Monday, February 10, 2014

DUTCH OVEN COOK-OFF "Vally of Fire State Park" February 2014

Valley of Fire - Image taken when nearly devoid of any Natural light
Man did we have a blast February 8th, 2014 weekend.  We spent the weekend camped at the Nevada State Park, Valley of Fire.  Several of us were invited to judge their first attempt at a Dutch Oven Cook-Off.


Though the Cook-Off event was not a sanctioned International Dutch Oven Society event, it was a great time none the less.  There were five cook stations and multiple entries by some of the cooks.   Things started out slow with hours of cook time.  As the day progressed and the aroma of the cooking increased, so did the gathering crowd.  There was sure to be no shortage of judges for “People’s Choice”


At the 5 cook tables there were about 9 chefs putting together their, stews, breads, side dishes, meats, and desserts.  Some were first timers and others seasoned Dutch Oven cooks.  I overheard some of the onlookers asking questions on how to cook in cast iron, and how to season and clean the pots.   Since I grew up using cast iron cookware, that type of comment about the pots, strikes me as somewhat humorous.  Some acted as if they are witnessing some new high tech invention. 

In reality our relatives a generation or two back would have been using these pots in their daily cooking.  There is some evidence to suggest these “Pots” were produced in the 1600’s.  A Patent shows up in England in 1704.  Credit is generally given to Paul Revere for the addition of the raised ring about the outer edge of the lid.  This raised ring holds the coals in place and prevents them from rolling off the lid.  This made it more convenient to be used as an actual baking oven.  So we are seeing a type of cookware that has been in use for an excess of 300 years.  In contrast Telfon as we know it today has come and gone in basically one generation.  I understand a harmful ingredient used in Teflon will be eliminated from all consumer products by 2015.

Many ask, “What can you cook in a Dutch Oven?”  Those in the know simply smile and respond with “….anything you can cook at home in traditional cookware using your modern stove or oven.”   Modern day charcoal is the easiest for beginners since the heat is fairly consistent.  Using an easy to remember formula, (we use the 3 uppy-down rule) the Dutch Ovens produce 350°F of consistent heat for about one hour.  By adding or subtracting coals you can easily adjust the temperature up or down.  Once you get the hang of it you can easily use coals from a campfire and produce the same results.

A properly seasoned piece of cast iron is nearly as non-stick as Teflon.  If something is stuck on, it is easily “boiled” off.  Most cast iron cooks will not use any metal utensils or abrasive cleaning pads.  In fact some will not even use soap.  They wish to retain the “seasoned” finish and build up more each time they cook.  One of the mistakes of a “newbee” trying to cast iron cook, is to use a piece of cast iron cookware that has not been “seasoned”  They don’t understand why their food burns on the metal or the fact it starts rusting.

Nevada State Parks sponsored this event.  They brought in great cook tables, supplied the charcoal, and handed out some great plaques to the winning cooks of the differing categories.  We heard the unofficial count of bystanders, aka “People’s Choice samplers and voters” was over 260.  We have been doing Dutch Oven events for years.  We were all kind of shocked at the great interest shown at a first time event.  We are looking forward to their next one.

Valley of Fire State Park is one of the most unusual and beautiful parks in Southwestern USA.  Full of multicolored towering sandstone shapes.  Thousands of ancient Petroglyphs and Pictographs can be found scattered across this area.  These rock drawings are remnants of an ancient people that left little evidence to study their culture and history.  Most agree these people were an ancient Native American culture dating back perhaps as far as 1500BC.

For the end of February we couldn’t have asked for a better weekend.  No wind, sunshine, and temperatures in the sixties (Fahrenheit).  Parts of the USA are blanketed in snow and roads closed down.  Here we are cooking outside and enjoying the sunshine.    Then there was the great homemade Dutch Oven cooked food to sample.  The food was gone without a trace within 15 minutes…except for a few crumbs in the pots.  To quote someone at the event "The worst thing I tasted was pretty darn good!"  The judges had a tough time.  Believe me the food was all prepared well.  Hopefully no one left feeling defeated.  I think all the cooks were deserving of a first place.  It was that good!

Rock Art found hidden away in Valley of Fire


Rick Beach has been cooking for over 45 years.  "If you want to add the years Mom used sifting and measuring cornmeal as a baby sitter, while she herself was baking...then its even longer"!  Equally at home using the conveniences of a modern day kitchen, or outside cooking over coals from a campfire.  An accomplished Dutch Oven cook as well as cooking and setting up for 100+ person events.  While many recipes might be handed down family favorites, others are new personal recipes that have been created over the years.  You might find Rick cooking anywhere in the western area of the USA. Loves the Outdoors, Traveling, Camping, and Cooking.  They make for a great combination.

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