The art today is sooo appropriate for someone who’s several poems behind! Breathe, right?? So: Today’s poem is a bit of a riff on the NaPoWriMo prompt, which follows:
Today, I’d like you to write a poem inspired by, or in the form of, a recipe! It can be a recipe for something real, like your grandmother’s lemon chiffon cake, or for something imaginary, like a love potion or a spell.
I thought of a recipe I don’t have — one I’ve looked for a long time — and the poem flowed from there. Enjoy.
Aunt Bonnie’s Apricot Fried Pies
She left me only hunger
No recipes for fried pies
Crisped in the cast-iron skillet
I do have.
For years I searched
Leafing through the musty pages
Of church cookbooks
Women’s auxiliary cookbooks
The recipe cards of family
Looking for what might feed me.
Once I found the key to crust.
Or so I thought: it melted under heat.
Another time I found stewed apricots
Fragrant with their hot sweetness
But what would hold them?
All we have is memory & hunger
And the knowledge that once
Loving hands fed us.
When we moved from our home in Oklahoma last month, we found several boxes tucked away under the eaves. Literally: 6 boxes of stuff. Including five cast-iron skillets, ranging from 5 inches to 10.
True confession: I adore cast-iron. I already have more cast-iron skillets (and a griddle…and a Dutch oven…) than I should admit to. Several were my legacy from my grandmother & great-aunt: what I asked for of their belongings, when Grandma was leaving her own home of decades.
Is there anything of mine you’d like, honey? she asked me. Has anyone asked for your cast-iron pans? I responded. She laughed, and said No, no one’s asked for those. I told her I didn’t want to be greedy, so if someone did, split them up. Otherwise? I wanted them ALL.
And I got them! (Aside: why DIDN’T anyone else want them??)
Then, when my beloved mother-in-law moved out of her home, following my wonderful father-in-law’s death, my sister-in-law asked if there was anything I really wanted. May I have their cast-iron pans? I asked. And I got those too!
Soooo many memories: Grandma frying chicken; Aunt Bonnie making cornbread. Mom cooking bacon, or pancakes, or potato pancakes with the leftover mashed potatoes from the holiday feasts she put together. Every time I use a pan — to scramble eggs, to cook a roast, to make cornbread — I’m visited by those happy ghosts.
So imagine my delight when my beloved hand-carried five HEAVY cast-iron skillets from Oklahoma to Virginia! The catch? They were a MESS. Sticky with gross old seasoning, rusty in spots, scaling on the bottom from decades of baked-on food & grease. YUK! I washed them well, scrubbing as best I could with steel wool. Then dried them on the stove top, as I was taught, and oiled them so they wouldn’t rust any more. At this point my elder son ran off with one, leaving me four.
Enter the Internet. There are a zillion websites discussing the reclamation of cast-iron. The one I ended up using also has a link to seasoning the newly bare cast-iron skillet, following cleaning.
My beloved covered the skillets with heavy-duty Easy Off, as directed. Then stuck them in a black garbage bag overnight. Then scrubbed them HARD. It took another round of Easy Off (that should give you an idea how yukky the skillets were!) to lay bare the lead-grey metal.
We followed the rest of the directions (a vinegar soak for rust, rinse, wash, dry, and a LOT of flax oil), and I put them in the oven to season. Took them out, put on another coat of oil, and back in the oven to polymerise. They are GORGEOUS!!!
Now, you have to be wondering (if not before): what in the name of Julia Child does this have to do with Buddhism??
Everything. But mostly? Love, that’s what. And not giving up on things. And reclaiming what might otherwise be thrown out. And working to make something useful again. And honouring family history. Cooking for people you love with love.
I’m so serious: go rescue a cast-iron pan. See if it doesn’t make you feel incredibly virtuous. Reconnect you with cultures from around the globe, and throughout history. Really — it’s as Buddhist as everyday life gets. Honest.