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Crowd makes meals during National Dutch Oven GatheringPublished October 24, 2013 at 6:00 a.m.
BISMARCK Cooking outdoors is fun, especially while camping in a state park, but for most people, the idea brings to mind a wienie roast or hamburgers on a grill, at most.
That was not the case for 450 folks from 34 states and Canada who rendezvoused for the National Dutch Oven Gathering at DeGray Lake Resort State Park on Friday and Saturday.
“Of the 450 people registered for the event, most were from Texas, Louisiana and Arkansas,” said Jason Parrie, senior park interpreter at the state park. “The gathering drew in participants from as far away as Montana and Massachusetts, as well as a few chefs from Canada who made the long drive down to show off their skills with the iron pots.”
Parrie said the group, many of whom arrived early and stayed for more than a week, filled the park.
“All 113 campsites were filled, and we had 50 rooms at the lodge that were occupied,” Parrie said. “It was exciting to see all the people.”
He said this was the first time the DOG, as the gathering is called by the Dutch-oven enthusiasts, has been held in Arkansas, and park employees did not know how many people would make the trip or come out to see the cooking demonstrations. Parrie said more than 800 people either took part or visited the park during the gathering.
The event featured cook-offs by adult and youth members of Dutch-oven organizations from around the U.S. and Canada. The even also offered music, equipment swaps and sales, and on Friday and Saturday nights, all the participants came together to share what they had been cooking during the day. Anywhere from 70 to 100 pots would appear on the tables under a pavilion with a collection of breads, meats, all kinds of side dishes and plenty of desserts.
It is not just pots of stew that are served, said Eric MaCallister, one of the organizers of the national gathering. Dishes of all types, from plain to fancy, can be made in the heavy iron Dutch ovens with their distinctive three short legs on the bottom. The legs allow the pot to be placed over charcoal, and more hot coals are often placed on top of the pots for even cooking and so another pot can be placed on top of the one sitting over the fire.
Paul Mansfield of Benton, a member of the Central Arkansas Dutch Oven Group, explained the formula for how much charcoal to use during a morning of cooking at Tyndall Park in 2011.
He said to use twice the number of briquettes as the diameter of the pot in inches.
“If it is a 12-inch pot, use 24 pieces of charcoal,” Mansfield said. “Place two-thirds of the pieces on the top and the rest underneath the pot. Cooking for most items will be around 35 minutes.”
Paul Revere is often credited with creating the flat-topped, flanged-led pot with stubby legs for use outdoors. The lid design helps keep the briquettes in place. But similar designs have been developed all over the world and used for centuries. Dutch ovens, which have been known to last for more than a century and are used for generations, were the cooking mode for the westward expansion of the United States.
The name seems to come from manufacturers in the Netherlands who mass-produced the enameled steel pan they called the braadpan. That way of making the pots was copied in England, and the “Dutch” ovens were sent to America.
At the national gathering, the cooks set up their Dutch ovens at their campsites in the woods around the lake. They would show off their pots and swap recipes as they cooked a meal they would share with each other.
The cooks who stayed for several days endured a day of rain and the first cool temperatures of fall, but the park offered many things to do.
“The park offered our eagle-viewing tour on Thursday before the gathering,” Parrie said. “We also organized a trip to Hot Springs.”
Visitors made arrangements for horseback riding, and many took pictures from around the lake that they shared on Internet social media.
The organizers said DeGray Lake State Park was chosen for the gathering because of its beautiful location with views of the lake and the Ouachita Mountains, Park Superintendent Mike Wilson said.
“The staff of the park really came together to show our guests what a great state park we have here in central Arkansas,” he said. “It took several months to plan the logistics for the event, and it involved almost everyone in some way.”
Several visitors expressed their thanks for the park’s work and the organizers with the Central Arkansas Dutch Oven Group.
“This was a great event,” said Lesley Hershaw Tennesen, a Dutch-oven cook from McHenry, Ill. “I wanted to thank everyone who planned and worked this event. It sure was a great time.”
Saturday morning started with a competition breakfast cook-off. It was sponsored by Petit Jean Meats, which provided bacon, country ham and peppered bacon to the contestants.
“As a novice, this was a good contest to start,” Dan Ragteike of Greenwood, Ind., posted on his Facebook page during the gathering. “I have a simple breakfast recipe, but my hungry friends like it.”
Each year, the Dutch-oven group organizing the national meeting gets to decide if the event will be open to the public. This year, the group from central Arkansas decided to host an open house for four hours on Saturday, including an Adopt-A-Chef program for one-on-one training in using a Dutch oven.
“About 80 groups of three or four people paid $50 to see a meal prepared from start to finish,” Parrie said. “The park gave each group a 12-inch pot and the ingredients. The groups were also invited to the group dinner, where all the cooks brought their meals that evening.”
The cooking lessons are one of the favorite activities of the Dutch-oven enthusiasts.
“Last week, I spent several hours teaching how to cook peach cobbler and chocolate-cherry dump cake,” said Christine Vance Rubinstein of Springfield, Mo., who attended the gathering.
Many of the cooks at the gathering also offered samples of what they were cooking during the day. Samples included everything from biscuits to cheesecake.
Eight Scouts and four Scout leaders of Boy Scout Troop 201 from Longview, Texas, offered free bowls of venison chili to visitors. Parrie said the scented steam from the cast-iron pot drew a crowd to the Scouts. The deer meat was donated by Arkansas Hunters Feeding the Hungry, and a canned-food collection was held to support the hunters’ mission to feed the hungry in the state.
“All these chefs coming together in one place with hundreds of styles of cookware demonstrates the versatility of cooking with cast iron,” Parrie said. “It is easy enough for the whole family to get involved.”
He said Arkansas state parks frequently offer Dutch-oven demonstrations for visitors. To find out when a park will offer a class, Parrie suggested visiting the events calendar of the the parks website at www.arkansasstateparks.com.
Staff writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at (501) 247-6129 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tri-Lakes Edition Writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at 501-244-4460 or email@example.com.