Sunday, January 10, 2010

Seasoning Granny's Chicken Fryer

I fried bacon in Granny's chicken fryer today and then sauted onions, bell pepper, and garlic for our evening meal of Hoppin' John. What's that -- you thought Hoppin' John was just for New Year's? We eat it year-round at The Realm. I've even learned to pressure-cook my black-eyed peas so that I can whip it out fairly quickly.

But today I was making it slowly -- my usual Sunday afternoon cooking session, where I listen to NPR, cook, clean out the refrigerator, freeze leftovers, and deal with meat or produce that needs to be processed for freezing. I fried and sauted in the cast iron chicken fryer to continue the seasoning process.

Over a year ago, I asked my mother if she had something that belonged to her mother that she could pass along to me. While I use many items every day that belonged to Love's paternal grandmother and a couple of items that belonged to his maternal grandmother, I had nothing of either of my grandmother's. Daddy's mother died when he was nine, and my Granny's house burned when I was twelve years old, destroying most of her belongings. I do have a chair that belonged to her and my Grandaddy, one that my mother rescued out of her parents' smokehouse in the 1960s, where it had hung, seatless, for many years. She had her uncle put a seat in it -- a deerskin seat. I brought it back to Arkansas with me several years ago when Mother was in one of her "if you want it, you'd better take it now" moods. (Being burglarized will do that to you. She lost most of her crystal and a great many older dishes to a burgler while she was out of state about ten years ago. This episode is one of the few events in my life that makes me wish I could cast curses!) But I'm rambling....

Anyway, Mother gave me Granny's chicken fryer about a year and a half ago, I brought it home, and it sat on the top of the refrigerator for over a year while I researched how to reseason cast iron and then waited until winter rolled back around before starting the process. Mother says she bought the cast iron fryer for Granny during World War II. It had a glass lid -- because of wartime rationing -- which broke several years later while Granny was cooking turnips. Somebody rescued it out of the ashes of Granny's house, and it sat in my aunt's barn for ten years. Mother claimed it from there, and cleaned it up as well as she could. I worked on it with steel wool, and Love took his sandblaster to it, and then I put it through an initial re-seasoning. But I'm taking every opportunity to use it in ways that will improve the seasoning. It still has a long way to go before it's up to par with Mamaw's skillets and those I've cooked with for 25 years, but I have plenty of time. Cast iron lasts forever.
Granny was a great cook in her day. She had a stroke at age 40 which paralyzed her left side. She never used her left hand again, but she walked, contrary to what her doctors predicted. She always dragged her left foot, and she didn't move fast, but she got around. Mother says the only thing that Granny never learned to do one-handed was tie her apron -- Grandaddy always did that for her. I've often tried to picture 6'4" Grandaddy tying his tiny wife's apron each morning as they started their day. My sister learned to cut up a chicken from Granny, who could do it one-handed. So now begins the ritual of using Granny's fryer and remembering her when I do.

I have friends who say that they don't want anything of their parents or grandparents, that material items don't mean anything to them. I can remember Granny and Mamaw (Love's grandmother) without those items, but every time I use Mamaw's ice tongs, I remember how she never touched the ice when she fixed us iced tea, I remember how she welcomed me into the family when she was an old lady who had every right to think I wasn't good enough for her favorite grandson, and I remember how I loved her. When Skye cooks with me, she hears the stories of how I grew up eating off the china that Granny gave me to keep for her a few years ago, how this toothpick holder belonged to Love's maternal grandmother who I remember just as a frail woman in a nursing home but who had worked to support her family when most women didn't, how Mamaw taught me to make cornbread in this very skillet. And Skye will remember, too.

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