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Dutch oven cooking makes for a simple Thanksgiving feast

27 Nov

“Fine weather for an outdoor cookout, huh?” I asked Mike sarcastically.  He smiled, lifting a large Dutch oven onto the burner.  “I’ve done this in worse.”

A sweet potato pie topped with browned marshmallows makes an easy Dutch oven Thanksgiving treat (photo by Clint Thomsen)

The following originally appeared in the November 25, 2009 edition of the Tooele Transcript Bulletin.

The northern sky couldn’t have been clearer about its intentions last Sunday evening.  The tell-tale calm and the looming fog blanketing the Oquirrhs meant only one thing for me—that dinner could get interesting.

No sooner had my friend, Mike Denman, set up his propane burner and cook station than large, wet snowflakes began to horizontally bombard our outdoor kitchen.  It was either going to blow by quickly or stick around for a while to drop the season’s first significant snow.  Judging by the storm’s ferocity and my uncanny tendency to plan activities to coincide with bad weather, it would be the latter.

“Fine weather for an outdoor cookout, huh?” I asked Mike sarcastically.  He smiled, lifting a large Dutch oven onto the burner.  “I’ve done this in worse.”

By “worse,” I assume he meant in real life outdoors conditions– like high in the mountains with only a flimsy dome tent for shelter—as opposed to my front yard.    But location in this case wasn’t as important as the mission, which was to prepare a traditional Thanksgiving dinner, outdoors-style.

It was an ambitious project, mainly because I possess no culinary skill.  I’ve never prepared a regular Thanksgiving dinner, let alone adapted the process for the outdoors.  Fortunately, Mike has.  Each year he logs countless volunteer hours lending his Dutch oven talents for numerous local events.  If you’ve ever enjoyed a Dutch oven meal at a church or Boy Scout function, chances are it was prepared in one of Mike’s well-seasoned pots.

Dutch oven cooking is the very essence of outdoor and Old World food preparation.  Introduced to Utah mainly by the Mormon pioneers, the Dutch oven was also a staple for explorers, mountain men and cowboys.

The practice of cooking in cast metal pots is thought to have originated in Europe during the 1600’s.  The British imported most of their ovens from the Netherlands, as the Dutch foundry process was considered vastly superior.  Later, the English adapted the Dutch system to produce “Dutch ovens” for their colonies.

While the Dutch oven as we know it wasn’t developed until the 18th Century, records of the first Plymouth Colony’s first Thanksgiving feast suggest that cast-iron vessels were used to prepare its various courses.  House, car, and concrete driveway aside, I couldn’t help but feel a bit of a culinary kinship with our pilgrim forebears.

I had compiled various recipes based on their adaptability to Dutch oven cooking and simplicity of preparation—because when it comes to camp cooking, the simplest dishes tend to taste the best.  Our meal would include four courses: a turkey, sweet potato pie, stuffing, and peach cobbler.

Our small turkey was a fine candidate for Mike’s Ultimate Dutch Oven, a deep pot with a cone in its center designed to circulate heat around the food like a conventional oven would.  Originally designed by a rancher in Salina, Utah, The Ultimate Dutch Oven has become the crown jewel of many an enthusiast’s collection.

Our kitchen

Having a taste for Southern faire, I selected some Cajun seasonings for a dry rub, which Mike applied beneath the bird’s skin.  He then set the prepped turkey over the cone and set the pot aside.

Next up was the sweet potato pie, a dish that originated in 18th Century Europe, spread over to the colonies, and sunk its roots deep in the American South.   According to food history website FoodTimeline.org, sweet potato pie was originally considered a savory/vegetable dish.  19th Century cookbooks group it with deserts.  Most modern restaurants serve it as a side dish.

If done right, a good sweet potato pie can easily upstage most other Thanksgiving dishes.  For this meal I chose a tried and true recipe offered by outdoor blogress Jenn Warren of A Blessed Crazy Life.  We poured canned sweet potatoes into a Dutch oven and drizzled a mixture of sugar, eggs, vanilla, and butter over it.

We then mixed the cobbler by pouring a batter of yellow cake mix and 7-Up over a layer of canned peaches.  When it was ready, it joined the sweet potato pie over coals on the cook station.  Mike carefully placed coals around the lid for even heating.  Then the turkey went on the burner.

