It’s always interesting how an inanimate object can become an important representation to us of someone we loved, whether a friend or family member. For me, many of those kinds of special objects are related to cooking, because it’s been such a hobby of mine for so many years. It is a legacy left for me by so many relatives who are no longer with us, who cooked so well, and taught me so much.
My grandfather is one of the people who influenced my love of cooking. He was a fan of one of my personal heroes, Julia Child, and he tried out a handful of her recipes or other “exotic” foods on us over the years when my sister and I were children. I have to tell you, when I was a little girl, some of those things weren't my favorite. I remember picking olives out of sauces, for example, and turning my nose up at his pumpernickel bread. Oh, and liverwurst. Have you ever had liverwurst? I thought it really was the worst. But I tried it anyway, because Granddaddy loved it so much and wanted me to, as well.
Now that I am an adult I look back on those times with admiration for my grandfather. He was a man who wasn’t afraid to try new things, culinarily or in other areas of life. He introduced his little granddaughters to different foods to expand our horizons and our palates. That was good for us, and I am so glad he did that.
He tried many hobbies after he and Grammy retired and moved from St. Petersburg to St. Joe Beach back in the 1970s. He worked on learning classical guitar, photography, oil painting, flower gardening, wine and beer making, and, of course, gourmet cooking. He didn’t go overboard with lots of kitchen gadgets, however. He knew the value of having a few well-made pots, pans and knives, and that was about it. He knew he could do anything Julia Child suggested with those solid, quality basics, like stainless steel pots and cast iron skillets.
I have finally learned that lesson myself. I have too many gadgets that I don’t really use at all and need to donate to some nonprofit. What I really need, I have, such as good pots and pans, and a few very good knives. One of my favorite, most frequently-used cooking implements belonged to Granddaddy. It is his old 10-inch cast iron skillet. I have no idea when he bought it, but I do remember when I took possession of it. It was months after he had died in 1996, and Mama and her sister, my Aunt Betty, were going through cabinets and closets, getting rid of things that were no longer needed and that someone else could use. I rescued the old skillet from a giveaway box, thankfully.
Like everything else in the world, time (aided by the Gulf County humidity) had taken a toll on the old skillet. Since Granddaddy hadn’t been able to cook for the last several years of his life, the cast iron pan had been left to the elements out in the garage inside a box. The seasoning had dried out and the interior had orange-brown rust beginning to appear in a few spots. I scrubbed it clean and seasoned it in the warm oven with oil, making it once again shiny black, with the perfect sheen that indicates it’s virtually non-stick. I make so many things in that skillet now: cornbread, biscuits, steaks, eggs, gravies and even desserts, like cobblers. I’ve even used it during a power outage on the grill. Every time I use it, I think of Granddaddy. The connection it creates for me to my grandfather is so special, and I hope to pass it on to one of my children or future grandchildren someday. I hope they will feel how special it is, too.
Perhaps you have an old cast iron skillet that you haven’t pulled out to use lately … or ever. If that’s the case, I encourage you to do a web search for “how to season a cast iron skillet” to get it back in shape. Southern Living magazine has a good tutorial, and it’s very easy to do. Then, when it’s ready to use, here are a few recipes that I think you might really enjoy making in it. Share a meal or dessert with someone you love, right out of your old cast iron skillet.
Iron Skillet Peach Cobbler
1 stick unsalted butter
4 cups peach slices (or other fruit, like thinly-sliced apples, or berries)
1 cup sugar
1 cup plain flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
pinch of salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Preheat onion to 350 degrees.
Place the butter in the skillet, and put in warm oven to melt, for five minutes or so. (Don’t let butter get too brown)
In a mixing bowl, combine flour, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt. Use a wire whisk to combine it well.
Add to flour mixture sugar, milk, and vanilla extract. Mix well.
Remove skillet from oven, and tilt it until all sides are coated with the melted butter.
Pour melted butter into the batter, and stir until well-combined.
