by Ali Berlow
“A cast iron skillet needs a good seasoning before it can really fly.” At least Mariah said so and she was the reigning skillet toss champion from Martha’s Vineyard. She first learned that she had a penchant for the throw a few years back when her husband of seventeen years announced over dinner one night that he’d been having an affair and wanted a divorce. Without thinking Mariah reached for the skillet of potatoes from across the table and winged it at him. It knocked him out but didn’t kill him, which was probably a good thing in the end, although she won’t deny that for a split second, she wished that it had.
The spring after he left, Mariah spent her spare time training for the skillet toss competition that would take place at Agriculture Fair in August. There was some tough competitors in her age group–38 to 48—and by looking at her wiry build you wouldn’t think that she had enough guts, but the rumors had circulated around town about what kind of arm she did possess—swift, just and accurate.
An iron skillet will often break when it lands. Cast-iron is a brittle thing. But when you’re in training, there’s no substitute for the real thing. Mariah goes through three or four a month before the big event. “A good throw requires a good arc,” she explains, “and maybe there’s something to be said about the ratio between the handle length to diameter of the skillet, but as far I’m concerned, it’s all in the wrist and the seasoning, of course.”
To get that right, she wipes a nice even thin layer of Crisco all over the fry pan (except the handle) and sets it in a hot oven. Then she turns it off, leaving it to cool overnight. The next morning she’ll make bacon in it, cooking thick slices of apple-wood-smoked pork belly over a low blue flame. “The fat shouldn’t talk back,” Mariah says. “It should be drawn out slowly with no complaint, so the skillet can suck it all up.” She never uses detergent or dish soap to clean her iron skillet–only a scrub and some water, if necessary. Then she sets it over a burner again, wiping it out with a paper towel. Maybe she adds a few drops of grease if it looks dry, and then rubs kosher salt over the surface, leaving it to cool. For Mariah, a well-seasoned skillet is a thing to behold and a damn good thing to throw. A skillet is ready to toss when its black burnished smell is gunmetal and rendered pig, and eggs fried in butter slip out with ease.
The week before last, Mariah ran into Mrs. Sally Levitt at the local hardware store while buying a couple of new Lodge ten-inch fry pans. Sally had a few of the skillets in her carriage as well. The two ladies exchanged pleasantries, talked about the wet spring weather, and then went on their respective ways. Neither of them mentioned the skillet toss or the Ag Fair, but talk around town was that Sally Levitt was in training and was going to be Mariah’s biggest competition. Mariah wasn’t intimidated even though Sally was a big boned woman with a low center of gravity. Mariah had already heard through the grapevine that Sally missed him by a mile. All she’d managed to do when she threw the skillet at her husband was bust up a kitchen cabinet. Mr. Levitt got away without a scratch.