I was dumped at a tender 26.

The relationship had burned a mere four years before finally burning out.

Still, it hurt. I remember sitting in a new apartment, newly single, sifting through the detritus of a failed union.

Pictures (and their negatives), photo albums, old birthday cards and notes … even clothes and shoes he’d given me went into the do-not-resuscitate pile. I gave away the clothing; everything else ended up in the apartment complex dumpster.

Except …

For some reason, I held on to the cast-iron skillet his mother had given me during a downsizing of her own.

I didn’t cook back then. It was actually painful, reminding me of my failed attempt at domesticity. But I kept the skillet, and it traveled with me as I navigated through several more moves, several more relationships and several subsequent house cleanings.

A few years ago, I hauled my cast-iron souvenir out of its pantry corner and decided to make a choice:

Either toss the last vestige of a long-ago mistake …

… or learn to use the thing.

I chose the latter, and I’m so glad I did. My cast-iron skillet has become one of my favorite kitchen tools. It heats to scorching highs, putting a beautiful sear on tuna steaks and tenderloins. It holds an entire flattened chicken with ease. It moves from stovetop to oven without any worries. In fact, the only points I have to remember are never to use citrus when I’m cooking in it (the iron and citrus react poorly), and to dry it thoroughly after washing (so it doesn’t rust).

The best thing about my pan is how quickly it cooks. Too many days, I’ve forgotten even to think about dinner, much less take something out of the freezer to thaw. For those evenings, I lug out the skillet, take a quick survey of what’s in the refrigerator or pantry, and let the pan do its magic. In most cases, dinner is on the table in less than an hour.

Lately, eggs have become my go-to fast food. Specifically, eggs whipped into an oven omelet, or frittata.

Cast iron is perfect for this cooking technique. It gets hot enough to set the eggs on the stove, yet it’s insulated enough to protect the bottom of the omelet as the dish finishes cooking in the oven.

I love Lynne Rosetto Kasper’s and Sally Swift’s basic frittata recipe in The Splendid Table’s How To Eat Supper:

Glaze the skillet with olive oil, then saute 1 chopped onion over medium heat until translucent. Add 1 minced garlic clove, and stir for 30 seconds.

Beat 5 eggs, 3/4 cup milk and 1 1/3 cups grated cheese (cheddar and Gruyere are our favorites) in a bowl. Pour into the skillet, and let the eggs sit for a minute or so — just until they set around the edges. Sprinkle on an additional 2/3 cup grated cheese. Cover with foil, and pop into a 350-degree oven for 30 minutes.

Uncover, and finish baking for an additional 10-15 minutes.

Using this formula as a base, I’ve added red bell peppers, thinly sliced potatoes and paprika to the onion saute. I’ve stirred in chopped spinach and crisp bacon, and mixed in a dollop of sour cream with the eggs and milk. I’ve topped the frittata with sliced tomatoes and fresh asparagus before popping it in the oven. I’ve even taken Kasper’s and Swift’s suggestion of sauteing Swiss chard and green apple with the onion (although my kids didn’t like the hint of sweet with their savory).

I could probably make a frittata in a stainless-steel pan. But my cast iron is foolproof.

It’s also a bit of an antique. I took it out the other day and looked at the bottom. It was made by the Griswold Manufacturing Co. in Erie, PA — a company that produced cast-iron cooking tools from 1865 to the 1950s. My ex’s mother probably got that pan when she was a young newlywed. It makes me grateful that she thought enough of me to pass it on.

It gives tough memories a tender grace.

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