cast ir BY COLLEEN n
THOMPSON VINTAGE SKILLETS ARE GOOD FOR MORE THAN JUST NOSTALGIA
— hearty Savannah red rice, succotash, cornbread and
A decade ago, before people realized just how valu-able
they were, vintage cast iron pans were easy finds,
purchased only by those who valued flavor over speed
and convenience. But these days, finding an old, tra-ditional,
and patience. Sometimes it takes scouring thrift stores
and antique stores from one end of Wilmington to
the other to find one stuck between an old toaster and
a cut glass candy bowl.
Cast iron pans made before 1957 are considered
vintage. The term “Made in the USA” wasn’t stamped
on until after automated manufacturing became the
norm, so if you see this stamp, the pan isn’t vintage.
Between 1800 and the early 1900s there were
several major manufacturers of cast iron cookware
including Wagner, Griswold, Birmingham Stove &
Range, and Lodge.
In the tiny town of South Pittsburgh, on the
Tennessee River west of Chattanooga, Lodge has been
a family-run business for 120 years and has developed
a somewhat cultish following among collectors.
Vintage cast iron skillet collectors say 19th- and
early 20th-century pans were made with more care
and craftsmanship than many of the pans produced
today. For one thing, they were forged by hand:
sand molds were carefully made and then the iron
was poured in, which allowed for thinner, lighter
Over the years, kitchens tend to fill up with bits
and pieces that become prized possessions — the
well-used recipe book handed down by a mother, the
pale-blue Royal Doulton dinner service, the silver
fudge jar that once belonged to Granny.
When we inherit family heirlooms, we feel the
need to use the items more frequently, remembering
our loved one. Their true value lies in sentiment and
There is something deeply satisfying in cooking
with things that have been passed down through gen-erations.
In Southern kitchens, the most treasured is
often a cast iron pan or two. Story upon story is built
with each recipe made and served.
Well-loved, well-seasoned cast iron heirlooms are
often bequeathed in wills, and family feuds have
erupted over who gets the pan. Southern cooks treat
their cast iron skillet as a beloved friend — caring for
them through gentle cleaning and curing. And most
importantly, cooking with them frequently.
Cooking with cast iron is old school. While most
have ditched their heavy, unwieldy bodies for light-weight
non-stick ones, nothing compares to the qual-ity
of cast iron — lauded for its durability, versatility,
and ability to heat evenly.
It’s possible to buy a new cast iron pan, of course,
but to true aficionados only vintage will do. An
antique cast iron pan contains more than history and
memories. The surface holds the accumulated flavors,
seasoning and residue of a generation worth of meals
truly Southern cast iron pan can take years