Thursday, February 16, 2012

Some Black Magic, Western-style~ Tanya Hanson

By Tanya Hanson
     Not long ago, my hubby and I recently took a fantastic city slicker wagon train trip around the Tetons. Just as we started planning the trip, I started writing the eight-book Hearts Crossing Ranch series where wagon train adventures play a big part. In fact, one of the eight Martin siblings is a chuck cook on her family’s adventures. The fifth book in the series, Soul Food, stars Kelley Martin and will be out in the spring.

     Of course, Kelley cooks many outdoor meals for those city slickers in cast-iron Dutch ovens. Any discussion of this hearty kettle starts by mentioning the method of casting with iron in dry sand molds. The technique’s exact origin isn’t known, but it most probably dates from the Dark Ages in Western Europe, refined later in both England and the Netherlands. The term “Dutch oven” may have come from the Netherlands connection and the Dutch traders who peddled them.


     The “bulge” style pot –in my head I envision a witch’s cauldron— likely came over with the Pilgrims, but the 3-legged “bake” or “camp” oven appeared in the early 1700’s. Paul Revere (yes, he of the famous 1775 Midnight Ride) is said to have adapted the oven lid’s flanged lip to hold coals on top while the pot rested on a campfire. However, the oven was versatile and could be used on the hearth and for roasting in a stove’s oven.
     Lewis and Clark’s Corp of Discovery (1803-05) carried a “large-size Dutch oven” across their entire route to the Pacific Northwest and home again. No self-respecting covered wagon or cattle drive traveled without the Dutch oven, and every Gold Rush mining camp had several, needing at least one for their historic sourdough bread. Miners lucky enough to have a burro or pack mule invariably had a Dutch oven tied on top.

     By the mid 1870’s, every American household had some sort of cast iron cooking item, Dutch oven, skillet, or pot. Around 1920, casting iron reached its pinnacle in quality and quantity, but the invention of the electric stove in the 1890’s had already started a decline in interest of the Dutch ovens. However, one great casting company, Lodge, began operations in 1896 and continues to this day.
     In recent years, the mystique of Dutch oven “black pot” cooking has made a comeback, not because of need but because of a resurgence in the outdoors, in nostalgia, and in love of history. Most Dutch oven recipes can be revised for stove top, oven or slow cooker as well.

     Today’s Dutch oven chef needs a lid lifter, heavy special gloves, wooden utensils, briquettes, and a Dutch oven of 5 to 22 inches in diameter. The 12-incher is the most popular. The well-sealed lid allows heat and pressure to build while preserving the moisture of the food. Although there are many directions (e.g. “above-to-underneath” and “checkerboard pattern” among them) for actual food production, the general rule for the cook is to use twice as many briquettes as the diameter of the lid. Briquette placement on the lid and under the pot is crucial, as is rotating the lid and pot 90 degrees every fifteen minutes. Altitude, sun and even wind play important roles, too.
     The premier organization for Dutch oven cooking, the International Dutch Oven Society (http://www.idos.com/) began in the Rocky mountains and now has 48 chapters in 27 states and 2 Canadian provinces. Each spring IDOS holds the World Championship Dutch Oven Cook-off.
    Any Dutch oven stories or recipes to share today?

21 comments:

  1. When my mom was small in Tennessee, her dad developed tuberculosis. As his health grew worse, my grandparents moved back "home" and lived in the large log cabin which my great-great grandfather had built. They didn't live there long before my grandfather died and my grandmother took her kids to OK where she had siblings. While they lived in the log cabin, my mom remembers that my grandmother cooked in a Dutch oven hung on a hob in the fireplace.

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  2. What a great memory to have. Thanks for posting today, Caroline. Oxox

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  3. Hi Tanya! I use my dutch oven mainly for soups, chili and gravy. Funny you'd mention them. I just wrote "dutch oven" in the current project and was worried people might not recognize the term.

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  4. Boy, TAnya, I've had a hard time posting here today. Anyway, I so love the old iron cast dutch ovens and also the iron cast frying pans -- I have them in all sizes -- in this day and age of toxins in practically all aspects of our lives, the iron cast -- non coated cook wear is still the best.

