I got a cast iron pot for Christmas today.
That might not seem like a significant present, but I loved it. It is really big - 12 quarts big. This evening, I made a duck and andouille and smoked sausage gumbo in it for my family. It was really good and fed 10 of us with a lot left over along with the other meats and side dishes that we had.
I'm looking forward to using the cast iron pot in the future for big soups and gumbos and jambalayas. The thing about a cast iron pot is that it cooks evenly all around and it becomes something like an oven on top of the stove and you can feed a lot of people with it. It was made by this company in Baton Rouge called "Krazy Kajun" and my wife said that they had fantastic customer service so if you ever want a cast iron pot, you need to buy one through "Krazy Kajun." When I have made gumbo in the past, I hated making the roux because it took something like 20 minutes of constantly stirring the oil and flour mixture until it became dark brown. But, in the "Krazy Kajun" cast iron pot, it only took 10-15 minutes. I'm sold. Those crazy Cajuns know how to make cast iron pots.
All of this got me thinking about what makes a really good present, especially for Christmas. For me, it is always something that connects with culture and history and continues to provide rich experiences if you use it the right way. We live in a technological age where the latest gadget and iThis or iThat is all the rage. People stand in line to get the most current innovation and to purchase some other way to iSolate themselves from others in a media cocoon. But, today, I got a gift that can be used to feed people and make amazing meals and facilitate community and gatherings where I can experience real life with people instead of simulated life a step or two removed. Chopping the trinity of onion, celery, and bell peppers and stirring the roux and adding in the seasoned duck and sausages and bay leaves and tabasco with the steam and smells and bubbling, boiling gumbo almost leaping out of the pot - it was real and fun and tangible.
I'll keep using my cast iron pot. Erika also bought me a cookbook by John Besh called "My Family Table" that has a whole chapter on how to cook with a cast iron pot. Besh says,
"If we as humans are to continue to evolve as a civilized society, we most certainly must find the time to slow down, to figure out how to make time to cook and eat with each other. This kind of communication is more fulfilling and more satisfying than anything that goes out through the airwaves. All this is a very long way beck to the cast iron pot! This vessel belongs not just to a past where our families once cooked and ate for the sake of sustenance and survival, but to our future as well. No, this is not a 30 minute meal. Instead, it's a meal of considerable investment of time and ingredients with the power to warm the soul and satisfy the palate."
I like Besh's thoughts here. Slow down. Chop your own vegetables. Braise your own meats. Invite people over. Talk. Share life. Hebrew spirituality focuses on the Table as a place of meeting and joining lives together. Jesus made the Table a significant part of the church's experience as he called on us to remember him through a common meal. I am really not trying to over spiritualize or romanticize a cast iron pot, but I find it absolutely glorious that a really simple piece of iron shaped and molded in the fire could host a feast of the senses that far surpassed all of the technological breakthroughs that I am so used to receiving.
Oh, I'm writing this on my iPad, by the way.