Monday, July 2, 2007

Dutch Oven

dutch ovenIf you've every come to Utah and talked with a Mormon about food, you're bound to run into a discussion on Dutch oven cooking. I don't do it, myself, but those who do treat it like a sub-religion unto itself. Dutch Oven cooking is so popular here, that the Dutch Oven was declared Utah's Official Cooking Pot in 1997.

For the uninitiated (like myself), the Dutch Oven looks like nothing more than a large cast iron pot. How they got the name "Dutch Oven" is anyone's guess. In his book, Dutch Ovens Chronicled, Their Use in the United States, John G. Ragsdale presents several theories. They seem as plausible to me as any reason I could make up off the top of my head.

The name, so says Mr. Ragsdale, has been applied to several cooking appliances dating back to early 1700's. In 1704, a guy named Abraham Darby traveled from England to Holland to inspect Dutch casting processes. Returning to England, Darby experimented a bit, and eventually patented his own casting that improved on the casting smoothness. Eventually he began casting his own pots and started shipping them to the new colonies and throughout the world. In this scenario, the name "Dutch Oven" may have come from the original Dutch process for casting metal pots.

Other theories include early Dutch traders or salesmen peddling cast iron pots giving rise to the name, while still others suggest that the name came from Dutch settlers in Pennsylvania, who used similar cast iron pots or kettles.

Whatever the real reason, the Mormon pioneers that came and settled the Salt Lake Valley used Dutch Ovens quite a bit. Pioneer trains, gearing up for the trip from Independence, Missouri, were given a list of essential supplies, and a Dutch Oven was up at the top of the list. Mormon handcart companies included them as well. It's no wonder that the International Dutch Oven Society counts Logan, Utah, as one of its headquarters. Some Utahans use Dutch oven cooking as a way to connect to their Pioneer ancestors.

My opinion is that the Mormon Pioneers suffered through it all so that we, their decedents, don't have. Why would I want to sully that effort by digging a fire pit in my back yard and cooking over an open flame, instead of inside with a perfectly good modern oven?

That's my excuse and I'm sticking to it.

The people who do "go Dutch" get some really good results, though. My current High Priest Group leader will take the rest of the quorum out to his back yard from time to time and treat us to his own Dutch Oven cooking. I can't complain. I've enjoyed stuffing my face ... erm ... participating with the quorum... with his Dutch oven chocolate cherry cake on more than one occasion.

Modern Dutch Ovens have been made available for use in a conventional kitchens by the addition of a ceramic coating over the cast iron. I've heard of these pots being referred to more often as French Ovens than Dutch Ovens, though. I don't know anyone who actually uses these, here in Utah. The Dutch Oven enthusiasts I know still prefer the open fire, and the raw iron, three legged variety over the pretty ceramic coated ones.

If you want to know more about how to use these heavy black things in cooking, I'd recommend heading over to Mark's Black Pot, a Dutch Oven blog run by one of my friends. He's got quite a few interesting recipes. I may have to try a few in a covered casserole dish.

Of course, I might get accused of blasphemy for it by the Dutch oven enthusiasts, but I don't care. No matter what you say, It's still not something I'd have to confess to my Bishop about.


R2K said...


Mark said...

Hey, amigo

Thanks for the plug. And you're welcome to come over for Dutch oven sunday dinner anytime you want.