Cast-Iron Memories

By: Fletcher Dalton

A cast iron Dutch oven from the Wright Tavern’s Cast Iron Collection

Francois Villon famously asked, “Where are the snows of yesterday?” To the greatest French writer in the 15th century, tha answer to this question was a philosophical matter. However, I have a question that is more practical; were are the cast iron pots, cauldrons and skillets of yesterday?

These items and their uses were an essential part of my childhood in Rockingham County. I saw them in excursions throughout he county in the 1050’s and 1960’s. They showed up in towns and in the county.

In my home, we didn’t have an iron cauldron, but we did have a 25-inch iron skillet. We also had (and I inherited and still use) a “warm morning” stove. In the one-room schoolhouse in the Hayes Chapel area, where my mother was the teacher, we had a pot-bellied stove that kept us nice and toasty. I cannot recall who lit the fire in it. Maybe one of the older boys was entrusted with the key and came early to fire the stove, or maybe my mother stoked the coals when we arrived. In any case, we wore lap robes in the car, and by the time that warmth wore off, the heat in the pot-bellied stove was rising.

Of course, cast iron items can be purchased from the internet these days, but they are new and they don’t awaken the memories that were burned into the hard-to-wield, hard-to-lift and hard to cool-down pieces that I fondly recall.

One of our neighbors had a cook stove equipped with a pie warmer. Upon entering her home, you could smell apple pie, cornbread, pork chops, greens, and coffee. She also used a cast-iron cauldron outside for washing laundry. I remember the day her husband had a washing machine delivered and installed. His wife was grateful and invited my family over to inspect it. But the next Monday morning, she filled the cauldron with buckets of water, dumped clothes into it, lit a fire under it, and did her washing as she always had.

Another cauldron I recall was used for prepping Brunswick stew near Highway 220 in Madison, in the Freetown area. A fire crackled underneath, lots of stock filled the big pot, and people took away quart-sized Mason jars filled with yummy stew. Around the pot, especially in cool weather, laughter and fellowship reigned among friends and neighbors.

Wright Tavern seems to have had mostly fireplaces – nice ones – but I sure wish the proprietor had invested in at least one or two pot-bellied stoves for those shivery mornings when warming one’s hands and body at the same time would have been a priority.


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