THREE RIVERS AREA Red-and-white striped tents filled with fireworks and American flags snapping in the July winds are harbingers of Independence Day, but a humble image of a cast-iron Dutch oven hanging over a campfire could be our icon of freedom, were we to commemorate a much lesser holiday, National Hillbilly Day, also recognized on July 4.
Dutch-oven cooking is a throwback to a former time that merits learning by today’s cooks, said Phyllis Speer, darling of the popular AETN show Cooking on the Wild Side, “because you can cook anything in these Dutch ovens that you can cook in your oven or on your stove at home, bar none.” Like the famous guntoting and resourceful Granny Clampett, Speer often cooks up a varmint or two.
Co-hosted by John Philpot for 18 years, the weekly television show is part of the Arkansas Outdoors program. Produced by the Arkansas Fish and Game Commission with the intention of showcasing the natural beauty of Arkansas and the many sporting and nature activities available in the wild, each segment concludes with Speer sharing a recipe or two, using her castiron cookery.
True to her television personality, Speer, who lives in Mountain Home, has a deep love for the outdoors and regularly camps and canoes with her family.
“There’s a lot of up-front work when you cook this way,” she said. “I cook double recipes at home and bag up half of each meal in a Ziplock. Then, I wrap the bag in newspaper and mark the date and what it is on masking tape and just stack those in the cooler when we go camping. I place them in order of when I will serve that particular meal.”
When she first started canoeing, Speer carried nine pieces of cast iron with her. They were packed in milk cartons.
“We were only inches from the water,” she said.
She has since learned to hone her portable cooking arsenal.
Currently the owner of 26 Dutch-oven pots with one pot weighing 150 pounds without the lid, she does have a favorite.
“My No. 12 deep is the one I’d pick if I could only have one. Having the short legs to sit up on the coals and a lid with a lip for the coal briquettes are huge pluses.”
There is a formula to using the coal.
“Generally, you want onethird on the bottom and twothirds on the top for maintaining 350 degrees,” Speer said. “But cooking outside always brings challenges. If the wind is blowing, you’ll need to quarter turn your pot every 30 minutes.”
As much as the show strives to encourage and celebrate the outdoors, Speer is bent on encouraging and educating on the practicality of Dutch-oven cooking.
“I want to de-mystify Dutch-oven cooking to folks who might not have ever tried it before,” she said.
One of the fears cooks unfamiliar with cast-iron cooking face is the temperamental nature of the coating — or the seasoning — of the cooking vessel.
“So many people are afraid they’re going to do something to harm their pot, but the wonderful thing about cast iron is that they are very durable and nearly indestructible. Nowadays,” she said, “they make pots that come preseasoned.”
Still, there are situations that slough off the seasoning, such as cooking with highacidic foods. Then there’s the whole debate of how to wash the pots.
“Oh, there are some sticklers who won’t use a drop of water,” Speer said. “I even met one man who washes his pots with salt, and a cowboy out west who just throws his pot in the fire every time he uses it to cook off all the food. He’s the one who showed me to use mineral oil instead of vegetable oil to coat my pot before storing so it never gets rancid.”
Speer prefers to wash her pots using warm, soapy water. She dries them quickly to prevent rust.
The Dutch oven, designated in 2001 as the state cooking vessel of Arkansas, was a basic necessity for early American settlers. The cast-iron pots were among the most cherished possessions of the rugged mountain men, westwardseeking travelers, explorers and cowboys who tamed the frontier and founded a nation. The cooking method has endured for more than 300 years.
Heritage preservation venues, such as Arkansas state parks, chuck wagon races, the timeless oasis at the Ozark Folk Center and the countless Dutch-oven cook-offs at festivals around the state, have kept cast-iron cooking alive. In the mountain hamlets of the Ozarks, it seems the practice never died.
The Fourth of July boasts its grilled meat, watermelon, festive cupcakes and homemade ice cream, but there is something deep-rooted about hillbilly food. Although most of us don’t consider possum or roadkill a viable protein option, Speer upholds the skill of sustaining one’s family with the bounty of the land.
That means she has cooked wild turkey, squirrel, dove, duck, elk, quail, chukar, crawfish, catfish, walleye, striper, venison and more on the show, to the delight of the viewers, but what surprises people the most, she said, is the ice cream.
“Nobody can believe I make ice cream in my Dutch oven. I use a No. 10 and a foot tub I fashioned with a bale over it. I layer the ice and salt just like you do when you use an ice cream freezer, and I also put some of the ice and salt on top,” she said. “The only bad thing about that is that the salt will take the finish, and you’ll have to re-season.”
There are some recipes that don’t bear repeating.
“You know, John is such a hoot — always teasing me, so I try and trick him when I can,” she said, with a gleam in her eye.
Viewers are well aware of the lively banter between the two. On a recent episode, Speer demonstrated how to roast potatoes in a Dutch oven. When she held up a package of dry onion soup mix, Philpot immediately called it a miracle ingredient, to which she agreed and added, without missing a beat, that it might just make a good exfoliant the next time she took a shower.
Back to the tricking: “Well, John likes to say I can make anything taste good,” Speer said, “so one day I got this idea I was going to cook crow and serve it to John — and not tell him.”
Speer set to planning the menu. She ordered eight crow breasts, half for a practice run.
“I made a shepherd’s pie with a garlic-mashed-potato topping. My husband, bless his heart, thanks me every time I cook for him — even if it’s just making him a bologna sandwich. He’s this skinny guy that taste-tests everything I make before I make it on the show. Well, I tried all my cooking tricks to mask the taste of that crow. I even used Worcestershire sauce.”
