Recently I was staring at my old baking sheet and marveled at its smooth, nonstick surface. It's not due to a Teflon coating or an anodized finish. Rather, food doesn't stick to it because it's been in continuous use for 40 years.
It's an Ekco, perhaps from 1972 as best Mom can recall. A sheet of steel that was probably stamped out in a Rust Belt factory just like thousands of others. It has a brother--a round sheet that's pretty battered and beaten but can still cook a pizza. When I was a kid this baking sheet was used to make biscuits and cinnamon rolls and cookies and lots of other baked goods. Since it was handed down to me in the mid-90s, I've used it for those purposes as well as a million other things. Yesterday it was used to heat up frozen crab legs dusted with a little Old Bay seasoning.
It was difficult to get a good shot of the cooking surface, since you're looking at black on black. So I took it outside and first snapped a shot of the bottom. Not quite as seasoned, but there's nothing shiny or gray. A little rust here and there.
Despite four decades of use the baking sheet isn't warped or bent, and it doesn't have any holes from rust or damage. It won't last forever, but it's certainly performed far beyond what anyone could have imagined.
When you're photographing something that is dark, it helps to go with brighter light, and you can't get a lot brighter than the sun on a clear day. In this picture you can see some of the patterns in the patina, but more significantly the nonstick coating that has built up over the years allowed me to see my own reflection. A white t-shirt, a big SLR camera over my face, and the blue sky behind me.
This pan and a few bowls and other items are remnants from my parents' wedding in 1972 and early years together before I came along in 1976. Sunday they celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary. As I gaze into my reflection in this otherwise unremarkable piece of metal, I know that I'm in the pan and the pan is in me. The food cooked on it allowed me to grow up and build bone and muscle, and every meal meant a few iron atoms that strayed from the pan to the food to my bloodstream. Likewise, I've burned myself on the pan many times, adding my own contribution to the patina of the lip and edges.
There's a lot of enthusiasm about that which is new and exciting and sparkly, but there's also a great deal to be said for that which is still going strong after so many years and shows no signs of stopping.