Sunday, December 14, 2008

More Dutch Oven Information

During my younger years, my father enjoyed dutch oven cooking and in my opinion became an expert! I remember family camping trips where he would cook us all kinds of wonderful things. At one point I think he owned three or four different-sized dutch ovens. He passed along to us two dutch oven booklets that he learned from. (I'm guessing the booklets are each over 30 years old.) They are full of great information and recipes.

In one of the booklets entitled "A Taste of the Old West or Dutch Oven Cooking Made Easy and Sourdough Hints," author Ken Benson writes:
"Over my life time and especially during the last few years, I have been fascinated by the succulent things someone who is as crude a cook as myself can whomp up. Most folks think that dutch oven cookin' is mysterious and hard and that it takes an old-fashioned mountain man to make it work. After growing up using a dutch oven and cooking and stirring about 1000 meals, and after trying over 100 recipes, I have a different opinion. Dutch ovenin' is easy, and most anyone can do it. All you do is learn a few fundamentals; combine this with some common sense, and then just use your regular home recipes. ...

The dutch oven has been around for many centuries and is mentioned in the literature of many of the old countries. We know it was used by pilgrims and colonizers, and when the pioneers came west they brought the dutch oven because of its compactness and versatility. They found that with a dutch oven you could fry a piece of meat, make a loaf of bread, boil soup, bake a pie, brown a batch of cookies and make the best darn buffalo stew in the world. ...

"Dutch ovens come in 8, 10, 12, 14, and 16 inch sizes. My boys...think an 8 inch is just the thing for Scout trips. The 10 and 12, and maybe even the 14, would be my recommendations for the family. The big 16 is the thing for group cooking. Then fellow, to really get into dutch oven cookin' and really satisfy a crowd, you need several dutch ovens, because it takes more than one pot to cook a meal. My family usually uses four or five ovens to cook a meal complete with biscuits through dessert.

"Old-fashioned cast iron ovens seem to be best, but some people like aluminum mainly because it is light weight. When you purchase a dutch oven make sure the lid fits tightly, the inside is fairly smooth and that it has a rim around the top of the lid to keep the coals on. Many people have bought a dutch oven to take advantage of the low prices and later found out that it's a cast iron pot for a stove top and no good for cookin' in a fire.

If you're going to get along with your dutch oven you've got to treat it right. You must start with proper seasoning. Since a dutch oven is just a piece of cast iron, its pores must be saturated with oil to make it a quality cooking instrument. The best way to do this is to wash it thoroughly with soap and water to get the store-bought preservative off, then simply cook something greasy in it the first time. I like to make Dutch Oven Scones or even cook up a batch of taters and onions using an extra bit of bacon grease. Some people heat them in their ovens at home or on their charcoal barbecue and keeping rubbing cooking oil into the bottom and sides.

"A properly seasoned dutch oven will not stick, will clean easily and be relatively rust free. After you get your oven seasoned, be cautious to keep it that way by not using too much soap to clean it and by not misusing it. ...

"Dutch ovens should be cleaned, oiled, and properly stored. One trick I have learned is to leave a paper towel inside during storage to take care of moisture. ...

If I have anything important to say about dutch oven cooking, it is to start with moderate amounts of heat and work up. Things burn very quickly in a dutch oven. The fire is an important fundamental that will either make ya or break ya.

"There are all kinds of fires and believe me there's a great difference between them. Almost all woods can be used for a fire, but they have very different coal characteristics. For example, pine wood tends to burn hot and when the flame goes out few coals are left. On the other hand, oak wood is hard to get to burn, but you end up with a lot of hot, long lasting coals. I suggest that you choose wood from trees that the leaves fall off each year. I personally prefer charcoal, as it is easier to control, longer lasting and more dependable. It is important for me to be able to depend on the quality of coals I will have each time I cook.

"Select a flat place--where there is no fire danger--to build your fire. If you are using wood, build a very large fire, (It always takes more than you think) and let it burn down so that just coals are left. Dutch ovens should never be used on a fire with flames. It is important to have enough coals to be able to finish the cooking. Using a shovel take some coals out of the fire and place them on the ground and cook there.

"A neat trick I've found, is to build a large fire with some small and large wood. When coals accumulate, use the shovel to move the burning part off to the side then use the coals left to cook with. You can do this several times with the same fire so you always have live coals. For a charcoal fire simply cook on the hot coals or move a shovel full away from the fire for your cooking place.

"Heat can be used to cook on in many different ways. Some ideas you can try are, (1) using your dutch oven in your charcoal barbecue at home, (2) cooking it in your oven, (3) taking a garbage can lid, placing it on the sidewalk, placing coals on the garbage can lid and cooking on it, (4) using your gas camp stove. A dutch oven is so versatile that you can cook nearly anywhere with it, just use some initiative.

"Fire pits--many people talk about digging a hole in the ground, putting hot coals, then the oven, then more hot coals, then dirt and leaving it all day and coming back hours later to an out of this world meal. My experience has been to come back to a lukewarm, raw meal or a burned crisp $10 roast. Because of variables in coals, ground temperature, etc., I don't recommend this method, except to the very experienced dutch oven hand.

There are two cardinal rules for dutch oven cooking, (1) start low on the heat and work up, be cautious about burning, (2) keep fooling with your cooking, keep lifting the lid, watching, smelling, tasting and feeling.

"Some other important things to remember are: (1) to insure even cooking, periodically lift your oven and turn it on the coals. (2) use extra amounts of seasoning, especially salt, (3) keep your dutch oven level, (4) don't overcook, (5) time just right so that the biscuits and the potatoes, which take different cooking times are done at the same time, (6) don't try to be dainty and delicate, (7) keep your dutch oven clean--clean it before it dries out, (8) keep the dirt and ashes out.

Dutch ovens can be cleaned many ways. Some people never clean them, they just keep using them over and over. Some turn them upside down on the fire and burn them out. Some scrub them with dirt. I prefer to wipe out the dutch oven as well as I can as soon as the meal is over. If it doesn't come clean, I place it on the fire with an inch of water in the bottom and let it steam for a while, then take a spoon and dish cloth and simply stir the dish cloth around until the oven comes clean. Then I simply dry it on the fire, and grease the oven with cooking oil. Or if the hour is late, I take it home and wash it in the sink, trying to avoid the use of soap or detergent.

I hesitate to even go into recipes, as I have discovered that anything you can cook at home you can cook in a dutch oven. Just take your favorite home recipes, use a little common sense, and follow my two cardinal rules of dutch oven cooking."
(Source: "A Taste of the Old West or Dutch Oven Cooking Made Easy and Sourdough Hints" by Ken Benson)

Lucky for me, my husband has taken an interest in dutch oven cooking and delighted our family with delicious meals and desserts.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing this post! I used it in my classroom and am using some information for a Dutch oven cook off this weekend. You write very well and I especially loved the uses and references to " Taste of the Old West or Dutch Oven Cooking Made Easy and Sourdough Hints", not only because it is a great cookbook, but also because Ken Benson was my Grandpa and it was a fantastic experience to run across your thoughts. My love, Kacie.