In 1998, my Daddy gave me a gift that at the time, I didn’t fully appreciate. It wasn’t new– in fact, God only knew how old it was. Daddy had picked it up used, abused, and in desperate need of some TLC. My “no name” iron skillet. He found it at a yard sale, rescued it, took it home and de-gunked it. He then carefully and tirelessly began to re-season it. This skillet has seen me through 2 births, 7 houses, 2 states, many ups & downs– and a lot of cornbread.
The cast iron skillet was one of the first multi-purpose kitchen tools. From baking to frying, cast iron had the ability to hold heat for a long period of time and distribute it evenly which was a blessing in primitive stoves/ovens– and even open fires. I can recall my grandmother’s kitchen down to the last detail. It was tiny and could only hold the necessities. It served a purpose and performed like a well-oiled machine. The heart of it was her cast iron cornbread pan. That pan alone conjures up memories of her in the kitchen stirring sausage gravy, pans of cornbread dressing at every Thanksgiving, fried eggs for breakfast… She took care of that pan, seasoned it after each use with a coat of oil. I have no idea how old that pan was. What I do know is that it outperformed and outlived several sets of the latest and greatest non-stick cookware. Some of those pans were treated with chemicals that had been known to emit toxic fumes when heated past a certain temperature. Cast Iron does not pose that risk.
We have become such a disposable society. Rather than paying for quality, we forgo that for an inexpensive pan that is endorsed by the newest culinary star– something that “matches” our kitchen at the moment and will end up in a landfill in the next 5 years after convincing our dinner guests that the black specks they saw in their food were “pepper” and not the non-stick surface that started coming off because you used the wrong spatula on your scrambled eggs one morning…
In my recent search for a larger (and brand-spankin’ new) cast iron skillet, I discovered Smithey Ironware Co. The name “Smithey” comes from an old term for a blacksmith or a place where blacksmiths created their works. Based in Charleston, SC, Smithey Ironware Co. planted their figurative flag to create a modern heirloom “for people who love to cook and appreciate fine craftsmanship” and “to rekindle the lost traditions of cast iron.” According to their website, “A Smithey’s surface is satin-smooth, similar to vintage cast iron cookware manufactured well over 100 years ago.”
I found myself reading more on Smithey Ironware Co. and wondering how well it would cook in my own kitchen. I am sure you are aware of cast iron’s reputation for being troublesome (to say the least) to clean. You never use soap on it as it will damage the seasoning that you have built up over the years. Smithey brags that their polished surface will only need “a light scrub under warm water”. Also, from design to casting to polishing, finishing, and packaging, each Smithey is manufactured in the USA.
In an April 2nd, 2019 article where Smithey Ironware made it into the “Seven Best Iron Skillets You Can Buy”, Gear Patrol (gearpatrol.com) stated, “In most industries, retrospective homages to products past are meant more to trigger nostalgia than performing to the day’s standards. This is not so in cast-iron. Smithey’s skillets are made with heavy gauge iron, a three-finger front grip and an exquisitely milled down, pre-seasoned cooking surface. There’s even a heat ring on the base of the pan, so if you somehow find yourself standing in front of an old indented wood stove, you’ll fit right in.”
I was all in.
On April 10th, my 10-inch Smithey Ironware Co. Cast Iron Skillet arrived. The package itself was beautiful, showcasing the company name and quail logo. The box was marked with the size, the manufacturer signs and dates, and the proud title of “US MADE”. Lifting the lid of the box, I was greeted with a note from Smithey: “We have built your Smithey to become an heirloom. Use it frequently. Rekindle the lost traditions of cast iron. Let it play a small part in setting the table for warm meals and pleasant memories with friends and family. Pass it on wisely…” After all, something of this quality will out-live me with the proper care. The skillet gleamed like a diamond in a hunk of coal. I was ready to cook– but first I had to season it.
Usually, to properly season a skillet, you wash it well and thoroughly dry it, spread shortening across the skillet (top and bottom), bake it upside down for an hour or longer in the oven. Not the case with a Smithey. They use a rather unconventional stovetop method. I brought my skillet on the stovetop to scorching. This means that when I went to apply my oil (shortening) with a paper towel, it immediately began to smoke– you must have a vent fan on during this time! The oil danced around the skillet in a savory ballet, casting rainbows across the satin-finished pan. I rubbed a light sheen of oil onto the smoking pan, returned to the heat, removed to rub more oil on. This process took a total of 5 minutes. I knew it was seasoned when the skillet’s surface turned a gorgeous chocolate brown.
Once it cooled, I was able to see my reflection in the Smithey like some Food Network version of a Grimm’s Fairytale. It was mesmerizing. Now to decide what dish to Christen it with! Cornbread. There is nothing more satisfying than the perfect pan of cornbread fresh out of the oven. Pouring the batter into the pan, I must admit I was skeptical. After all, this was a BRAND NEW cast iron pan. After impatiently waiting for what seemed like forever (ok, it was only 25-30 minutes), I took my Smithey out of the oven. The contents were perfect. A beautiful, perfectly golden-brown cake of cornbread. I was rather pleased with myself and, so far, with the Smithey. The real test was flipping the cornbread out. Would it stick? Would it fall apart? Was it burnt?
It was picture perfect and exited the pan with ease. Nothing left behind on the pan to sulk over or worry about scraping off. This pan is truly a representation of the finest in modern craftsmanship while harkening back to the creation process of the vintage cast iron skillets our great-grandparent’s and grandparent’s used. Once upon a time, things were built to last. If it broke, you fixed it. You didn’t just toss it. What you had, you made last– for generations to come. Just like my new Smithey.
Classic recipes are hard to come by anymore. Everything is being re-imagined. The same dishes our grandmothers prepared are being given twists that they didn’t necessarily need. One of those is cornbread. Don’t mess with my cornbread!
1 C Plain Yellow Cornmeal
1 C All-Purpose Flour
1 T Baking Powder
1 t Kosher Salt
1/4 t Baking Soda
2 C Buttermilk (at room temp)
2 Large Eggs (at room temp)
1/2 Cup Butter (melted)
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Whisk together first 5 ingredients in a large bowl. Whisk together buttermilk and eggs; stir into cornmeal mix until just combined. Heat a 10-inch cast iron skillet in the oven with a tablespoon of shortening (I use lard). Lastly, pour melted butter into cornbread mix and stir. Pour batter into the hot skillet and bake for 25-30 minutes or until golden brown and cornbread pulls away from sides of skillet.