Dutch Oven Cooking Class

Thursday, May 7, 2009
Photos by Steven Looney

By Steven Looney Staff Writer The Dutch Oven Cooking Workshop, scheduled to be in the Pavilion at Mammoth Spring State Park on May 2, was relocated to the park maintenance shed due to weather conditions. The location didn't matter to the attendees -- it was all about learning how to use a Dutch oven. Assistant Park Superintendent Glynda Pryor, who taught the workshop, has become a pro and a willing teacher in techniques, recipes, use and maintenance of the Dutch Oven and this historic form of cooking. The history of the Dutch oven can be traced back centuries. The "Black Pot" (as it has become nicknamed) was once such a valued item it was passed down as an inheritance item. The cast iron Dutch oven was the main cooking utensil of each household in days past and was used over an open flame or coals in the fireplace. Superintendent Pryor emphasized the importance and techniques of oven seasoning. A well-seasoned oven is easier to clean and maintain. A story was told of a lady who had one Dutch oven she used for cornbread only, and no one was ever supposed to wash it out to clean it. One day, her husband had the duties of cleaning up in the kitchen and washed the oven. Needles to say, things were a bit tense around the house for a while. Her husband learned his lesson and never did that again. The lady used some cooking oil to re-season the pot and continued to cook cornbread in the same Dutch oven for many years. Two of the participants in the workshop, Becky Day and Denise Tinsley of Brandsville, said they became interested in the class because they like to cook and cook out. Tinsley said, "There is very little I knew about how to cook outside like this, and I wanted to learn. It's interesting." Both women said they already had Dutch ovens. "I've never used it because, I didn't know how to use it properly," Tinsley said. Randy Garnett from Osceola, Ark., found out about the workshop from a long-time friend and high school classmate Nancy Hubach of Thayer, and came over to take the class. He said, "I thought it sounded interesting and would be something to learn." Those taking the workshop not only learned about recipes and cooking pot care, but also, how to use the correct amount of charcoal to regulate heat. This was a working class, with Superintendent Pryor helping with instructions and the class mixing up recipe ingredients for four different dishes. A perfect golden brown color and the liquid in the bottom of the pot still bubbling, plus the aroma of fresh baked bread, came out from under the lid of the first pot of apple dumplings. Made with fresh apples, sugar, some butter and crescent rolls, this (I got to sample) dish was not only eye appealing, but also soft, moist and not too sweet. This breakfast dish could also be served as dessert. Lasagna was one of the two main dishes the class prepared and cooked in the Dutch ovens. Cooking ground beef with onions and selected spices was the first step. Adding uncooked noodles, sauce and cheese, then placing the pot on coals came next. The next step was to place charcoal briquettes on the top of the lid, for even heat distribution. All that was required now, was to sit back and wait for the heat to bake away. The second main dish started with cooked turkey bacon, onions, celery and a bell pepper. This all goes into the oven, along with frozen hash browns, beaten eggs, salt and pepper, to make the Ozark Mountain breakfast dish. After about 30 minutes, the heat from the charcoal had fully cooked all of the ingredients. The lid was removed, two kinds of cheese added, and the oven returned to the heat for a short time, allowing the cheese to melt. The last of the four dishes the workshop made was a drop cake. Although a pan liner was used inside the pot to keep the cake from sticking, this drop cake was as good as any you could whip up and bake in your oven at home. The pineapple, cherries, cake mix, butter, with a surprise ingredient of lemon lime soda pop, made for a rich sweet cake. As the Dutch oven workshop class was working on cleanup, Pryor told them, "The better you take care of them, the better they will last for you." Each of the dishes took around 40 minutes to prepare and cook in the Dutch oven. The pots and recipes are designed to cook meals for several people at one time, so some of the park maintenance staff and myself, got a chance to sample and enjoy these wonderful dishes cooked on coals in a Dutch oven. For more information about workshops and attractions at the park, stop by the visitor information center at the Mammoth Spring State Park or call 870-625-7364.