Friday, August 7, 2009

Sand, Iron and the Way West

If that black cast-iron Dutch oven could talk, what stories it would tell!

Even Christopher Columbus on his voyages across the sea to the New World listed an iron pot in his manifests. Those first black iron pots or cauldrons were pretty rough hand-pounded pieces.

In the early 1700s, an Englishman, Abraham Darbey, took a trip to Holland to inspect the dry-sand casting method they used to make brass vessels. Improving on this system, by baking the sand molds, Darby produced a smoother finish for iron pots and extended the number of times you could use the molds. Eventually the Dutch oven evolved to add a trio of legs to hold it up over the coals and a flat lid to hold more coals for baking or turned over, as a griddle.

Abraham Lincoln tells us stories of his childhood and sleepless nights keeping the fire going with a big Dutch oven pot hanging from a swing arm in the fireplace and memories of his mother cooking bread and stew in those pots. Lewis and Clark had their Dutch oven on their long exploration journey to the Northwest. The highly prized Dutch oven cookware was even listed in wills. Martha Washington left her prized and well-seasoned cookware in her will, evenly divided between her children.

Can't you just hear the clink clink clinking of the Dutch ovens swinging from the outside of wagons as they heading west. If you put them inside the wagon, the heavy pot bouncing along the rough trail would loosen the floorboards. Hang those pots on the outside. The Dutch oven was important during the massive western cattle drives during their long haul across the west. The chuck wagon was always supplied with a Dutch oven for the cook to make biscuits, stews and cobblers over the evening campfires. Those cowboys were hungry.

Wouldn't it be fun to be a time-traveling mouse, listening to all the stories around the fire, watching what they threw in their pots, how they seasoned their dishes?

September 19th, 2009, Georgetown, Colorado is putting on its first Dutch Oven Cook-off to celebrate 150 years of mining history... and I'm a judge. Oh, no. I am imagining more Dutch oven stories.... hmm.

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