a month of daily baking when she made cornbread or biscuits. Every day, she poured a dab of oil into it and let it bake deep into the metal. Nicole uses that cast iron skillet regularly and, no doubt, will cherish it always.
Now, if you’re a Southern woman and you don’t have an iron skillet, that’s nothing about which to brag. Just keep it between you and your kitchen sink.
And if you have a gleaming, perfectly pretty biscuit pan, don’t show that to anyone, either.
Otherwise, they’ll know your biscuits are canned.