Last week, a co-worker made Green Eggs and Ham, bringing cooking down to her students’ eye-level by cooking it in her mom’s old electric skillet, exclaiming to the other teachers afterwards how fun and easy the electric skillet was to use. Green Eggs and Ham is a popular dish for children in March, celebrating both Dr. Seuss’ birthday and of course, the greenest of all holidays, St. Patrick’s Day.
That weekend, I was sitting around the table with my husband and daughter Lucy, enjoying a New England Boiled Dinner (great on a rainy day), a rare treat in our world of counting calories. I told them about my friend’s cooking in her mom’s electric skillet, which let to talking about my mom’s electric skillet, which was used at least weekly, when I was growing up. Lucy added that Mema cooked in it often when she and Sarah were little and “sleeping over at grandma’s.”
One of my earliest memories is of walking into Mama’s kitchen while she was frying chicken in a large pan on the corner of the stove. (With three teenagers, mom, dad and three-year-old me, cooking was a stressful job for her, I’m sure.) The grease popped out, and I was screaming with a singed eyebrow. I’m pretty sure the new electric skillet appeared right after that, moving the cooking heat and greases higher and away from curious eyes! I do not remember the first electric skillet, but I remember hearing how Mama loved using her electric skillet so much, she “plumb wore out” the first one!
I don’t remember Mama making bacon or eggs (and certainly not green ones!) in her electric skillet. Maybe she did so if our cousins from North Carolina came to visit–one of them ate ketchup on her eggs! Mama used it mostly for cooking large quantities and meats, she loved having the exact temperature adjustment.
There was a curious sliding vent on the electric skillet’s cover. I was very much intrigued by it, a tiny circle divided into four pieces. I wanted to open or close it, just once, but Mama said it would be too hot! (Mama used a hot pad or the edge of a spoon when she opened or closed it.) Finally Mama remembered to let me open and close it one day before she used the lid, while it was cool. I was surprised at how unexciting it was, just a tiny bit of metal, shifting back and forth, with no magical steam coming.
Sundays were a workout for Mama’s electric skillet, as she tried to have a day of rest, always a challenge for a working mama. She was up early, or as soon as her alarm woke up Daddy, as Mama was always sleeping through her alarm. Before she started breakfast, the chuck roast was seasoned, floured, browned and ready to cook slowly in the electric skillet. One southern-style breakfast later, the six of us were dressing for church in our Sunday best, or close to it. Mama would turn on the roast with onions, potatoes and carrots, on a very low temperature. We returned after church to heavenly aromas, with the roast moist, the onions and vegetables caramelized, although in the 60’s, we just said they were nicely browned.
When I was in second grade, my big sister Janice was getting married. I remember she was given an electric skillet, a harvest gold 70’s model. I’m sure she used it often, and I’ve seen it occasionally through the years, but no one could use one as much as Mama. With only me at home (Barron worked for the Forestry Service and Jim was in Vietnam), the skillet was used less often, but always for chuck roast. Soon crockpots became popular, the ultimate in easy, but without the wonderfully browned finish.
When I got married in the 80’s, we were given two or three crockpots and several beautifully decorated quiche dishes, popular then, and still useful now (just not for quiche). I don’t even remember electric skillets being available on the bridal registry. I got a fancy new crockpot when our oldest daughter took our crockpot to college–it lasted about five more years, but crockpots, old or new, never had the constant use or love of Mama’s electric skillet.
Mama’s Skillet Lid was similar to this, with one vent