“Lessons from a Cast Iron Skillet,” Jan. 25, 2022

Maybe you’ve heard people say, “In my next life, I want to be….” Then they fill in the blank with something they think might be an improvement.

I can’t imagine having another life. My current life tends to be about as much as I can handle. I hope to stay here long enough to see my grandkids grow up, then spend Eternity in a rocker on the porch of Heaven, watching over my loved ones, asking God a lot questions and letting somebody else cook.

Here’s a confession: I have an annoying tendency to think about things I don’t need to think about and to ask myself questions I can’t answer.

Do you ever do that?

I’m not sure why I do it. But it often seems to happen on days when I’m trying to avoid doing something I don’t want to do. This has been one of those days. And I don’t even know what I’m trying to avoid.

Anyhow. After considerable thought, I’ve decided how to fill in the blank on the sentence that started this train of thought: In my next life, if I have one, I want to be… a cast iron skillet.

Why? Thanks for asking. Bear with me while I explain.

I come from a long line of hard-cooking Southern women who would give up most any prized possession (except maybe their deviled egg dish.) But Lord help the fool who would dare to come between one of those women and her cast iron skillet.

My grandmother lived on a mountain in North Carolina, and baked cornbread like none you’ve ever tasted. She’d mix up a batter of locally milled cornmeal with milk from her cows and eggs from her chickens. Then she’d slap a hunk of home-churned butter in a cast iron skillet and slide it in the oven of an old wood oven. When the butter sizzled, she’d pour in the batter, bake it to perfection and serve it with more butter and honey.

I wish you could’ve tasted it.

My mother and her cast iron skillet kept us fed. Country ham. Bacon and eggs. Fried chicken or pork chops. And a peach cobbler I can never duplicate.

I was married with a family, living in California of All Places, the day she phoned from South Carolina, to say she had cancer.

“I’ll come see you soon,” I said.

When I got there, I could see she was failing. But it was a good visit. One of our best. As I was leaving, she said, “Wait!” She went out to the kitchen and came back with her skillet.

“This was my mama’s,” she said. “I want you to have it.”

On the flight home, I held it in my lap. Yes, that was before the days of airline security.

That skillet, and her middle name, are the only possessions she left me. I treasure the skillet for the meals it has served my loved ones and for the memories it holds for me; and I treasure our name for reminding me that I will always be her daughter.

Why would I want to be a cast iron skillet? Five reasons:
1. It’s incredibly strong and it never, ever breaks.
2. It’s not fancy, but if you need it, it’s nice to have around.
3. For some things, like bacon on a high flame or injustice to the innocent, it burns hotter than the hinges on the gates of hell. But when the bacon is done, or the injustice is righted, it always cools down.
4. It’s a little on the heavy side, but nobody seems to mind.
5. It feeds a family, holds a wealth of memories and keeps on doing what it does best.

Think about it: You could run for office with less character than a cast iron skillet and probably get elected.

I’m thankful for this life. I don’t plan on a “next” one. But I’m hoping that skillet can teach me things it taught my mother and my grandmother and a lot of good cooks before them.

I’d like to be as strong and good and purposeful as they were. At the least, I’d like to bake a decent cornbread.

I’m not there yet, but I’m still learning. And learning is life. Even if we try to avoid it.


  1. Larry L Foster says

    My first read, and I really appreciate your expressions, as well as your humor. Both of my grandmas, and my mother used cast iron skillets exclusively. Unfortunately, they scoured them religiously with SOS pads after each use–and wondered why things stuck. Must have been depression-age concern re sanitation. I was fortunate to have a girlfriend in my 30’s who straightened my thinking. At 79, I own cast iron skillets, Dutch ovens, griddles, waffle iron, and bacon presses, and use them at home and camping. Wouldn’t have anything else.

  2. Corliss A. Kelly says

    Sharon, I had the pleasure of meeting you at my neighbors’ home in Carmel Valley. Wah and Glen Chang were huge fans of yours. I am as well, and look forward to your articles with anticipation, getting comfortable and cozy. We recently left our long time valley home and friends, but my cast iron skillet came to Seattle with us. Pork chops in whiskey sauce tonight.

  3. Rev. Thomas S. Donio says

    Dear Ms. Randall:
    I find it interesting that all these articles on the virues of cast iron are appearing as I am rediscovering my love for it. I purchased pans, griddles, and a Dutch oven, some years back. I stopped using them when I couldn’t get eggs to come out without sticking. I since read a recent article and decided to try again. You are so right in what you say about them. These pans are not only a great conduit of heat, but also a conduit of love. Your beautiful remembrance is a testimony to that. Also, humor is a grace. Thank you and God bless you.

