As Sancho Panza blessed the man who invented sleep, so do we bless the genius who first thought of the Dutch oven. When you are in a permanent camp where a stove is denied you, the Dutch oven puts an unscrub-off-able, triple-plated silver lining to the cloud. It is simply a homely iron pot, utterly styleless, standing on three short legs, and covered with a close-fitting iron lid that has a raised rim all around its edge. Ours is ten inches in diameter, weighs fifteen pounds, and is steeped in such memories of stewed jack-rabbit, baked beans of royal flavor, corn pone and white wheaten loaves, that one look at it on the bluest of Blue Mondays routs the devil, foot, horse and dragoons. When ready for cooking, set the oven on a bed of live coals, and sprinkle a layer of similar coals upon the lid the upturned rim will hold them in place thereby ensuring an even heat all about the contents and a hot cover, which will put an entrancing brown on bread or other edibles inside.
To became a cordon bleu after the Order of the Dutch Oven, requires long personal experience, and the art cannot be communicated through printer’s ink. There are three essential features however, which when observed will start anyone well on the way:
First, be sure to choose one the lid of which has an upturned rim. Some are lacking in this.
Secondly, do not have too much fire either beneath the oven or on the lid.
Third, be sure that the lid is on tight, for therein lies the Dutch oven’s peculiar virtue, and a leak there is fatal. Looseness of the lid may be due to either of two conditions-your own carelessness in setting the lid on the pot, or a flaw in the manufacture. To guard against the latter contingency it is prudent to try the lid at the time of purchase, and take none that does not fit snugly. One of the most serious moments of our outdoor life resulted from failure to do this.
We had come into possession of a chicken at a particular time when, surfeited with bacon and canned salmon, we craved fresh meat, and that special chicken, unlike John’s of famous memory, was really a fine one. It was a fowl of distinguished appearance-a Plymouth Rock, we thought a hen, with a comfortable tendency to embon point unusual in the general run of chickens known to campers ; and our mouths watered as we picked and dressed it.
Our old Dutch oven, the companion of many trips, had become damaged on a previous outing, and the one we had brought with us on this occasion was new and we had not yet happened to have used it. It was got out and scrubbed, and the chicken, dismembered and divided into neat lengths and morsels, was laid in and proved a perfect fit. Then when water and seasoning and all the accompaniments had been added, the pot with its cover on was set upon the bed of glowing coals and a shovelful of embers placed on the lid. It was a famous sight for hungry eyes.
It was a frosty Sunday morning of October in the San Gabriel Mountains when this took place, and the Old Californian was with us. To distract our impatient thoughts while the chicken cooked, we all went for a walk; for it is one of the strong points of the Dutch oven that it does not have to be watched. You set it on the coals and it does the rest.
Filled with high thoughts inspired by the autumnal glories of the mountain weather, and hungrier than ever, we returned, after two hours, to find the camp enveloped in a suspicious odor.
“Something is burning,” cried Sylvia in dismay.
The Old Californian made a dash for the Dutch oven and lifted the lid.
“Worse than that,” he groaned’s burned,” and he tipped up the lucides to see.
The interior was black with the charred remains of what was once our cherished chicken, burned to a finish. Not a shred of flesh, not a hit of gristle, not a bone was left in recognizable form. Given those pathetic cinders, Cuvier might have guessed them to be Gallus domesticus, but never in the world could he have proved it.
Human speech is notoriously inadequate to certain crises of life, and this was one.
“It was the lid,” I can remember the old man murmuring, as he mechanically picked up the can-opener and reached for a tin of sardines. “It doesn’t fit,” he maundered on. “See, it wobbles,” jolting the pot and causing the lid to seesaw and click.
The next Dutch-oven we bought, we tested for air-tightness before it left the store.