We’re glancing at the end of a classic, hot, July here in the “Deep South”; wishing August didn’t exist. The Hungry Southerner is escaping it in the comfort of my A/C and a playlist full of the Delta Blues. Not those happy melodies you hear on the modern radio, but the saddest guitar strumming and picking, mixed with the static of a worn record needle, recorded on the front porches of old Delta farm houses. The music of the “Delta Snow”, those rows of beautiful cotton fields that go on forever, occasionally interrupted by an abandoned gas station or soy bean field. So what does this classic Southern scene have to do with Cast Iron, or Southern food? Culture.
Growing to appreciate the beauty of an old cast iron pan, is like learning to appreciate the melodies of an old Blues musician. Staring into the deep blackened, worn and slick surface of a cast iron pan, smooth from decades of hard use you see the soul of the cooks whose lives were spent creating a fading culinary art form. A pan whose surface is sealed and permeated with the oils of a 1000 meals, so much that it laughs at modern nonstick, having earned its place as the original and king. Its only partners being a pound of lard, or maybe some old bacon grease, and a burned wooden spoon. A wooden spoon that has suffered through many nights of high heat cooking, and one too many close encounters to an open flame. A cast iron pan echoes the “Delta Blues”, the most versatile, and rugged tool of all Southern cooks, no different than the old guitars, worn, from the meekest of musician’s fingers.
The raspy voices of the Delta wouldn’t be labeled by this young society as beautiful. Delta music isn’t subtle, but harsh and straight forward, a cry for relief from the heat, humidity and constant sting of the Mississippi mosquito. Cast iron and the blues; just trying to tell their stories to the next generation. Rough around the edges, but with a beautiful rhythm that emerges in the worn hands of each artist; the repetition of a spoon scraping a pan wearing its surface smooth, or the strumming of an old steel guitar etching a groove from hours of picking. Like an old song, cast iron isn’t disposable, but meant to be passed on to the next generation, an authentic and modern sustainable piece of equipment. Cast iron is a symbol of sustainable living, molded from melted reclaimed iron scraps, and reformed into a tool to bring life to a new Southern food generation. Like the missing notes and miss-tuned chords of the Blues, cast iron can handle a little rust, simply waiting for a new artist to scrape it off and re-season it back into playing condition.
Yes, cast iron is a lot like the Delta Blues, grown together in the dusty fertile soil of the Mississippi sun, like the finest wines and cheeses. You can just picture the most talented Southern cooks, melding the flavors of the South, while a generation of Delta born Southerners listen to a rhythmic telling of some Musicians life. As the music plays on, the smell of cooked greens,pork fat and fried catfish waft its way through some open window, beckoning to those around. In an instance that Delta song comes to an end, while the hot cast iron begins to cool, mouths are being fed and the cook wipes the cast iron clean. No soap needed, just a little rub with an old tea towel, adding another layer of shine to its slick surface. Yes cast iron has a lot in common with the Delta Blues, both worth saving for another life time.
Stay Hungry Y’all!
-The Hungry Southerner
Note: We are kicking off a new initiative to educate folks about what’s going on with Southern “sustainable” agriculture, small businesses, and consumer products. We’re going to be bringing to y’all a series of podcasts, interviews, videos and articles with folks who are trying to do “Southern Sustainable” in whatever way suits their work. You’ll be surprised, like we are, to learn that sustainable, fresh, organic, and healthy mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people, and no body has a clear answer to how it all adds up. We hope you’ll help support your local economy and begin to get in touch with your food, your farms, small businesses and local chefs/cooks and start asking questions that will help you better understand where your food and products come from; to get back in touch with your local culture.