A Southern Heirloom

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By Amanda Dalton Wilbanks

Southern Cast Iron heads east to the Gainesville, Georgia, kitchen of professional pie baker and cookbook author Amanda Dalton Wilbanks. With this savory pie, she’s proving that everything is better topped with a buttery crust.

Growing up in the South, I always found myself in the kitchen. While my brother enjoyed rolling in the mud and playing outside in the sweltering, sticky Georgia heat, the thought of doing the same made me instantly melt into a puddle of tears. I was and have always been a priss pot. By default, the kitchen became my favorite place to spend my free time.

My mother once told someone she doesn’t think I was ever dirty as a child except for when I cooked. That is not an exaggeration. It’s a fact. I found my happiness sitting at my mother’s kitchen island, watching as she floated gracefully from sink to stove to oven, filling pans, frying, mixing, and baking. As she cooked dinner each night, she called out my spelling words, listened to me recant the stories of my entire day, and finished the laundry all at the same time.

She never seemed distracted, stressed, or distant, though I know she had a million things on her mind. Southern women are magicians—don’t let anyone tell you differently.

When my great-grandmother “Ma” passed, my mother said she would love to have her coveted cast-iron skillet. In the South, a well-seasoned cast-iron skillet is worth its weight in gold. I remember Mom bringing Ma’s skillet home and swiping a paper towel coated in Crisco along the inside to moisten the edges. I can feel that moment and taste it in my soul. It’s the moment I felt an instant connection to my past.

Mom explained to me the seasoning of the skillet imparts flavors that can only be created over time into dishes. Then she made the most amazing fried chicken I have ever tasted. With the first bite, I instantly understood the immeasurable value of a passed-down skillet. Growing up, cast-iron skillet poppy seed chicken casserole was my favorite weeknight meal. Over the years, I’ve taken my mother’s recipe and added my own flair to suit my family’s tastes. Instead of using the cream of chicken soup and homemade biscuit topping, I make my own roux from scratch to add thickness and flavor, and finish it off with my flaky, Southern Baked all-butter French pastry dough. My boys love the dish, and my husband will literally scrape the skillet with a wooden spoon to get every last salty, caramelized, flavor-packed bite.

Different seasons of life inspire and influence what I make, but thankfully one thing remains the same when cooking in my old, faithful cast-iron skillet: the dishes are always seasoned with flavors and sweet memories of the past. My mother always said, “Remember where you come from, for it shapes where you are going.” So I encourage you to dust of your cast-iron skillet, season it up, and start cooking!

Amanda is the founder of Southern Baked Pie Company and author of Southern Baked: Celebrating Life with Pie (Gibbs Smith 2018). Learn more about her company and cookbook at southernbakedpie.com.

Get the recipe for Amanda’s Poppy Seed Chicken Pie.  

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