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Cook in a Dutch Oven

Finished meals in Dutch ovens. Photo courtesy Vicki Flowers.

Forget the canned sardines on your next camping trip and learn to cook – even bake – deluxe recipes in a Dutch oven. “Just because I am out in the wilderness in a tent doesn’t mean I can’t eat well,” says Vicki Flowers, president of Caesar Creek (OH) Campground Association. To Vicki, cooking outdoors in a Dutch oven is convenient. “It is the way the pioneers cooked before we had electricity … so you don’t have to have electric to eat.” Here’s how.

The oven. The main item needed for Dutch oven cooking is, obviously, a cast iron Dutch oven! For the outdoors, the recommended oven has three legs for stabilization. The most common Dutch oven size is 10 to 12 inches, which cooks for more than three people. Some come preseasoned, like the Lodge, (www.lodgemfg.com) but are a little more expensive. Preseasoning your own pot it is easy to do: rub vegetable oil all over the pot. Place it over a fire or in an oven at home at a temperature between 350-400 degrees F. Bake the pot until the oil is saturated, usually around 30-45 minutes. After taking it out of the oven, wipe it down with hot water and a brush. Then repeat the process three to four times before cooking in it.

The tools. Be sure to have leather gloves or a good oven mitt along with a pair of long-handled metal tongs. Wooden cooking utensils help to stir food - avoid metal utensils because they scratch the coating. Also, have a lid lifter because coals will be on top of the lid. Charcoal fire starters light the hot coals without using lighter fluid. Be sure to bring a broom with you to remove ashes and clean up after you are finished.

Ready, set, cook. “Anything that you can cook in your oven at home, you can cook in a three-legged pot,” says Vicki. Before cooking, prepare the oven by spraying it with non-stick cooking or vegetable oil. Charcoal or wood fire coals can be used as a heat source. Store-bought charcoals maintain heat better and are easier for beginners to use. Light the coals and let them heat up; the coals get white around the edges when they are enough for cooking (20-30 minutes). To get the right temperature, there is no exact science to measuring but you can more or less tell with your hand. If you hold your hand above the coals about four to five inches and can count to five before you have to take your hand away, the temperature is around 250 degrees. If you can count to two or three, then the temperature is around 350-375 degrees.

After getting the desired temperature, place the pot right over the coals. Use a shovel to pull the hot coals out to put them on top of the lid because there should be coals on top and under the pot. You can cook soups, stews and casseroles directly in the pot or use it as an oven to bake bread or cobbler. In this case, use a trivet to raise the bread or pie pan off the bottom of the pot. The trivet or lining the oven with aluminum foil also makes for a fast clean up.

Dutch oven care. Vegetable oil helps to keep rust away. If the oven gets rusty, rub the rust off and wash it with soap and water. Then begin the seasoning process again. Also, reseason the oven after each use. Never use soap when cleaning a Dutch oven and don’t scrape it with metal or scouring pads because it will scratch off the seasoning. When storing, place a few paper towels down inside the pot and over the edge where the lid sits so air can get in or store it without the lid.

Chicken Pot Pie
Prep time: 1 hour, plus the time to burn down the coals
Feeds: 4 campers who like home cooking

Filling
1 pound chicken breast (diced into small chunks)
2 tablespoons butter
1 cup diced potatoes
1 package frozen mixed vegetables, thawed
1 can cream of chicken soup
1 4-ounce can evaporated milk
1/2 teaspoon paprika
Sprig of fresh sage

Crust (kind of like a dumpling)
2 cups of flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 4-ounce can of evaporated milk
1/2 cup of water
2 tablespoons of margarine
1 egg

Use a 12-inch Dutch oven and heat 15-30 charcoal briquettes until they’re dusty. Sauté the chicken and diced potatoes. Prepare the crust in a mixing bowl. When the chicken is no longer pink, add the vegetables, cream of chicken, evaporated milk and spices. Cook it with the lid on until it starts to bubble. Then cover the chicken mixture with the crust mixture. Bake at 350 degrees F for 25 minutes.

Fruit Crisp
Prep time: 1 hour, plus the time to burn down the coals
Feeds: 8 yum-meisters

¾ cup flour
2/3 cup sugar
¾ teaspoon cinnamon
½ cup margarine, chilled
2 large can peaches, drained
1 pound blackberries, fresh or frozen
1 pound blueberries, fresh or frozen

Line the Dutch oven with heavy-duty aluminum foil or grease it with vegetable oil or margarine. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F while preparing the topping. Stir together the flour, sugar and cinnamon in a bowl. Cut the margarine into small pieces and use two forks to work the margarine into the dry mixture until crumbly. Carefully place the fruit in the bottom of the oven. Spoon the topping over the fruit. Bake it 30-35 minutes, until juices are bubbly and the topping is browned.