Dutch Oven and Cast Iron Cooking: A New Taste In Hobbies
I have had countless hobbies, for which I have collected a ridiculous amount of gear. I get interested in something, don’t bother learning enough about it, assume the “stuff” will help me succeed in truly experiencing the hobby, and bore all too quickly with the hobby. I am walking a thin line right now as I develop my newest interest, cast iron cooking. It started simply enough. About 16 months ago, Army Navy Outdoors, as a long-time supporter of the scouting community, added Lodge Cast iron to our wares. We had a small “basic Dutch oven cooking” class, helmed by John Howard, cast iron cooking genius. My wife kindly attended to help shore attendance numbers, so I purchased my first Dutch oven (a 12”- 6qt). She made a lovely cornbread, and I had a new cast iron toy. It took me almost 2 months to develop the nerve to actually try using it. I was sure I would melt it, break it, poison someone, or otherwise embarrass myself beyond recognition. But I did none of those things. I made a basic but tasty shepherd’s pie. But I did something else that was far more important. I took a first step.
Fast forward to today… I have a 12” – 6qt, 10” – 4qt, 1 tiny skillet for a single fried egg, 2 fajita skillets (with wood trivets), 1-10.25” skillet, 1-12” skillet, and 1-17” two-handled skillet. I have a crate of cooking accessories, from lid lifter(s) to charcoal chimneys to whisks to bowls, lots of cups and spoons for samples (there are always plenty of volunteers when I am trying something new in a dessert). I have a cart just for dragging the weighty iron from place to place. My friend is making me a “chuck box” (portable wooden kitchen). I know, coolest guy ever. I have joined a Dutch oven society. And oh yeah, I’m waiting for my 8” – 2qt pot to be delivered. Gee, obsess much? Here’s the thing. This hobby seems to be sticking.
Sounds cheesy, but this growing entity of “cast iron-ness” has added a whole new dimension to my life. It has led to friend and family gatherings, surrounding food and good times and more food. Several of my acquaintances have become true and close friends. This year’s New Year’s Eve celebration ended up being a 6-hour cookout with our friends’ entire family sleeping over. My friends all have Dutch ovens now. Campouts are designed around our cooking. The hangouts are now patios and back decks, around fire pits and sheet metal cooking platforms. Whole new oddities, like “bacon-on-a-stick” have spawned from these gatherings. I will spare you the details of several food-drunk grown men sitting around a fire pit giggling and salivating as they hold skewers of bacon over the coals… Let’s just say that even a cardiologist would have had a hard time avoiding that encounter.
Cast iron cooking is truly a fading art. But it is amazing, and amazingly simple. Mistakes are not mistakes, just something new to sample. And everyone will sample a mistake from time to time. Some of them turn out to be pretty darned yummy. I find a sense of interactive pleasure in group cooking. I learn more every time I cook or communicate with another enthusiast. I hope I will never stop learning.
My most recent adventure was Dutch oven prepared Cornish hen, which I had never cooked before at all. But my 9 year old and I grabbed a random YouTube video, watched it twice while scribbling notes and ingredients madly, and headed for the grocery store. I have said so much already, I will say briefly… Yum. The picture is of the birds cooking while being basted periodically. Right in my back yard. Amazing!
I will start looking for the next adventure, which I will share in more detail. In the meantime, I promise, no more purchases (except of course the 8” – 2qt, perfect for pot pies…). Until then, discover this for yourself. Share the food, share the fun, find the joy.