Lessons for life via cast iron cookware

Last Christmas my parents gave me a set of cast iron cookware that I’d requested (I actually celebrate Yule – the Winter Solstice – not Christmas and haven’t celebrated Christmas for about a decade now but they’re conservative Christians and even though the giving of gifts and, truthfully, Christmas in general, was something Christians stole from Pagans to more easily convert people way back when, my parents seem to be inherently disinclined to give me Yule presents. Wow, that was a little Proustian. Anyway, I like presents so I’m grateful regardless of the holiday or reason!). When they arrived, I was crazy stoked and started reading the instructions for seasoning.

Now, I’m a Yankee by birth, and only a true Southerner will be able to appreciate the way I can shake my head and shift my eyes down when I say that as well as recognize that in doing so I’m invoking a “Bless your heart!” (I moved down South as soon as I could, promise). My wife is from Virginia and I have humbly and gratefully accepted her schooling me of all things Southern. Including cooking with cast iron. Except my wife doesn’t really cook very often – that’s my job. So, I busted out the instructions which informed me I needed to scrub off the anti-rust coating with steel wool or something similar before I could begin the seasoning process. I proceeded to scrub the first pan with abandon. And scrubbed. And scrubbed. I don’t know what they applied that anti-rust coating with but I had a bitch of a time even telling if I was making progress. Frustrated beyond all get-out, cursing the manufacturers and their progeny and convinced that the anti-rust coating was there to stay, I put aside the pans before I began using them as weapons on the people I love. I asked L, my wife’s husband, to assist me in the process. He busted out the power tools. No joke (I imagine any Southerner reading this right now is probably wincing and shaking their head and’ bless your hearts’ are pouring out of their mouth in a flood – what can I say? L is a born Yankee, too). He tried sanding the anti-rust coating off, but he couldn’t tell if it was working either.

They’ve sat on our counter since then until about a week or two ago. Unknowingly, I (or L) apparently did get some of the rust coating off because some of the pots have begun rusting in spots. A sorry sight that reignited my motivation to conquer the anti-rust coating once and for all. A friend of L’s recently informed him that there was a simple way to remove the coating: Cook with them and throw out whatever you make in the pan, then wash (with soap – just this once) then season. Once again, I busted out the scrubbies and got to work. I set some beef broth simmering in the pan for about another 20 mins then washed with soap (okay, so twice), then broke out the vegetable oil and started coating. Except when I went to coat, all this gray stuff was coming off on the paper towel. The anti-rust coating!!!  Score!  I set the oven to 200 and stuck the pan on the rack. At the end of the day, I got it out. I washed with just hot water and my scrubby, coated again (no gray grossness this time!). Coated again, and today stuck it back in the oven.

Last night I conferenced with L. Perhaps it’s not the stuff that you cook in it that’s important – it’s applying heat! I told him of the gray grossness that had come off after I put oil on the one pan once I was finished cooking with it and it was still warm. We agreed that the application of heat was the ticket and hypothesized that if we just stuck all the pans in the oven (not at the same time) and then set about cleaning and coating and repeating the process that we would eventually have a beautiful, usable set of cast iron pans.

One of the things I’ve learned, lived, and experienced – especially over the course of the last few years – is that the Divine is always trying to talk to us, trying to teach us, to help us grow. The Divine talks to me in music, in TV shows, in movies, on billboards, via the grocery store check-out associate, gas station attendants, random strangers I see on the street, etc. And in trying to season cast iron cookware.

If you’ve ever tried to change, to create a new habit, to grow something from seed (whether literally or metaphorically/metaphysically), you’ve probably had this experience: You work and work and work and, if you’re anything like me, you have at least a few moments of wondering if what you’re doing is having any effect whatsoever. I am not an especially patient person (that would be my wife). I have frequently gotten caught in the trap of thinking that what I’m doing isn’t actually making an impact and then I’ve given up on it. Typically, not terribly long after I do I see a difference. But not the happy kind. No, the difference I see is that I’m more irritable, I’m crankier, I experience more frustration, I’m more on-edge, more lost. When this happens, I am forced to draw the conclusion that, even though I might not have experienced as significant of a difference in the moment, what I was doing WAS ACTUALLY WORKING.

Now, let’s look at my cast iron cookware experience in this light. I had scrubbed till my fingers were pruny trying to get the anti-rust coating off (work on eliminating/destroying that which no longer served). L had gone full-bore with the power tools. But it wasn’t until we applied heat (Will) and moved forward, trusting that what we were doing was working and moving on to the creation part of the process that any real difference was discernible.

So, if you’re trying to change and aren’t sure if what you’re doing is working or having an impact, take a lesson from my experience and use the blueprint above to guide you. First, there must be destruction. This isn’t a negative destruction, it’s the destruction that makes room for rebirth and creation. But remember that nature abhors a vacuum. Dig up and gather your Will and keep going. Trust the process. With patience and persistence, success is almost inevitable 🙂

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