Pour batter into hot skillet, and then pour peaches and any juices they’ve released into the center of the batter.
Place in 350 degree oven, and bake until the top is golden brown, or a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean; may take about an hour, depending upon your oven.
Remove, let cool down a bit, and then serve warm with vanilla ice cream, or homemade whipped cream. Enjoy!
In the following supper recipe, you can use any produce that you have on hand; this is a simple guideline that you can really play with. It’s great for using up what you have in the produce bin or in your garden.
Steph's Parmesan vegetable skillet bake
3 small or two large zucchini squashes
1 large sweet onion (Like Noonday or Vidalia, if possible)
2 large or three medium tomatoes
1 or 2 cups of sliced white or baby Bella mushrooms (optional), sautéed in a little butter and set aside
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 cups of grated Parmesan cheese
1. Slice zucchini, onion, and tomatoes into uniform, thin slices.
2. In a skillet, heat olive oil over medium heat. (substitute your favorite fat, if preferred: butter, coconut oil, etc.) Add onions, and saute in the oil until they become translucent, then remove to a bowl and set aside.
3. In the same skillet, make a single layer of zucchini slices across the bottom of the pan. Sprinkle with a little salt and pepper. 4. Use half the onions, spreading them across the zucchini layer.
5. Top onions with a single layer of tomatoes.
6. Sprinkle half of Parmesan cheese over the tomatoes.
7. If using mushrooms, (which you'd need to saute in oil or butter ahead of time), add them now, spreading across the Parmesan layer.
8. Repeat layers: zucchini, onion, tomatoes, Parmesan.
9. Bake in 350 degree oven for 35-40 minutes, or until cheese on top is nicely golden brown.
Serve with a nice crusty baguette if you'd like, which makes the perfect tool for sopping up the delicious juices in the pan. Grilled chicken or fish or a nice pork tenderloin would be the perfect protein to serve this delicious side alongside.
I hope you enjoy this summer-y recipe; adjust it to feature your own favorite vegetables; using thinly-sliced yellow squash would work wonderfully well Or add fresh basil and some garlic to give it an Italian flair.
If you're looking for a great appetizer for game day...or anytime at all....here's a skillet dip idea you will really enjoy.
Hot pizza dip with garlic baguette rounds
1 block lowfat cream cheese (Neufchatel)
1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
1 teaspoon garlic powder (NOT garlic salt)
2 cups lowfat mozzarella cheese
1 cup grated cheddar small can black olives, drained (optional)
1 package pepperoni (about 1 cup)
1 1/2 cups marinara or pizza sauce
1. In a small mixing bowl, combine cream cheese and Greek yogurt. To make it spreadable, you may microwave it for 20 seconds or so, then stir to combine.
2. Add Parmesan, garlic powder and Italian seasoning to cheese mixture, stirring well to combine.
3. Spread the mixture across the bottom of a pie plate or an 8'x8" baking dish
4. Layer the other ingredients on top of the cream cheese mixture: cheddar, 1/2 the mozzarella, olives, pepperoni (save three to put on top for decoration) and end with the remaining half of the mozzarella. Place the three remaining pepperoni in the center of the top of the dip.
5. Bake in a 350 degree oven for 15-20 minutes, until bubbly and slightly golden brown on top.
Slice a baguette from the grocery store bakery into 1/2 thin rounds. Place on a cookie sheet, and sprinkle with garlic powder. Bake at 350 until crisp and golden brown. They should be nice and crisp for dipping the thick, cheesy pizza dip!
Share with me a story about your own family kitchen treasures, from recipes to old skillets to anything else that is special to you; my email address is Steph@whatsouthernfolkseat.com .
Stephanie Hill-Frazier is a writer, food blogger and regional television chef, whose on-air nickname is "Mama Steph". She grew up in Gulf County, on St. Joe Beach, a place she will forever call home.
She is married and has three sons who are substantially taller than she is. You can find more of her recipes at WhatSouthernFolksEat.com