When I was a kid, I think every family in the neighborhood had a cast-iron skillet. The pans were more or less the same, but the foods that came out of them were as diverse as the families. Our next door neighbors were from St. Paul, MN and they made Swedish meatballs in their skillet.

My family came from German and English families and our meals reflected this heritage. My mom often makes German fries, sliced ​​onions, and fries until golden brown and crispy. When I strain, I can see the German fries in the pan and smell the delicious smell that permeated the house.

When German, Swedish, and European immigrants came to the United States, some brought their cast-iron skillets. These pans accompanied them on the westward migration. Later, wagon cooks used cast-iron skillets, baking pans, and Dutch ovens to prepare meals.

A cast iron skillet looks old-fashioned compared to today’s appliances. But cast iron skillets are making a comeback, and for good reason. Consider these features.

DURABILITY. Cast iron pans have stood the test of time. They are so durable that they have been passed down from mother to daughter to granddaughter.

USABILITY. You can use a cast iron skillet on the stovetop, in the oven, over an open fire, on a charcoal or gas grill. Better yet, today’s cast iron pans come with a nonstick coating.

VARIETY. A six-inch skillet is perfect for preparing a meal for one. The larger 10-inch skillet is ideal for family meals. Roasting pans (pans with ridges on the bottom) are also available.

COST. You’ll search far and wide before you find a better value. A six-inch skillet costs about $8 and a 10-inch skillet costs about $17, not bad for a lifetime investment. The cost of a barbecue grill varies, depending on whether the exterior has an enamel coating.

You’ll need to re-season the pan if you’ve had it for a long time. Lodge, the leading manufacturer of cast-iron cookware, says you should first wash the pan in hot, soapy water. Dry the pan and let it sit on the counter for a few hours.

Lodge then says to preheat your oven to 350 degrees. He coats the pan with solid or liquid shortening. Place the pan in a jello pan to catch any drippings. “Bake” the pan in the oven for an hour. Turn off the oven and let the pan cool completely before opening the door. Lastly, wipe up any residue with paper towels.

Never wash a pan with soapy water or scrub it after it has been re-seasoned. Instead, rinse the pan under hot water and remove any food debris with a stiff brush. Make sure the pan is dry before putting it away. You can also rub the pan with salt to clean it. Rinse off the salt with hot water.

Over time, a dark layer will develop on the bottom of the pan. Don’t worry, this is exactly what you want. In fact, some professional chefs think that this coating gives the food an extra (and perhaps secret) flavor. A well-seasoned pan only needs a coat of baking spray for the shortening. Some recipes may not call for butter at all.

I have two pans, one simple and one griddle. What arrangement in them? A better question would be, “What don’t I fix about them?” Wonderful food comes from these pans: thick applesauce flavored with cinnamon, sautéed onions, peppers, mushrooms and pea pods, fried brown rice with lots of vegetables, chicken scallops with lemon sauce, lean burgers, grilled asparagus with a touch of garlic, and more.

Healthy food? Forget those fancy, shmancy pans. Take out the cast iron skillet and prepare healthy meals for you and your family.

Copyright 2005 by Harriet Hodgson. To learn more about her work, visit http://www.harriethodgson.com.

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