Whenever we visited my grandmother in Brooklyn, the first floor of her building smelled of pigs knuckles and sauerkraut, the second floor smelled of corned beef and cabbage and on the third floor, where Grandmother lived, the gentle aroma of Irish Soda Bread would drift into the hall.
Shortly after we arrived Grandmother would pull the black frying pan from the oven with two towels (she never used pot holders). Quickly she would slip the round crusty Irish Soda Bread from the pan onto a wooden board to cool.
We would all wait anxiously around the big dining room table running our fingers up and down the designs on the faded oil cloth. Each of us would secretly hope that we would get the best piece - the heel. At last, she would cut the crust. The steam would rise revealing the fresh bread dotted with raisins and caraway seeds.
My grandmother was a practical person. She believed kitchen utensils should have more than one use. If you could use your cast-iron skillet for frying why not use it for baking? My grandmother passed on the tradition of baking in a cast-iron frying pan to my mother and in time my father decided to try his family's recipe of scotch scones in the pan. These triangular-shaped baking powder biscuits taste best when served with butter and strawberry jam.
My mother-in-law, not wanting to be left out of the Black Frying Pan Bake Club, supplied a recipe for a desert pancake. This pancake is a distant cousin to the popover.
Cast-iron cookware dates back to colonial times and has undergone a resurgence in popularity. The Wagner Manufacturing Company of Sidney, Ohio, one of the largest producers of cast ironware, sold more than 1 million cast-iron skillets last year.
Many pans have been passed on from generation to generation. As a cast iron frying pan becomes seasoned it develops a thick black outer crust and a shiny seasoned look inside. Some people claim it takes 10 to 20 years to break in a pan properly. The procedure isn't so lengthy, however. Take one cup of shortening or rendered fat and bring it to a boil in the new pan.Pour off the fat. Take a paper towel and wipe the pan clean. Try not to scrub the pans heavily with soap and water.
Here are the recipes that have been used in my family for generations. These recipes use the "black frying pan" for baking.
GRANDMA'S IRISH SODA BREAD (Serves 12 to 16) 4 1/2 cups flour 1/2 cup sugar 1 teaspoon baking soda 2 tablespoons caraway seeds 1 teaspoon salt 1/2 box of raisins (15-ounce box) 1/2 to 3/4 quart buttermilk
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Take a paper towel and dip into shortening and coat the inside of a 10-inch black frying pan. Mix the flour, sugar, soda, caraway seeds, salt and raisins. Then add half a quart of buttermilk and mix. I usually add about one cup more, continuing until the mixture has a wet look about it.Place dough in the frying pan and take a wet knife and cut across the mixture to the bottom of the pan. Bake at 375 degrees for 45 minutes. If the bread does not get very brown, I put a little melted butter on the crust five minutes before it is finished to brown it up. Remove from the pan and cool for about 20 minutes. POPPA'S SCTOCH SCONES (Makes 24) 3 cups flour 3 teaspoons baking powder 1 teaspoon salt 3 tablespoons sugar 1 1/4 cups milk 4 tablespoons shortening
Sift flour, baking powder, sugar and salt together. Work 3 tablespoons shortening in with two knives. Add the milk and mix. Roll the dough in a ball and knead for about 2 minutes. Put remaining tablespoon shortening on a paper towel and wipe the skillet. Preheat skillet over medium heat. Divide the dough into two pieces and roll each with a rolling pin into a ten-inch circle about 1/2-inch thick. Cut each dough circle with a knife into 8 wedge-shaped pieces. The scones should be cooked over a medium heat in the same manner as pancakes. Place 4 or 5 pieces of scones into the frying pan. They should be cooked about 3 to 4 minutes on the first side. Take a peek. The underside should be golden to dark brown. Turn the scones and cook on the other side for 2 to 3 minutes. Remove and keep warm. Continue until all are cooked. When the pan looks dry, recoat with shortening on a paper towel. Serve at once. MY MOTHER-IN-LAW'S DESSERT PANCAKE (Serves 6 to 8) 1/2 cup flour 1/2 cup milk, at room temperature 2 eggs, at room temperature Pinch nutmeg 1/2 stick butter Lemon juice 2 Tablespoons confectioners' sugar
Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Mix the flour, milk, eggs and nutmeg with a beater for 1 minute or place in the blender for 30 seconds. Place the butter in a 10-inch black frying pan. For flavor's sake, do not substitute margarine. Swirl the butter around to coat the sides, then pour the mixture into the pan. Place in the oven for 20 minutes. Pull the pan from the oven and squeeze some lemon juice over the pancake and sprinkle with confectioners' sugar. Place in the oven for 1 more minute and serve immediately.