Cast-Iron Generations

By Tonya Coats

July 18, 2022

Cast-Iron Generations

The cast-iron skillet has been in our family five generations, since the early 1900s. Twice as thick as when it was forged, it has layers of black scales on the outside. An imperceptible skin inside. Every time I use the skillet, mothers from both sides of our family–mine, and my husband’s–arrive to teach me how to teach the next ones.

“Mommy, when will this be mine?” my daughter asks, tracing the hieroglyphs on the outside of the skillet, understanding how it was passed down from them to me.

“First let’s make the cornbread batter.”

"Granny mother’s cornbread?”

“It’s not that simple.”

Our recipe for cornbread, tweaked over generations from both sides of our family, is only perfect when it is cooked in this cast-iron skillet.

We use Granny Fran’s mother’s skillet. Grand Ma Vi says, “Use yellow cornmeal.” Mommy adds a quarter cup of sugar. I, a quarter more. Nana insists, two pinches of salt better than one. Granny mother doubles the quantity of milk. Almost done.

We pour the batter into the hot cauldron. The batter cries out as it intermingles with the sizzling, salty, sweet, browning butter. We heft the skillet into the oven. Her hands on top of mine, I feel my mother’s hands underneath, holding the handle.

It’s done. We taste it. My daughter closes her eyes. I see balls move up under her smooth dark lids. Her fists tighten in exhilaration. She owns the cornbread recipe.

The Grandmothers leave to await the next lesson.


Dr. Tonya Coats, a native Chicagoan, is a semi-retired Family Physician. She has two college-aged children, Robert and Kennedy, with her husband Dr. Rob. Tonya’s current writing tends to explore ancestry and DNA. She is looking for a home for her completed mystery novel.


Image courtesy of the author

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