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Wednesday, August 05, 2015

Dutch Oven Magic

by Zoya Saltonstall

It can be easy to put aside the things that are the most rich with possibility in exchange for  newer, shinier options. Cars, appliances, clothes-out with the old, in with the new. Thinking it will be better.   But in the end, its  these tried and true  relics which become  part of us, our story. 

 In our home,  our dutch oven is such a relic. 

A dutch oven is  large heavy cooking pot with a lid. It is often made of cast iron and can be used in an oven or over the coals of a fire.  My first dutch oven memory is on the first date I had with my husband, Patrick. He invited me over for a deer stew dinner. A fire was going in the woodstove and it was the warmest place on earth. I sat on a stool at  his kitchen island, both of us seemingly nervous. We made first date small talk and drank wine until dinner was ready. 

 Patrick pulled the stew out of the oven and it was love at first sight. There were carrots, chunks of tender deer meat and mushrooms-my favorite stew ingredient. It was the best stew my faste buds had ever landed on.   Over the years, that stew became one of Patrick'd wintertime classics. 

All the good meals of our earlier years together were cooked in the dutch oven. It was Patricks go-to; he cooked stews, spaghetti, soups in it.  A few years later-at my suggestion-  we put it away for a cooking pot "upgrade". Something with color and seemingly snazzier.  The Dutch oven went off to the shed. For 10 years its been sitting in the shadows on a deep shelf.

Several weeks ago my girl scout troop co-leader, Erica,  texted, "Do you have a dutch oven?" she asked. 

 Hmm, where was that dutch oven from 10 years ago? We needed it for an outdoor cooking day, where the girls were going to make salmon in foil packets and cook a berry cobbler in the dutch oven for dessert. 

When I asked, Patrick knew exactly  where it was. Which dark of corner of which shelf-he knew its whereabouts. 

He brought the dutch oven in and began the process of re-seasoning it. For those who avoid using cast iron skillets because food sticks, its because the pan hasn't been well oiled and perhaps someone used soap on it. Cast iron needs very particular treatment to be non-stick. Nothing complex, but if someone washes it with soap, it can strip the oils from it. We oiled the dutch oven, put it on low heat to let the oils soak back in. There were a few small patches of rust which Patrick scrubbed off. The house smelled of a faint cooked oil smell. The dutch oven was warm.  

"Its ready to go Zoya!" Patrick said. There was a sparkle in his blue eyes. He was incredibly proud and I was impressed. The dutch oven sat all shiny and ready for use again. I looked down at the more modern Le Cruset pots in our kitchen cabinet and thought, "Sorry, guys. I've been reunited with an old love." 

None of my girl scouts knew what a dutch oven was, but they were all about   buttering it up in preparation for firecooked blueberry ocobbler. They rolled up there sleeves and eagerly slathered the interior with a thick coat of butter.  We put in frozen berries, topped them with strudel and onto the fire it went. 30 minutes later, the berries were bubbling and the cobbler was served. 

The dutch oven is back at home in our kitchen. Patrick cooked up  yummy  hashbrowns and eggs for breakfast out of it the other morning. "The sausages were moister than normal, Zoya" Patrick said, and I agreed. The lid on the oven helped retain the moisture from the sausages. 

 I'm eagerly looking up  more recipes to cook in the dutch oven, with a warm fire somehow in the picture. Whether the fire is in the wood stove on a winter night, or putting the oven on an open camp fire-its all about a fire. Enchiladas, casseroles, breads…. The possibilities all involve  a slow cooking time and a wonderful burst of steam when the lid is taken off. 

Kodiak resident Zoya Saltonstall is a mother of two and a physical therapist. She loves black labs and chocolate.

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