Lisa Ferganchick lifted the lid of the Dutch oven, filling the log cabin with the waves of the smell of fresh apple, walnut, and craisin cobbler. Hungry women gathered around her as she filled dishes with the dessert, topping each with butter pecan ice cream.
Lisa has been using a Dutch oven for camp cooking for three years now, and is totally committed to it.
“I had a passion to learn how to do it,” she said. “I love to cook outdoors. Everything tastes better outdoors. And I love sitting here by the fire every night.”
While a Dutch oven can be used in a conventional oven, it’s best used surrounded by coals from a campfire. She started the cobbler a little more than an hour earlier, pouring the ingredients — using whole wheat flour and raw sugar — into a foil liner and then into the Dutch oven. She uses a liner with desserts because of the stickiness of the sugar. She doesn’t use a liner for main-dish cooking.
The campfire had been started a bit earlier. After the wood was burning consistently, she threw in 24 chunks of charcoal. Once they were gray, she dragged them out, put eight of them on the ground next to the campfire and put the 10-inch Dutch oven on top. Then she put 16 of the coals on the top of the oven.
She uses charcoal because the heat is easier to regulate. It bakes at about 350 degrees and the charcoal lasts an hour. It’s possible to use wood coals, but they don’t last as long so have to be continually replenished.
She turns the oven every 15 minutes to make sure it doesn’t burn on one spot.
Once the food is cooked and the oven is cleaned, she seasons it with olive oil, and it’s ready to go for the next meal.
Although Dutch ovens are too heavy to take while horse packing, she uses them whenever she camps near vehicles.
“I get the coals going when I first come into camp,” she said, “and go do other things.” Then dinner can be ready when all the camp chores are done.
An upcoming horse pack trip will have the group eating Dutch oven chicken and dumplings one night and brisket with vegetables another night. She has served biscuits and moose meatloaf in the past. In Arizona, she organizes a Hot Rock Riders trail ride which is catered by a company which uses the Dutch oven.
Dutch ovens have been used by camp cooks for centuries, transported across the prairie and mountains in covered wagons. Lisa said that they were considered so valuable they were handed down for generations.
A big competition for Dutch oven cooking occurs in Scottsdale, Az., called the Festival of the West, where contestants come to the camp in covered wagons with full authentic attire and compete with Dutch ovens.
Here on the Kenai Peninsula, our own Dutch oven cooking contest sponsored by the Last Frontier Dutch Oven Society is held as part of Soldotna Progress Days July 23 and 24.
The contest is organized by Carla and Nels Anderson, and anyone wanting to participate should contact them or the Soldotna Chamber of Commerce at 907-262-9814.
There are three divisions: open, in which the contestant must prepare a main dish, bread, and dessert in five hours; novice, which is the same only for contestants who are new to Dutch oven cooking; and junior, ages 12-17. They only have to do a main dish and dessert.
The competition will begin at 8 a.m. at Soldotna Creek Park on July 23.
The winner can compete in the International Dutch Oven Society competition in Salt Lake City.