Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Imagining Catalina's Pan

This week's post was supposed to have been a physical description of Catalina's pan. Art historian Jules David Prown, in his essay "Mind in Matter," a how-to guide to the study of culture through artifacts, sets description as the first of three steps in analyzing objects created or altered by people.  (The next two are deduction and speculation.)

Problem is, due to technical difficulties, I haven't been able to see the pan. So, I'm making a judgment call and will imagine Catalina's pan as a comal, a specialized cooking utensil sometimes described as a tortilla griddle and used in Mexico and other Hispanic countries.

The reasons for this are fairly simple. Catalina is a name with Spanish roots, and she is scheduled to present her pan for photography Friday at the Ayuda (means "help" in Spanish) community center, which serves the Hunting Park neighborhood in North Philadelphia. Perhaps this choice reveals cultural bias on my part; Prown's method is designed to filter it out. 

Comales come in various shapes and sizes. A cursory search of food and cookware websites suggests that they are usually made of cast iron.  I'm guessing that Catalina's pan is not new and has been in her family for a while, since comales are often considered heirlooms.

The imagined comal is made in one piece of heavy black cast iron. Casting iron, briefly, is a process in which iron melted in a furnace is poured into a mold. See "You Can Cast Iron"  by Steve Chastain for do-it-yourself instructions.

The dimensions of the comal are: 16 inches long by 10 inches wide and 3/4 inch high. A six-inch handle with a hole in it is an integral part of the pan. A raised lip runs around its circumference. Its surface is glossy with cooking oil.

Comales on the Amazon.com website cost in the range of $11 to $15.  A comal that has been passed from mother to daughter and can be used to warm tortillas, toast spices or sear meat--priceless!

A picture of a comal is below.  Stay tuned next week as we discover the real Catalina's pan.

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