To cook like Nanny is a goal never actually to be attained. But I try.
Nanny (my maternal grandmother) raised me in the kitchen and taught me about love and family and food. So of course it is fitting that Southern Living's October issue (the month of her birth) has an opening letter from the editor on family recipes handed down by tradition through generations.
To my knowledge, Nanny never owned a cookbook or written recipe in her life. I certainly never saw her use one. Nanny learned from her grandmother, who I am certain learned from hers. All I ever knew growing up was that foods were prepared by mashing until things looked right, by stirring until things felt right, and by seasoning until they tasted right.
I remember in elementary school, a Girl Scouting project required us to bring in recipes to contribute to a troop cookbook. I remember coming home, feeling so excited to get Nanny's suggestions, and feeling quite certain that our recipes would be the most prized contributions to the collection. Equally vivid is my memory of the look on her face, as she tried to explain that she didn't think she had anything to share. We worked and worked to measure and figure out how to write up some version of a recipe, but I have no idea if the final instructions came close to creating whatever they were supposed to make. At the time, I remember feeling embarrassed that our family's "recipes" were somehow not good enough--why couldn't she just use measuring cups like all the other moms? But today I look back and am so thankful for the years Nanny patiently spent teaching me--not how to read steps off of an index card, but how to put my heart into something and serve it to someone I love and connect with people I care about around a dinner table.
In ten days, Nanny will celebrate her 95th birthday but she will not know the meaning of the day. We will gather and eat cake, and we are hopeful she will be having a good day so that she will remember how to chew and swallow it. My children will see an elderly woman in a chair, but they will never know the body of knowledge and love within her, except as I am able to pass it on to them. The woman who raised me is no longer able to remember the recipes of our family, but I am so thankful that my kids will know a piece of her from my kitchen.
Perhaps the editor's opening remarks were only coincidentally used alongside this month's focus on cast iron cooking, but I'm going to pretend like the overlap was intentional, because there is no better piece of cookware than an inherited cast iron skillet. Mine was my husband's grandmother's, and I cherish it and hope that one day my kids or their kids will remember meals we made together in it. Maybe they will even say, "This meal came from my mother's mother's mother" or "This pan once belonged to my father's mother's mother."
So to honor Nanny's legacy of recipe-free cooking and Gran's fine piece of well-seasoned cookware, this month I have no recipe for you. Just some photos of an amazing dinner of steak and mashed potatoes, inspired by Southern Living's recipe for a Cast Iron Cowboy Steak. I've also scanned this issue's tips on caring for cast iron cookware, because I couldn't find a link to it on their site.
Hope y'all are able to enjoy something delicious with someone you love this month. If you happen to have an old cast iron skillet laying around, preheat it in your oven to 450, sear some ribeyes on high heat on your stovetop, and then finish them back in your hot oven. Just season them before you sear them with salt and pepper until they look right, and finish them with a little butter, herbs and garlic in the pan until the house smells right. If you're serving them with mashed potatoes, be sure to pour a little of those buttery-herbed pan drippings over the top--just enough to where it feels right to you. But whatever you do, don't measure anything. That's just a waste of time.