The Cast Iron Skillet and Vocation
The cast iron skillet has a permanent place on the front burners of our stove. I cook some part of our meal with it just about every evening. And never wash it.
I believe on some level, this is why my husband got it – because he knew my VERY clean mother would be appalled by that. But this is the deal with cast iron: one is not really supposed to wash it, at least not with soap. The flavors, sealed by all the olive oil we use to cook, become the “seasoning” of the pan. Even meals that are not primarily sauteed or seared in the skillet often make it there eventually, such as steamed vegetables that get their seasoning with a little toss in the pan. So it is that our veggies or tofu or onions taste a bit like salmon or trout or ground beef. As do our pancakes. For several weeks after a camping trip the skillet smells smokey because, of course, we used it over the campfire.
There are limits, though. By request, I do not put tomato-based pasta sauces in the skillet itself; that seasoning wouldn’t be subtle and would permeate everything to the point that one might be compelled to – GASP! – clean the pan.
Cooking with this skillet has taken care of some of my cooking anxiety, although I am like many others, definitely in a pandemic cooking rut. My mother’s theory has always been that anyone who can read a recipe can cook, but my attention to detail or access to uninterrupted attention while cooking keeps me from following recipes reliably and I don’t do a great job of problem-solving when I’m missing an ingredient. So learning to cook just about everything in the skillet, without a recipe, greatly simplifies the equation for me.
The cast iron skillet, home of cooking improvisation and flavor memory of past meals, feels like a symbol of vocation at this point in my life. My sense of what kind of ministry I am called to at this time has been seasoned by all that has gone before, including everything from high school career aspirations to college passions to writing courses to each one of the congregations I’ve served as pastor or interim pastor, including the one during this pandemic.
I am sure I am not alone in feeling the presence of all these layers compounding, putting a certain taste in my mouth during this pandemic life. This era of extraordinary stress is extra clarifying, as our brains and bodies can only take so much, so we are ready to let go of things that are too much, or just clearly not life-giving or nurturing to our souls. The skillet has always had these layers, but on the bland, repetitive tofu we’ve been serving up for nearly a year now, the seasoning has become thoroughly pronounced. I can tell where I’ve been and gain clarity about what I want to change.
So I’m thankful for the skillet, this same pan I’ve been cooking everything in for what seems like forever. It holds memories of all the dishes that have fed me (and which I’ve served us) and promises to do more in the future. But also, eventually we’ll eat out again, right?!