I mixed a crude stuffing from a generic box mix and stirred in sautéed onions, garlic, and celery.  I planned to cook it in foil for variety, but Mike convinced it was a job best handled by one of his pots.  By the time all the ovens were loaded and on coals, the canopy over our makeshift kitchen was drooping with several inches of snow.

Halfway through cook time, I added a second mixture of brown sugar, butter, and flour to the sweet potatoes before mashing them.  All we needed to do now was wait and muse about the weather.  The food was done before we knew it.

It took a good minute for the turkey’s steam to thin out enough for me to see it’s golden brown exterior.  Uncovering the rest of the ovens was like cracking open little treasure boxes, each bursting with Thanksgivingy goodness.  We dished the food up in the house, where everybody else dug in.

Me?  I decided now was not the time to move things inside.  Though the snow was still swirling with flakes the size of packing peanuts, I went outside alone to enjoy my first helping—if only on principle.  The still-smoldering coals provided some warmth.  More was no doubt generated by a feeling of self-satisfaction that might have been more appropriately attributed to Mike and his cook station.

The snow lulled as we tipped the dust off of the oven lids and began dismantling the kitchen.  The neighborhood was still and covered seamlessly in snow.  I began constructing mental metaphors about the concepts of the season and harvest, but I quickly remembered that my family was inside and my food was getting cold, so I laid deep thought aside and went in for seconds.

he northern sky couldn’t
have been clearer about
its intentions last Sunday
evening. The tell-tale calm and
the looming fog blanketing the
Oquirrhs meant only one thing
for me — that dinner could get
interesting.
No sooner had my friend,
Mike Denman, set up his propane
burner and cook station
than large, wet snowflakes
began to horizontally bombard
our outdoor kitchen. It was
either going to blow by quickly
or stick around for a while
to drop the season’s first significant
snow. Judging by the
storm’s ferocity and my uncanny
tendency to plan activities
to coincide with bad weather,
it would be the latter.
“Fine weather for an outdoor
cookout, huh?” I asked
Mike sarcastically. He smiled,
lifting a large Dutch oven onto
the burner. “I’ve done this in
worse.”
By “worse,” I assume he
meant in real-life outdoors
conditions — like high in the
mountains with only a flimsy
dome tent for shelter — as
opposed to my front yard. But
location in this case wasn’t
as important as the mission,
which was to prepare a traditional
Thanksgiving dinner,
outdoors-style.
It was an ambitious project,
mainly because I possess no
culinary skills. I’ve never prepared
a regular Thanksgiving
dinner, let alone adapted
the process for the outdoors.
Fortunately, Mike has. Each
year he logs countless volunteer
hours lending his Dutch
oven talents for numerous
local events. If you’ve ever
enjoyed a Dutch oven meal
at a church or Boy Scout
function, chances are it was
prepared in one of Mike’s wellseasoned
pots.
Dutch oven cooking is the
very essence of outdoor and
Old World food preparation.
Introduced to Utah mainly
by the Mormon pioneers, the
Dutch oven was also a staple
for explorers, mountain men
and cowboys.
The practice of cooking in
cast metal pots is thought to
have originated in Europe
during the 1600s. The British
imported most of their ovens
from the Netherlands, as the
Dutch foundry process was
considered vastly superior.
Later, the English adapted
the Dutch system to produce
“Dutch ovens” for their colo-
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3 Comments

Posted by on November 27, 2009 in Tooele Transcript Bulletin

 

3 responses to “Dutch oven cooking makes for a simple Thanksgiving feast

  1. Jenn

    December 9, 2009 at 1:11 am

    So glad the sweet potato recipe worked out for you – I love outdoor cooking!

     
  2. ashley @ ashley's adventures in alaska

    October 23, 2010 at 4:59 pm

    Great post! We’re planning to do a Dutch oven Thanksgiving at our unfinished cabin on Kodiak and this is super helpful! Everything looks super yummy.

     
    • bonnevillemariner

      October 26, 2010 at 7:42 pm

      Thanks for stopping by, Ashley! Thanksgiving on Kodiak– sounds awesome. You’ll love the recipes.

       

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