  4. Kathy Bement says

    Loved the twist on your article. But, I have to counter the statement that it “never breaks, ever” for I have broken one. “How?”, you ask. Well, I accidently turned on the wrong burner while the skillet was on the stove, thinking I had the burner on under the tea kettle, and it heated up to the point that it cracked right in half! Neighbors showed up at our door asking if a gun went off – it was loud! Have been very careful, ever since, to make sure the right burner is on!

  5. Andy Anderson says

    What a Great article! NEVER Heard of you but after reading about the cast iron skillet I will seek out your articles and Yes I will pass them along to the ones I Love in my life.

  6. Yvonne Ransel says

    Thank you again…love to see your column near mine in the Elkhart Truth, tho I am very sporadic about my wriiting. I became a widow this summer and am slowly thinking again.
    Both my Italian mom and southern belle mother in law had cast iron skillets, tho for different things and Mom actually washed hers and put it on the gas burner to dry. Beverly however just regressed it every time.
    So, think about coming back and getttng a nice oily massage every time you were used.

  7. Good Morning Ms. Randall. 1) When I come back, let me be a Sea Gull or a large enough bird that a Hawk can’t kill me, and place me on Pismo Beach 2) My Wife asked for a larger Cast Iron skillet a couple or three Christmas-es (Is this the right spelling, LOL). I got her one, if I recall at 13″. Guess who has to help her pick it up at times, LOL. And finally 3), She has been baking bacon in the oven for awhile now, instead of frying it, and it comes out perfectly flat and great every time, just not as crispy as she could do on that cast iron grill, but if I want my bacon, I best keep my lip zipped, LOL. By the way in our double oven gas range, she ONE TIME accidentally hit Broil instead of bake, and I eventually had to grab the fire extinguisher to get that oven fire to go out. That day, she made our bacon a tad bit too crispy, LOL LOL 🙂

  8. Thanks for the memories, yours and the ones in my head that yours triggered.

  9. Kate Sciacca says

    Oh my, this one made me hungry. I caved to the sweet young server at the local BBQ joint last Friday night who suggested that I really needed dessert. Yep. Peach cobbler with a giant scoop of vanilla ice cream. My, oh my.

    “I’d like to be as strong and good and purposeful as they were. At the least, I’d like to bake a decent cornbread.” Well madame, my guess is you’ve already succeeded 😊. Everything from here on out is just gravy on the biscuits 😉

  10. Diane Sweet says

    “Lessons from a cutting board”….I learned how to make homemade noodles from my mother in law about 50 years ago, and I needed a large wooden cutting board to use for rolling out the dough. Our first “home” had metal cabinets, so I bought a beautiful wooden cutting board that I still use today. I learned that too much milk in the dough made it stick to the board, and the dough was easier to manipulate if I let it cool in the refrigerator for awhile before rolling it out. It takes extra time to make your own noodles, just like it does to nurture a relstionship. Sometimes you need to give people extra space or a cooling off period. Then, there is the time needed to set up the noodles and let them “dry out” a little before you slice them or eventually put them in the chicken or beef stock to cook. I usually boiled a whole chicken and debunked it and added the noodles, sliced carrots,onion and celery. The noodles even tasted better the next day. It was a blessing to have that board for pies, Christmas cookies, and gingerbread houses.it has traveled with me to every kitchen and provided what I needed for many birthdays, holidays, and cold winter meals.

  11. https://www.thespruceeats.com/southern-spoon-bread-3061281 I made this SPOON BREAD today after reading your column, the BEST comfort food!! I used heavy cream 😂 My mom and aunts and grandmothers in VA had more spoon bread recipes in their boxes than any other item. I like the heaven part about letting someone else do the cooking! You are such a blessing! In SALISBURY NC, we have a small group that uses your columns for a little book club sometimes!

  12. Everything cooked in the cast iron skillet tastes better than any other. Fry the good old real jowl bacon that’s nice & salty, use the grease & make the best gravy you could ever taste. Use a smaller cast iron one to fry the eggs. Best meal on the face of the earth–forget calories & any diet. Best way in the world to fry chicken, make fried taters & onions, fried real liver & onions from the farm. One of our sons also cooks in cast iron kettles & makes such great food. As I have gotten older Hubby has to help me lift the bigger skillets. It’s a wonder I haven’t outgrown all my clothes. Thanks for bringing to mind such terrific memories. It’s bedtime, however, now I’m ready to go cook. God bless & keep you & yours.

  13. Do you know there is a Christian singing group named :Skillet?”

  14. Barbara Haughney says

    I have been cleaning out the family home and recently found my mother’s cast iron skillet. I immediately grabbed it before anyone could put it in the pile for the auction. And my first name was my mother’s middle name.

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