The Value of a Cast Iron Pot

It was bittersweet as we began dividing up Mom’s things. She no longer needed a cabinet full of Tupperware containers, pots and pans, or silverware from her fifty years of marriage. She would never cook again or put away leftovers. Still, memories clung to so many of her kitchen items.

image of black cast iron pot with roast inside, sitting on butcher block counter

In one cabinet, the cast iron pot sat like a lonely sentinel of Sunday dinners past. Every Sunday morning, Mom put a roast in that pot. Meat fresh from our herd of cattle. No hormones. No chemicals. No naming of the beef you might soon eat. It sizzled and brewed in its own juices while we learned about God at the church service in town.

When we came home, Mom took the roast out of that pot. It was magically perfect every time, along with its accompanying potatoes, carrots, and gravy with bits of meat. Occasionally, an onion. Or some leftover peas.

When I held Mom’s cast-iron pot, I wondered who originally gave it to her. Was it a wedding gift from Dad’s parents who knew about the value of cooking your own beef? Or had it been handed down from the Mennonite ancestors who now lay beneath the soil in the Ukraine? Had it traveled across the ocean, landing at Ellis Island with other immigrants seeking religious freedom?

Somehow, I could not allow this pot its destiny at a garage sale. So I asked my sister, “Can I have it? There are so many memories connected to it.”

Our family sitting around the table, discussing the sermon or the music from that day’s worship service.

“Wasn’t that offertory on the organ amazing?”

“I loved that choir song at the end. Marilyn hit that last note perfectly. Was it a high ‘C’?”

“What exactly did the pastor mean about free will? I didn’t get that.”

Dad would explain while Mom nodded in approval. We all added to the discussion, passed the roast beef plate around once more, and made sure the gravy lasted for the final helpings. Cherry Jello melted next to the hot veggies on our plates. A couple of zwieback, freshly baked the day before, with butter dripping down the sides. Cherry pie with a dollop of homemade vanilla ice cream.

As the chunky child, I was always destined to sit on the ice cream maker while Dad churned it. My rear end getting colder, but my stomach anticipating the creaminess of the end result.

After lunch, we all helped clean up. Mom, my sister, and I worked on the dishes and any leftovers. Hiding them in those same Tupperware containers Mom no longer needed. The cast iron pot was one of the last dishes to be washed. Scrubbed and rinsed with the certainty that it would be used again for the next Sabbath. A type of security in our 1960s chaotic world.

Dad and my brother pushed the chairs back under the table, emptied the trash, then settled themselves in the living room with various pieces of the Sunday paper. The sounds of a football game’s broadcast echoed throughout the house. Usually the Oklahoma Sooners. Cheers when they scored, which they often did.

Back in my home, years later, I lift the cast iron pot to my face and try to smell the pot roast. But it has been too many years since it held the meat from cattle my dad fed, then butchered to feed his family. Too many washings. And too many years waiting in the cabinet while Mom lingered through the shadows of Alzheimer’s.

The smell may be gone, but my soul tied to its memories lives on. I slide the pot into my own cabinet, wondering how I will use it. Probably never put a pot roast inside as I rarely eat beef anymore. Maybe a chicken, seasoned with rosemary and tiny shallots around the perimeter.

Will my son remember our meals together with such fondness? Will he someday hold my pots and pans and treasure special meals? Maybe not. We have such different schedules, we eat together only once a week. Our Sunday ritual is sometimes take-out. Indian. Mexican. Schlotzsky’s.

Is this cast iron pot another remnant of a generation gone that spent quality and quantity time together? The hours of my mother’s preparations. The smells of a farmhouse kitchen. Cold winters and abundant harvests. The joy of being family.

I miss that piece of cultural history.

Mom’s cast iron pot is now my treasure. Maybe I’ll take it out for a table centerpiece. Place it where I will see it often. Plop some plastic flowers inside to help me stay centered on what is important. The love of family and the importance of each day.

©2024 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

For essays and other memories, check out Sometimes They Forget. Available on Amazon.

Image: OrderSantos / Pixabay

3 thoughts on “The Value of a Cast Iron Pot”

  1. Beautiful! I remember my mother’s blue bowl in which she mixed her pie dough. It was boxed and given away before anyone knew I loved that bowl. ❤️

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