In Laws and Black Skillets

Back about 34 years ago I married into a family that was southern born and southern bred as the old saying goes.  From the deep south. Where there is no “Sweet corn bread” made from a Jiffy mix but rather the old fashioned kind of cornbread that you make from scratch with real yellow cornmeal, buttermilk, flour etc and you pour it all into a hot cast iron skillet. And when you eat it you crunch the cornmeal.

Biscuits are the same way. They are made from scratch and flipped into a hot iron skillet. It has been this way for 5 generations and back. His Great Great Grandmother, Great Grandmother, His Granny…his mom and now me . I confess it took me about four years to learn how to make them and there are days I still feel that I don’t get the texture or height just right and I’ve been  making them regularly for twenty something years.

I remember one day when Granny ( in law) Marie decided to give me a cast iron skillet. It was like passing the baton at the Olympics. It was a right of passage, heritage in motion. She gave me a skillet and told me to be sure that I did not cook meat in my biscuit skillet. That you need one skillet for meats and one for breads to keep the conditioning factors right.

Well things went along for about four years or so and when Granny was 79 she called me up and said “Did I give you Pops #7 Skillet”?  I told her no. She talked a little further about not being able to find it and was sure that she had  given it to me quite awhile back.   Here comes the funny part.

When she and pop back in the 40’s were migrant fruit harvesters they moved from one state to another as the crops ripened and would stay in little white cabins, sometimes a barn they had to share with other families with only blankets between them. This one particular cabin was so small she said “You had to go outside to change your mind”. The oven in that cabin was so small that her skillet would not fit in the oven so Pop had taken the skillet outside and broke the handle off about half way down leaving barely enough of a stub to hold on to it, but it fit in the tiny oven….biscuits every morning on schedule. All was right with the world.

Now she couldn’t find her #7 broken handled skillet and she was sure she had given it to me. In  the mean time I  had started collecting skillets at sales and using them a lot more. Skillets that are a #7 and made by Griswald or Wagner are scarce and pretty valuable.   I started to worry …”did she really give me that skillet….did I misplace it…did I get rid of it in a fit of cleaning one day? I wouldn’t put it past me .  A couple days later she called again and ask about the skillet again and said she would be coming over that Sunday for breakfast.  Now I was in a panic.

When my husband got home at the end of his long 14 hour day .. I handed him my PRIZED #7 Wagner skillet and told him “GO BREAK THE HANDLE OFF THIS”.

He looked at me with disbelief and ask the obvious question. I explained the whole ordeal to him and apologized all over the place and told him if Granny had in fact given me the historical skillet from when her and pop first “set up housekeeping” as she put it I have lost it.  I also told him that she was coming for biscuits that Sunday and to please not tell her.

So he ceremoniously stepped off the back deck and using a hammer and a cement brick he broke the handle off my #7 skillet.  Granny came for breakfast that sunday….I made biscuits in the #7 skillet much to her delight and she was thrilled.  And I believe I heard a “I told you So” in there someplace.

NOW CUT to about 6 months later. Hubby and I and the children were all over at her house cutting her grass one summer afternoon and she was in her tiny mobile home kitchen cleaning. When we came inside and we all siting around the table eating a sandwich Granny said “Hey look what I found underneath the sink”. She showed me HER  broken handled # 7 skillet.  Well I guess you know my mouth dropped!!!!

“I guess you never had it after all hon”. She said to me and she was laughing. I laughed right along with her and said “Marie,…..I had your Grandson break the handle off  MY #7 skillet because you were so sure you gave it to me and I was afraid that I had lost it”.   It was a good laugh and I was able to share this story at her funeral in August of  2007.

And Yes…I now have the FIRST REAL BROKEN # 7 skillet that belonged to Annie Marie…..along with the broken #7 my husband broke for me.  Hers has  a C molded into the bottom of the skillet and mine does not.  I have not yet been able to get one of our children to make biscuits  but we do have two daughters and I suspect that when I am no longer in need of the skillets each of our girls will have one.

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