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This month we are honouring the amazing and versatile Dutch oven. This classic workhorse has been feeding Kings and Queens, French fops, pioneers and cattle rustling cowboys for over three hundred years.
The Dutch oven has been given its moniker due to its origin in the Netherlands in the late seventeenth century and has certainly withstood the test of time. Made famous throughout Europe by Dutch traders, the utilitarian cooking pot has spread around the world, from France, where it is known as a “cocotte”, to Japan, where it goes by the name “tetsunabe.”
Given that the original cooking vessels were made of cast iron, many have been passed from generation to generation and are as effective today as they were in George Washington’s day.
Distinguishing characteristics of a classic Dutch oven are a tight fitting lid, a bail handle and three small legs on the bottom. The lid is often flanged, so that you can put coals on top and promote more even heat distribution and retention. The legs help to keep it just off direct heat, if you so desire, and allow you to poke around at the coals underneath. And of course the bail handle allows the cowboy the chance to hang his pot of beans above the fire while he gits along with his little dogies, and then pick up the whole dang thing with one hand.
Some modern variations have eliminated the three legs, enabling you to place the pot on the stove-top making it suitable for pot roasts, stews, cassoulets or even Sukiyaki. Some manufacturers have done away with the bail handle. Other materials are used as well, including stainless steel, aluminum and enamel coatings, and of course you can get them in colours that match your mood, if your mood is something other than black.
Here is a “recipe” to try next time you are out in the middle of Algonquin Park.
(Helpful Hint: get someone else to carry the Dutch oven and the six cans of peaches.)
Dutch oven Peach Cobbler
6 cans of sliced peaches in heavy syrup; drain only 3 cans
2 boxes of white cake mix
1 stick of butter
A cast Iron Dutch oven is ESSENTIAL for this recipe, nothing else works. Drain 3 cans of peaches and put in cast iron Dutch oven. Add 3 more cans of peaches, do not drain liquid, to the Dutch oven. Pour both boxes of cake mix over the top of peaches (do not stir) Slice up one stick of butter into little pats and drop all over the top of cake mix. Put the lid on the Dutch oven and put in the campfire, near hot coals, not on the hot coals. Place hot coals on top of the Dutch oven lid. VERY IMPORTANT.
In about 20 minutes, give the Dutch oven a 180 degree turn, to insure an even bake.
In about 20 more minutes, check under the lid. Dessert is finished when peaches are soft and caramelized, juice will really thicken, you will have a hot, bubbly, golden brown, topping.