There is something alluring about connecting with one’s ancestral roots and exploring the affinities that link generations together.
Sometimes these affinities are vague or unknown—or they might be the traditions that characterize families for decades or even centuries. If there is any virtue in the old adage, “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree,” then what is vague might easily be conjectured.
There are few details known to me about my paternal grandmother, Marie Raymond. Mainly that she was a southern girl who loved to cook and who instilled that same affection in my father. I also know that, sometime during the year Reagan won his first bid for the presidency and I began filling out my mother’s womb, Grandma Marie fell asleep one night and never woke up.
There are a few photographs of her in the family archives, yet the thing that connects me most to the physical life she lived is a plain, unassuming object residing in the bottom of my kitchen’s Lazy Susan: her cast-iron skillet.
When it first passed through my mother’s kitchen into my own, I was less than charmed. It was heavy and cumbersome, and my new nonstick frying pans accomplished the same tasks without threatening to sprain my wrist. The problem with those pans, however, is that they never lasted: a handle would break or melt or the nonstick coating would eventually peel off.
Not the case with Old Faithful.
It’s an awkward beast, to be sure, but it’s an awkward beast that has outlasted half a century of my family’s culinary efforts; through it all, it’s remained a reliable administrator of stir-fries, caramelized onions, and seared meats.
Recently, I learned that an iron skillet is capable of more than searing beef and tenderizing root vegetables. Able to sustain both stove-top and oven environments, it works double-time—something I appreciate while experimenting with casseroles cooked, from start to finish, in that one workhorse of a pan.
And that’s not all; when I became curious about its dessert capabilities, it did not disappoint.
With dark chocolate, a bag of cherries and leftover Italian bread on hand, Grandma’s skillet starred in what I imagine to be its most glamorous production to date Chocolate Amaretto Bread Pudding with Cherry Amaretto Coulis.
I’m not going to lie—it felt strange and almost sacrilegious to melt chocolate in the same vessel that has sautéed probably a field’s worth of onions. In fact, chocolate-whisperers might hunt me down and ride me out of town; and yet I couldn’t be happier with how the whole thing turned out.
Served warm, straight out of the pan, the chocolate custard-infused bread soaks up the acidity of the cherry coulis, while the lightness of the whipped cream balances the solidity of the pudding. It’s one of those desserts one continues to nibble on, long after that first helping is consumed.
Making bread pudding is an excellent way to use up eggs and leftover bread, and for me, Grandma’s skillet will now be my vessel of choice for this primeval and yet densely rich dessert. I also am inspired to see what other feats this underestimated family relic can accomplish!