Twenty years ago or so my mother got a phone call from her mother-in-law, my Mimom, who asked her if she wanted “Tom’s mom’s iron pot.'” Tom, being my BigDad, that they were clearing out some things in their garage and would my mother want this pot. My mother, who has a yard, and always has, like something out of House and Garden magazine, immediately responded with a ‘yes’ assuming it was some sort of iron pot that she would use for a planter. When my dad went to see his parents shortly thereafter and returned home with said pot, my mother was less than amused, as the pot was a dutch oven and not an iron pot that wanted to be part of a landscape design. No, it was an iron pot that had been used for nearly a century to cook, and cooking is one thing my mother abhors.
Twenty minutes or so after the iron pot arrived at my parent’s house, I got a call from my mother asking me if I wanted it and I immediately responded with a ‘yes.’ I have used this pot every winter since, and have used it to make sweet and delicate baked apples, savory stews, and wickedly wild chili, I’ve used it to roast chickens and bake pork loins, and I’ve used it decoratively like a cauldron for Halloween decor. What I love most about the pot is that every time I put it in my oven or on top of my stove, I can’t help but imagine how many meals it held, and for how many people, over its life.
I am one of the least sentimental women you might ever meet, and although my house is filled with beautiful things, I consider myself something of a minimalist. I don’t care for clutter and I like everything to have a use and a place and am not at all daunted by rainy “CLEAN OUT!” days. When I moved into this house I swore that I was only putting things in it that I loved and used…no more trying to store a set of dishes I might use once a year, no more having champagne flutes that never move from the back of the top shelf…no, everything that got moved into this house was going to be touched regularly or it was not coming through the door…which is why at times I do in fact drink milk from the one crystal Hermes highball glass I own, and have used hand blown wine glasses for iced tea. I have many needless objects and useful things that I really love, and this iron pot is one of them. I also have an enormous stoneware bowl from the 1940’s that was my Pop’s, who was my mother’s father, and when filled with macaroni salad is so heavy I suspect not many 1940’s housewives could have lifted it, and I have a knife my Pop made when he was a cook in the Army, and again, when I use the bowl or use the knife, I feel connected to a past that I know so little about but of which I am a part.
Yesterday late in the afternoon I took Tom’s Mom’s Iron Pot out of the oven and removed the lid and the aroma of beef stew filled the room,which was empty but for two hungry people; one happily crocheting on her sofa and trying to avert her eyes from all the yard work that needed to be done, and one joyfully watching the Eagles beat the Redskins at the other end of said sofa. The pot only fed two yesterday, but it has fed as many as twelve in the past. It is a very useful pot and I smile every time I cook with it. I am now the keeper and the user of these things and I like to think that those who used these things before me would be proud…of how much I love to cook and feed people I love, of how much I enjoy entertaining and having guests to my home to eat and drink and talk, of how much I treasure these objects that once belonged to them…and I like to think that the more I cook with the two little girls who live next door to me, and the more opportunities I give them to set the table and to plan meals, they will, when they are grown and I am dead, enjoy being the keepers of these things…