When I did my first cast iron post, my mom commented that she had an old cast iron skillet that she got from her mother and offered it to me. I was very excited about this because I didn’t know she had any cast iron (she didn’t use it much when I was growing up) and I love old stuff like that. I picked it up last weekend when we were there for Mother’s Day.
Although it was in great shape and probably at least 40 years old and I was very happy to have it, I was a little disappointed to find that it had no maker’s mark on the bottom. That’s not unusual and doesn’t reflect on the quality of the piece, but it meant it would be next to impossible for me to date it or really learn any more about it. Still, it had been my grandmother’s and that was pretty cool.
One thing that was curious, though, was the seasoning was completely gone from the cooking surface (but not the rest of it), yet there was no rust at all:
The lighting is a little warm, but that’s just the color of the iron; it’s definitely not at all rusty.
Because it seemed so unusual that it would not be seasoned yet not rusty, I asked my mother how she had taken care of it and whether she had purposely removed the seasoning or if it had just flaked off over time, and she responded that she “didn’t know nothing about no seasoning” and had never done anything with it, either giving it special care or purposefully removing the seasoning. She just used Crisco or oil to cook in it, though she didn’t use it much. So really it’s pretty amazing it was in this condition.
The inside was beautiful, but the underside was less pretty; the old seasoning was intact and sort of messy:
Something made me stare at the bottom of it when we got home Sunday night, though. For some reason, I thought possibly I could make out lettering in the gunked-up seasoning on the bottom. But I kept telling myself my eyes were playing tricks on me.
This is where I thought I saw letters, right above the rust.
I wanted to see letters real bad, and I looked at the bottom of that skillet harder than I’ve ever looked at anything in my life (except maybe that one old photograph of Broadway in New York – Mom will know what I’m talking about!). I shoved the skillet in Mark’s face and asked him if he saw letters. To my surprise, he said he did! He did a rubbing for me, which did seem to show something was there, but we couldn’t make it out much better than we could looking at the skillet itself. I stared and stared and stared at that skillet.
I didn’t photograph the skillet that night, but here’s a photo from later, which I have lightened a bit; you can see better where I was seeing the phantom letters:
It came to me abruptly. I was staring as hard as I possibly could at that skillet when suddenly I knew it said WAPAK. It was weird, really. I didn’t know what WAPAK meant, but Google quickly informed me…it was a cast iron company! Honestly, I thought I was going to be googling 5-letter words that looked like – - PA – all night long, because I was still sure my eyes were tricking me and those were the only two letters I was nearly certain about. It was very hard to see it. What’s even more exciting, though, I learned the Wapak company was only in business from 1903 to 1926. This skillet couldn’t have been new to my grandmother – and is definitely older than my beloved Griswold. I don’t know for sure (and my grandmother didn’t confirm or deny when I asked her), but I am pretty sure my grandmother got it from her mother-in-law, my great-grandmother, knowing what I do about my family history. My mom agrees with me. So I suddenly have my great-grandmother’s skillet!
I cleaned it up last night. I took sand paper to the bottom of it. And lo…
There was such a build-up of seasoning on the bottom of the skillet that when I was trying to date it, before I had my revelation, I thought it didn’t have a heat ring. It turns out it does: the seasoning was hiding it.
I got off all the seasoning I was will to exert the energy on with sand paper and took it inside to clean up with steel wool before seasoning.
Then I seasoned it four times. Here it is subsequently looking extremely shiny. There’s no oil in it.
And it’s like a dream! Oh my gosh, it is soooo nice! I was afraid when I got it that I wouldn’t love it as much as my Griswold and I’d feel bad liking the non-family-heirloom skillet better. But it is BETTER! It truly is as smooth as glass and the very first thing I cooked in it was sliding around ridiculously! These Brussels sprouts were chasing each other around like race cars before I completely packed them in!
Because Mark can eat much more than half a skillet of Brussels sprouts, I made two skillets-full of them and had a cook-off between the Griswold and the Wapak:
I don’t know what my life has come to that I spend my Saturday nights pitting two 80-year old skillets against each other in weird Brussels sprouts contests.
Instantly this skillet has become the one thing in my kitchen I will never part with.
Oh, and speaking of cast iron. After mentioning that my parents got a glass top electric stove when they remodeled their kitchen, because they can’t get gas and apparently it’s hard to find non-glass top electric stoves these days, I did some research on ranges. Since we are renting and I can’t very well build the kitchen of my dreams in a rental home, I’ve never looked into them much. It seems glass tops really are prevalent, which is horribly annoying since there is no way in hell I’d ever buy one. I learned about something called induction ranges, though. Apparently they are even better than gas. They cook using a magnetic field. They are instantly responsive to changes in the heat setting and they have a high output. They are also safer than both gas and regular electric stoves. I’m very interested. One of the major disadvantages is you must cook in ferrous (magnetic) cookware. Guess what is extremely ferrous? Cast iron. In fact, cast iron is just about the only thing you can cook in. Which is a-okay with me! I’d miss my Calphalon pots, but if it comes down to me ever having to choose between glass top – giving up my cast iron – and induction – giving up my Calphalon, trust me, great-grandmother’s skillet ain’t going nowhere. And my wok is cast iron, which means basically I’m all set.
Too bad induction ranges cost $3,000 or I’d go break my electric coil stove and make the landlord buy me one! Seriously, though, does anyone have any experience with these?