In my collection of cast iron skillets, I have a piece that is one of my absolute favorites. Sadly, the skillet doesn't receive a lot of recognition because it's not a name brand and it's not worth a lot of money either. The skillet's name has been dubbed an awkward title, "The Southern Mystery Skillet."
In a map I compiled from other cast iron community groups on Facebook, many of the southern mysteries were found in Tennessee, Kentucky, and North Carolina. Research indicates that there were prisons in these locations, but again, the evidence does NOT show which cast iron foundry allowed prison work. Cast iron bookkeeping was not the best in the 19th century; especially unmarked pans.
Why the southern mystery piece?
I love the southern mystery pieces because they are extremely lightweight and the surface of the skillet is extremely smooth. The cast iron pieces come in numbers 7 and 8.
The southern mystery pieces have some amazing features that make them stand out above the rest. The southern mystery skillet has a unique groove under the handle. With a triangle-like design, the handle has a raised ridge in the center that attaches to the center part of the bottom portion of the triangle.
The pan also has a heating ring and a gate mark (slash) in the center. Some of the southern mystery pieces may have a number, letter, or an X at the bottom center of the skillet, however, not all southern mystery skillets have gate markings or numbers. The handle and pour spouts are dead giveaways to these unique skillets.
The pour spouts on the southern mystery skillet are very small, but stick out further than other skillets with pour spouts.
The surface of the cast iron is incredibly smooth with some casting flaws in the center or on the sides. The rims also have some abnormalities.
On the handle of the southern mystery pieces, numbers are raised in the center. The numbers seven or eight are the most common. The raised seven cast iron pieces measure close to 14 1/2 inches from the tip of the handle to the opposite side of the rim. From inside the skillet the diameter measures close to 8 in. The southern mystery skillet has another unique quality that many people will love- weight. The southern mystery piece (for the number 7) comes in at a staggering 3 pounds 9.7 ounces. This piece is a wonderful user because you're not placing a lot of strain on your wrist while moving it in and out of the oven.
I personally love using the southern mystery for cornbread, cakes, fish, and German pancakes. With the skillet being the perfect size, you have the perfect circumference for cooking performance over the eye of the stove. In the oven, I'm able to use ALL my southern mystery skillets for cinnamon rolls and retain the heat after they are pulled out.
Once these pieces are cleaned up, they also make the BEST Christmas gifts for family members.