Oct 13, 2014

Seven days of gratitude, day three: this old frying pan

When my young veterinarian friend challenged me to write for seven days about things for which I am grateful, there was such a spontaneous flood of topics in my mind that I could not order them properly and decided not to try. When I think of the big subjects, one greater always occurs to me, and then some small thing will come to mind with butterfly wings which, in beating, swirl the air around me and propagate their effects sometimes somehow to start the hurricane. So what is most important? As translators so often say, it depends on the context.

I found this simple iron pan at a yard sale in Southern California more than thirty years ago. I think I paid two US dollars for it. Maybe less. It has outlasted so much finer functional equipment for cooling and accompanied me on a culinary journey which began in graduate school and continues to this day. Its size and stability facilitate use in so many ways: on the stovetop, in the oven, on a small portable burner or a campfire or on top of some deserving head.
A number of times, this old iron pan has enabled me to cook meals where I have had no kitchen fit for use. It has also inspired me a number of times to consider simpler, alternative ways of making a meal and sharing it with friends. It's small size is just right for a quick, small batch of biscuits, nachos, corn bread, pan pizza or a stovetop calzone to share in a simple meal with another. It has been the medium for many a killer bechamel sauce.

And since I am long overdue to keep my promise to a Portuguese friend to share a quick way of making bread on the stovetop when she has nothing in the house, I'll share my pan-baked spelt biscuits with egg here and hope that some of you will try these or a variation and break this good bread with the friends and family for whom you are grateful:
2 cups of spelt flour (about 250-300 g)
1 tablespoon double-acting baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup (about 60 ml) butter
3/4 cup (about 180 ml) milk
1 egg

Mix or sift the flour and baking powder thoroughly, then mix in the butter thoroughly with a pastry cutter or fork. Then beat together the egg, milk and salt with a whisk, pour the liquid onto the flour mixtures and stir for a bit until everything is thoroughly wetted. Knead the soft dough for about a minute on a board, then form biscuits and bake. For crisper ones, keep the formed dough thin, for fluffier, softer ones form them to about 3/4 of an inch (about 2 cm) thickness.

Bake for 12 to 15 minutes at 450 °F (230 °C).

To ensure greater softness and height for the biscuits, place them in a small iron pan or baking dish rather than on a baking sheet as usual. Serve hot with jam, cheese, olive oil or whatever else sounds good.
Of course this recipe works well with other flour too, such as ordinary or whole grain wheat flour, rye, etc. or some tasty combination. 
Feel free to share your own favorite uses for such a small pan and I'll gratefully try them out with friends in the kitchen!


Day One – Teachers
Day Two – Storytellers
Day Four – Dogs
Day Five – Dissidents
Day Six – Hands
Day Seven – Free Will


  1. Hi,
    I needed to laugh. I been looking for some great websites about translations and what I found? A recipe for bread – I will try it today! I have also an old frying pan; I think almost 20 years or more old. But I use it for the perfect steak… ;-)

  2. Some plain treasures of daily life are, if not animated, then animating. Your vet's challenge and your essays have stayed with me for days, so I also wanted to express my thanks - and this entry struck my vocal and writing chords. My skillet is also about 30 years old now. Though I use it for everything, I associate it with Spanish tortillas (eggs and potatoes, with a dash of sherry and parsley as I learned from a friend from Alicante who knew how to do everything like the daily connoisseur). Best wishes, Terry

    1. These cast iron frying pans are indestructible and soooooooo versatile! Haven't learned to do a decent Spanish tortilla yet for a really dumb reason. I grew up with the Mexican versions and I keep wanting to call the Iberian stuff something else. And given the rivalries between Spain and Portugal, making Spanish food would not be the best social lubricant here in Évora. The first time I made gaspacho here, I planned to do it Mexican-style (or at least the way I learned in California) and my dinner partner had a fit, insisting it had to be made by Alentejan methods, so I went to Google, did my research and got it wrong by finding an eastern Alentejan recipe (same as Spanish). Reactions to that made me duck and cover. So just Mexican tortillas here in this house... after my press finally makes it down here from Poland.


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