Monday, February 2, 2009

BUSH HOGS AND BLACK SKILLETS

I imagine that the boys still have a bush hog kicking around somewhere on the place. Can't mow first mowing of the lawn without one, some years, and they are just the thing for getting that pesky brush out of the way to get to the blackberry brambles, which are little Death Engines themselves.

We also had countless cotton-trailers, combines, beehives, egg-barns (I can still see Maw’s fridge now, laden with Mason jars glinting golden in the light---when you have eggs to spare and it's Angel-Food cake baking---the yolks mount up by the hundreds. (Chess pie, egg custard, coconut pie and pudding, dinner-plate mayonnaise and lemon icebox pie are where orphaned yolks go to live).


There were also coon dogs, a whole mess of Beagles, eighty-four Mallards raised on the little pump-pond, Mr. Plummer's rice ditches to swim in---the unholy red which DS#1's platinum hair turned one summer from the minerals in the water, and my resulting efforts with Clairol Ash Blonde to try to neutralize the glare, are family legend. And someone came home from church with us to Sunday Dinner nearly EVERY Sunday.

We cooked what we raised, canning and freezing and baking and broiling and frying---the old ways and the new recipes, the heirloom seeds and the new-found, exotic fruits and vegetables from faraway lands. Southern cooks seem to have a reputation to uphold, Cream of Soups and Jello salads notwithstanding, and not many folks would refuse a good Southern meal---cholesterol and carbs abounding.

It's all those black skillets, I think, and the sure hands which wield them to such delicious effect---we all have several of the crusty-bottomed beauties, it seems, and they have a history of their own. They're handed down from generation to generation with the reverence accorded Great-Grandmother's parure, coveted and claimed and used with the accord they're due.


When you're newly married and starting your own home, a gift of a cast-iron skillet is a lovely thing, indeed. But being made a present of a pre-blackened one, long-used by a generation or several of your family---that's akin to a knighthood, a great inheritance, a special gift like no other---better than Great-Great-Grandpa's gold watch-that-he-wore-to-Antietam or Aunt Juadine's recipe box (well, maybe sorta equal to that one).

And when your forebears made their livings on the LAND, with trips to the far-off stores bringing home only the coffee and sugar, with perhaps a twist of precious tea on occasion, the homestuff was what you cooked---from your garden, from the hog lot, from the chicken-yard, from the woods which totally surrounded your homeplace. And when that whole family WORKED the land, from dawn til dusk, coming home dusty and plumb tard out, braising or baking any kind of meat (if you had it) took too much time before the needed sleep. Frying was the quickest way to cook a lot of things, and saved on fuel, besides.

When the only staples left in your larder were lard and flour, you could still make those two old stand-bys---biscuits and gravy; it was just a bonus to be able to fry whatever you could catch, shoot or gather, in order to feed your family.

That’s passed down, like history. Or a ready-blackened skillet.

4 comments:

Keetha said...

The Fiance's cast iron skillet was his grandmother's.

racheld said...

AWWWW! An heirloom!

I told ya----better'n jewelry.

Amy Michele said...

What a pretty photograph. Is that a thistle? Lovely.

racheld said...

Yes, it is---the photo is one Chris made for the cover of a little family book I made for Christmas of 07. I told about it in the very first post of this blog, back in November of last year. This was the reason I chose that one:

"I had planned the name, thinking that I’d get my husband Chris to print up a picture of a golden flower with a fat bee, drunk with sunshine and nectar, buzzing her afternoon away. But after seeing his picture of a butterfly, not collecting for anyone save her own beautiful being, and her perch on a thistle, flower of my beloved Scotland, with the perfect focus and the shades of green and violet and mauve---I knew that was the one. There’s a flower in bud, a mature one feeding the butterfly, and the wisps of a faded one, beauty spent, with seed blowing to new, fertile ground to renew the cycle."

Welcome, Amy!! I hope you'll visit often.