RICH: Looks aren't the main thing when it comes to biscuit pans

Whenever I take out my biscuit pan -- and every Southern cook worth her salt and grease has one -- I can't help but shake my head.

It is not, as my friend Karen would say, "a purdy sight."

I have more than one, of course, for when guests come and I need to make two or three pans of homemade buttermilk biscuits; but the main one is large, round and very black from all the years of baking in 500 degrees with Crisco smeared generously on the surface. Just once, I wish that Southern Living or other magazines that feature cooking would show a pan like mine instead of one gleaming with newness and beauty. Their standards are impossibly high and it makes things a bit depressing in the real world of cooking.

It has long been my belief that when we are blessed with possessions clothes, cars, houses, furniture, housewares -- we should take care of them and keep them looking as new and pristine as possible. It shows an appreciation, I believe. The glaring exception, of course, is my biscuit pan.

My sister, undeniably the best cook in the family, has a biscuit pan that looks about as sorry as mine does. One Sunday while helping her prepare dinner, I pulled her pan out of the cabinet and laughed.

"Your biscuit pan looks as bad as mine does," I said. I looked at it for a moment and remembered Mama's biscuit pans and all the biscuit pans of women I know. Each is dark black, its shiny Teflon-coated beauty long melted into memories of deliciousness. "I guess it's impossible to have a good looking biscuit pan."

Or a decent looking cast iron skillet.

In the South, every kitchen requires a biscuit pan, a boiler for soup beans (not bean soup as the North calls them) and a hearty iron skillet, well seasoned. I have read in magazines where there is a new-fangled idea that iron skillets can be seasoned in an hour or now get this you can buy pre-seasoned iron skillets. An unseasoned skillet is silvery gray in color while a seasoned one is black. (Notice the theme here? Oft used cookware turns black.) Without seasoning (oiling down the skillet), it will not have non-stick qualities.

One night, many years ago, I was at Mama's, sitting at the kitchen table and talking to her while she fixed supper. She opened her oven door and pulled out a cake of cornbread in an iron skillet and set it on the top of the stove. Then she pulled out a lower rack, sprinkled oil on a cast iron pan and pushed it back into the hot oven.

"What are you doing?" I asked.

"I'm seasoning a skillet for Nicole," she replied, referring to my niece who had just married.

"How long will it take to season it?" Until that moment, I had never considered the art of seasoning an iron skillet.

"Oh, I don't know. I'll probably leave it in there for a month or so. Then, it'll be really seasoned good." As she explained to me that night, she left the skillet in the oven for a month of daily baking when she made cornbread or biscuits. Every day, she poured a dab of oil into it and let it bake deep into the metal. Nicole uses that cast iron skillet regularly and, no doubt, will cherish it always.

Now, if you're a Southern woman and you don't have an iron skillet, that's nothing about which to brag. Just keep it between you and your kitchen sink.

And if you have a gleaming, perfectly pretty biscuit pan, don't show that to anyone, either.

Otherwise, they'll know your biscuits are canned.

Visit www.rondarich.com for more information.