Her husband wasn’t forthcoming with the compliments.
“He said everything was delicious except the crow,” Speer said, so she began peppering him with questions. “I asked him if it was acidic or gamy or sour. Finally, he lifted his eyes up to mine and told me it was just nasty. Well, I can fix a lot of things, but I can’t fix nasty.”
“Cooking on the Wild Side” on Arkansas Outdoors airs on AETN at 6:30 p.m. every Tuesday. For more information on the show, for the charcoal application formula and for Dutch-oven recipes, visit the following sites:
www.aetn.org/programs/ arkansasoutdoors/home; www.aetn.org/programs/ cookingonthewildside/archives; and www.youtube. com/watch?v=pYioBS4ci_0. For a link to an Arkansas Dutch-oven online group, visit www.arkdos.org.
PHYLLIS’ LIST OF NECESSARY TOOLS
Lodge or Griswald cookware Hog pan or oil-changing pan to contain coals Crisco solid vegetable oil Mineral oil Vegetable spray Cast-iron trivet (“You need a place to put your lid while you’re checking on the food.”) Weber grill chimney starter (“It only takes 20 minutes to perfect coals if you use this.”) Welding gloves Lid lifter Plastic toughies (to scrub) Hardwood coals (oak, hickory) — not pine or hickory that have resin (“Briquettes are easier than campfire coals.”)
How to season cast iron 1. Start with a pot that is not cracked or pitted. (If pot has rust, throw it into a campfire and burn it before proceeding.) 2. Wash with warm, soapy water and scrub any stubborn spots with plastic toughies. (“You’ll have to put a little elbow grease to it.”) 3. Dry very quickly with a towel. 4. Coat every inch, inside and out, with Crisco solid vegetable oil. 5. Line bottom of oven with aluminum foil. 6. Place pot in cold oven and bring heat up to 300 degrees and heat for an hour. 7. Turn oven off and remove pot when just cool enough to handle with potholders. 8. Wipe off excess oil with a paper towel and cool completely. 9. Smear pot with mineral oil if storing, or spray with vegetable oil if cooking.
PHYL’S BARBECUE BEANS
1 pound hickory smoked bacon (set aside 3 slices and cut remaining bacon into bite-size pieces) 1 large onion, chopped 1 large green pepper, chopped 4 large cloves garlic, minced 4 cans red beans, drained 1 bottle hickory-flavored Masterpiece barbecue sauce 1/2 cup brown sugar 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard Salt and pepper, to taste
Cook bacon in No. 12 Dutch oven or deep skillet, reserving 3 slices. Remove, drain on paper towel and set aside. Add onions, pepper and garlic to grease in oven. Cook until soft. Add remaining ingredients and stir well. Place reserved bacon on top of beans. If cooking in Dutch oven, place about 9 briquettes under oven and 15 briquettes on top of oven. Cook about 30 to 45 minutes until bubbly and bacon is done. If cooking in kitchen oven, cook for the same time at 350 degrees.
JETTIE MAE’S PANHANDLER SPAGHETTI
1 1/2 pounds ground chuck 1 large onion, chopped 1 large green pepper, chopped 1 can whole kernel corn 1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes 1 can sliced mushrooms 1 (12-ounce) package spaghetti 4 beef bouillon cubes 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning 1 (8-ounce) package grated Cheddar cheese Salt and pepper, to taste
Spray Dutch oven with vegetable oil. Brown meat. Add onions and green peppers. Cook until soft. Add remaining ingredients, reserving 1 cup cheese for later. Do not cook spaghetti. Break spaghetti and put in oven dry. Cover the Dutch oven and place coals underneath and on top. Cook at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Check for doneness of spaghetti. Add remaining cheese, replace lid and melt cheese.
2 cans sliced peaches in heavy syrup 1 yellow or Golden Butter Recipe cake mix 1 stick butter Peach schnapps, brandy or cognac (optional)
Spray No. 12 deep Dutch oven with vegetable spray. Pour peaches into oven. Sprinkle cake mix on top of peaches. Do not stir! Slice butter and place on top of cake mix. Do not stir! Sprinkle with liquor if desired. Place lid on oven and bake at 400 degrees for 45 minutes to 1 hour until golden brown. Serve warm.
4 large baking apples (Rome Beauty, Jonagold or Granny Smith) 1/2 cup brown sugar 1 teaspoon cinnamon 1/2 cup chopped pecans 1/4 cup Craisins or raisins 1 tablespoon butter Metal pie pan that fits into selected Dutch oven 3 metal rims from canning lids
Generously core each apple within 1/2-inch from bottom of apple. Space 3 canning-lid rims in the bottom of Dutch oven, creating a raised space for the pie pan. Cleaning is much easier using this pan inside the Dutch oven. Mix sugar, cinnamon, pecans and raisins, and stuff mixture into apples, topping each with a pad of butter. Place 3 to 4 small chunks of butter in the center of the baking pan and top with some brown sugar. This will create a caramel sauce during the cooking process. Place stuffed apples on top of sugar and butter in the prepared pie pan. Set in the warmed Dutch oven and place on top of the hot coals. Place the hot lid on top of the Dutch oven and add enough hot coals on the top of the lid. A temperature of 350 degrees or slightly hotter is preferred. Bake approximately 20 minutes or until the apples are soft and the brown sugar and butter have caramelized.
Three Rivers, Pages 55 on 07/01/2010
Print Headline: flavor The glory of the Dutch oven