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  5. Tanya, I love cooking in a Dutch oven. Food tastes so much better. One of the main things I like to cook in mine is a roast with potatoes and carrots and celery. Sure is good stuff. The Dutch oven I have now belonged to my mother and it saw lots of outdoor cooking as well as inside. When I was young my family always took a trip to California each year to visit my grandparents. Mama always threw in the Dutch oven and some bacon and potatoes. When we got hungry, my dad would pull over to a roadside rest area and mama would cook us up some potatoes and bacon and eggs. Those are fond memories. She and my dad have passed on and I inherited the Dutch oven.

    Good luck with your new release!

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  6. Hi Tanya
    Love your new cover and the title is amazing. Great info on cooking!! Enjoyed your blog today!
    Charlene Sands

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  7. Cool, and informtive post, Miss T. Great info, and, can't wait for the release of Soul Food!!!! God bless!!

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  8. We have one of those three legged ones that we take camping -- best peach cobbler EVER!

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  9. Hi Vicki, we took one camping when I was a kid, but my folks didn't cook with the coals on it. I got a Dutch oven cookbook on that wagon train trip that I need to try out someday. The recipes sound so relish. Thanks for the post.

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  10. Hi Kay/Gen, so nice to see you here and sooo glad you persevered . I've been gone much of today with a doctor appointment and watching our grandson, so I'm trying to catch up now. Means so much to see you here!

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  11. Linda, what a wonderful memory! After our wagon train trip, which we went on with sister and brother in law, we got them a Dutch oven. Last summer my bil inaugurated it on a big family ca ping trip at the beach. Indeed, the bacon was heavenly. XOXOX

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  12. Hi Charlene, too funny. This title is one of the few I thought of that the editors liked lol. The cover turned out just like it looks inside my head. The artist Nicola Martinez is brilliant. Thanks for stopping in today!

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  13. Hi Marianne , my number one fan. I love learning tidbits about the west, that's for sure. Sonhappy you could come by.

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  14. Hi Helen ! Peach cobbler is so yummy...we'll have to try one at our all-family camping trip next summer. We used to go often when the kids were younger...now they've all got spouses and kids ofntheir own. Last summer was the first time my son in law had ever gone camping!

    (I have to admit the beach state park is about five minutes from our house, so while it's rustic enough, civilization is close at hand lol.)

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  15. Thanks to everybody who stopped by. I love my new friends at Sweethearts of the West..

    Love to all...

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  16. Thanks for a nice post, Tanya. I also have a dutch oven I inherited from my mom. We use it for pot roasts, chili and any other meal that needs to cook for a while, both on the stovetop and in the oven. I love my dutch oven! It's at least 50 years old. Your trip to the Tetons sounds so fun. I am hoping to travel there in the next year or so. Haven't been to the area in 30 years, so I'm sure much has changed, except the mountains. They are so beautiful.

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  17. Tanya,

    Love this blog. Brings back fond memories of when we lived down south in Fallbrook, CA. On weekends a bunch of us used to trail ride into DeLuz Canyon north of town for over-nighters. Camp cooking was fun but a challenge! The ultimate potluck!

    That was when acreage in the area was mostly avocado and/or orange groves, no houses on every spare spot, and we could trail ride.

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  18. HI Lucy, oh what I treasure you have~I love old things from my mom and gramma.

    I admit, I hadn't spent any time in the Tetons since my college days (too long ago to add up without appearing like an ancient relic) but they are as beautiful as ever. The wagon train was one of the most incredible things I've ever done/ So so good to see you here!

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  19. Hi Joyce, so glad you could stop by. I know what you mean...my uncle lived in El Cajon when it was ranch country. Now the housing tracts have messed that up.

    What terrific memories you have. I guess that's what it means to get older LOL>

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  20. No, they don't make cast iron skillets and dutch ovens like they used to. I have several of my mother-in-laws skillets but my brother-in-law got the Dutch oven but he goes camping and needed it. I enjoy looking for them when I go to antique stores and they're not cheap! Campfire cooking is an art. My heroine in When the Ocotillo Bloom learned to cook over an open fire in the ovens. She made chicken and dumplings, biscuits, and cobbler. Yum! Fun post, Tanya!

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  21. Great post! I am still using my grandmother's skillets which are much older than I am. It's so nice to have something in the house that is older than me ; )

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