Photo: Jennifer Prediger
It’s week 11 of my transformation from takeout junkie to appreciator of real food via a Community Supported Agriculture box. I am keeping track of this food-finishing-school-of-sorts in this Urbivore’s Dilemma series.
This week, a variety of delights — summer squash, cucumbers (which I again threw into pickle juice), mini tomatoes, green beans, sweet peppers, an eggplant, and a cantaloupe — all graced my kitchen, courtesy of my ever-bountiful CSA. Meanwhile, I’m making progress as a maker of fresh foods. I had five people over to dinner, a feat I’ve never attempted in my smallish Brooklyn apartment.
The meal started with gorgeous farm-fresh greens (purchased on a trip to Stone Barns Farm) dappled with the tiny bursts of CSA tomatoes and the freshest green pepper I’ve ever had the pleasure of eating. For the secondi, I rode the wave of last week’s pesto making success, adding it to what felt like an industrial amount of fusilli pasta. (It always reminds me of my favorite New Yorker cartoon, “Fusilli, you crazy bastard!”) The pesto came from two bountiful bundles of basil procured at my neighborhood deli, which is dedicated to selling fresh things. (If only they sold more organic, local food … alas.) I also off-roaded from the CSA supply and got a beautiful orange head of cauliflower and roasted it with garlic cloves still in their papery skin. Delicious. And to make it a true potluck, friends brought over tasty wines; and one friend brought over a grass-fed steak and broiled it in the oven, which hadn’t seen animal flesh in years. For dessert, the ripe and delicious CSA cantaloupe and those brilliant peaches! Fruit never tasted so good. We ate like kings of the ripe and local. The dinner marked a new phase of my cooking journey: making real food with and for friends.
Sharing food with people that you care about seems like an essential ingredient for a happy life. And the experience got me all sentimental about cast iron. I owe debt of gratitude to the cast iron pans that made the meal possible. These venerable skillets have been in my family for perhaps over a hundred years. The two pans pictured to the right belonged to my step-grandmother, Mama John. She lived in Cross Plains, Texas and was a quilting, cooking, sewing, and macramé wizard. The pans may have been handed down to her. I’ve been told by my parents, “They could easily be 100 years old. If you don’t leave them out in the rain, they could last forever.”
Thankfully, I haven’t left them out in the elements. But I could be a better steward. My prized pans desperately need to be cured or seasoned, or whatever the preferred phrase is for the protective process. I tried to about a year ago with a coating of olive oil and a hot oven. The result was a lot of smoke and two very sticky pans.
My mom has one of the pans still too. When I spoke to her today, she said, “I’ve got one and it’s all crusty. Let’s stop procrastinating and we’ll both cure them this weekend. Just google how to do it!”
Well, the search engine gods suggest that vegetable shortening is the way to coat your cast iron. And I have some Crisco at the ready. But before I shut the hot oven door with pans in there, I thought I’d ask you, dear readers. What’s been the best way you’ve found to care for cast iron? How do you take care of these things that could last lifetimes to come? I’m open to suggestions and will give them a try this weekend.
Next week (if all goes well), my cast iron pans will be ready for the next CSA bounty: summer squash, cucumbers, big tomatoes, celery, string beans, and cantaloupe. Have a favorite recipe for green beans? I’d love to hear it. The one that comes to mind is the classic suburban holiday casserole with cream of mushroom soup and those crispy dried onions. And what would you do with a gorgeous purple eggplant?! I’ve got one burning a hole in my produce drawer.
In other good CSA news, “Farmer Bill is expecting the best tomato crop in years”. CSA subscribers can get 20 lbs. of canned tomatoes for $35. I’ve been pondering it. That’s a lot of jars for a city apt. Readers, do you can? What is your DIY can plan? And what’s in your CSA boxes this week? Thank you for the continued inspiration.
Get Off Your Ass Alert: Hey, New York City urbivores, don’t miss this Brooklyn Creative League Supper Club potluck with special guest Leda Meredith, author of The Locavore’s Handbook: The Busy Person’s Guide to Eating Local on a Budget. August 23, 7-10pm.