A recent post on SurvivalBlog was about baking bread and it talked about building an oven to bake bread to give out for charity. As I read the article I was wondering why there are not many articles on Dutch ovens on the blog. Anything that can be baked in a regular oven can be baked in a Dutch oven or cooked on a stove top for that matter. The way a Dutch oven works is 2/3 of the coals are on the top and 1/3 goes on the bottom. The lid has a lip that holds coals on top. They can also be stacked one on top of the other with the large on bottom smaller on top so a complete meal can be prepared all at once, also conserve fuel. Yeah you have to learn how to use one and yes there is a learning curve. Dutch ovens come in a large range of sizes from small desert size to 16 inch 12 quart behemoths. They use any fuel available and do not add a smokey flavor to the product being cooked. In fact when the wagon trains came west in the 1800s while crossing the prairie the only fuel available was Buffalo dung.
All that is needed to cook with a Dutch oven or spider skillet is a pair of leather gloves something to lift the lid with I like a pair of channel lock pliers a good size spoon, fork and spatula. I have an 1800s Spider skillet (a spider skillet differs from a Dutch oven in that it has a handle like a skillet, instead of a wire bale) that came west with my great great grand father. I rescued it from a storage shed and re-seasoned it. The re-seasoning differs from the seasoning in that the seasoning or rust or discolor is burned off in a fire. To season cover the cast-iron pan with oil and heat to 400 degrees for 3 hours and cook with the pan. The re-seasoning process takes three steps:
1.) To re-season cast iron first you need a fire, a rather large campfire works great, bury the skillet in the fire and let it burn till the fire goes out and the embers die, pull the skillet out of the dead embers and let it cool. Do not cool it with water, the skillet will crack or warp and be ruined.
2.) After the skillet or Dutch oven has cooled wash it in hot water and soap. Now the second step in re-seasoning the skillet or Dutch oven you need to use a fat or oil to cover the skillet (outside and inside) and then heat in an oven at 400 degrees for three or more hours I like to use a barbeque pit. I also like to apply the oil more than one time in the three hours. What happens is the pours of the cast iron open and the oil seals the metal. After three hours take the skillet out and let cool.
3.) The final step is to cook in the skillet/Dutch oven. Cornbread is the best food to season a skillet with. Mix up the cornbread, heat the skillet in the oven then add the fat to the skillet allow it to melt and spread it around and then pour in the cornbread batter.
If a Dutch oven is to be seasoned [while making cornbread, then] build a fire let it burn down to coals. Using a shovel scoop out a pile of coals smaller than the Dutch’s oven base, heat the Dutch oven over the coals place enough oil (a couple of ounce’s) in the Dutch oven and heat when oil is hot pour in cornbread, put the lid on the Dutch oven and add twice as much coals to the top as the bottom. It takes about 15 to 25 minutes to bake cornbread depending on the temperature of the oven after about at the mid point in coking spin the lid ¼ turn one direction and the base ¼ turn the other direction. This is to prevent hot spots. Your nose will tell you when you need to check to see if the cornbread is done, when you smell cornbread start checking when a tooth pick comes out clean the corn bread is ready take it out of the oven. It takes 3 or 4 pans of cornbread to finish seasoning a skillet well. Also frying a chicken also works. After awhile a nonstick surface develops on the skillet. The more a piece cast-iron cookware is cooked in the more it seasons. The trick is not to scrub hard when cleaning above all do not use a scouring pad or steel wool, hot water soap and at the most a spatula to clean a piece cast-iron cookware.
What to cook if you are in hurry or feeding a large group? A one pot/Dutch oven meal! Bean’s, stews or soup for that matter. After the main dish is done scoop coals out of the fire and in a pile and place the lid upside down on them makes sure the lid is level and cook what I like to call hoe cakes or corn pancakes. You can use cornbread mix batter or simple batter of water or milk and cornmeal and a small amount of salt and egg to bind. Cook them exactly like pancakes. Oil the lid and pour an amount of batter to make a cake about four inches across, wait for bubbles to form and flip and finish cooking and remove. With several Dutch ovens and a couple of experienced cooks a bunch of people can be feed!
OPSEC should be a big concern! Hungry people can panic and be extremely violent. Just look at the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Yes, I know that there was a lawless portion to that emergency. But all things considered I wonder how many of our big cities would fare better? What we need to take away from Hurricane Katrina is to prepare for the likelihood of violence. Food should be prepared away from large groups of people in need and carried to them. Beans, stews and soups can be prepared and poured into 5 gallon food grade buckets, which should be available. Also breads like Biscuits, cornbread, tortillas pack well for that matter in five gallon buckets. What I tentatively plan to do is locate a group living in a Hooverville or passersby. Observe the Hooverville for a minimum of three days. Using 6 person recon/security team and 3 person aid team locate a camp close but not to close to the Hooverville and set up my Dutch ovens. The camp should be setup 90 degrees to the prevailing wind from the camp to carry the smells and smoke away from the Hooverville. For example if the prevailing wind is north south then the aid camp would be either east or west of the Hooverville. Also charcoal produces little to no smoke and light compared to a wood fire. At a time determined by the security team prepare the food. Have the security team approach the camp and make contact with a few people. Set up a meeting place/time of the teams choosing. First feed the people you have contacted at a separate location and then set up a second meeting place. The security must use over watch at any meeting place and should have security at any camp. They should arrive at least 4 hours before the meeting time and establish an over watch position. The aid team should also have first aid training and include at least one EMT. If at any time it is deemed by the security team too dangerous the two teams pack up and leave. Having Dutch ovens and packs the teams can travel light and fast. Using mountain bikes the aid team could carry 200 lbs each. Say having a combat load of 50 lbs 25lbs of Dutch oven and cooking equipment that leaves 125 of food for a total of 375 lbs. That is feeding 250 meals. Using the security team to pack more food you could feed even more. Why bike? Does anyone remember Vietnam? The Vietcong carried considerable loads on bikes on the Ho Chi Minh trail. If the Hooverville is very large another 3 to 6 person team could be employed as packers to pack in supply’s using bikes. Also several teams could operate at the same time. Hopefully from several different retreats to spread the burden around and combine forces. Eventually the teams could employ the same concept of the Special Forces and train people in the camps to fend for themselves.
One last point any cast-iron pot can generally be saved I have saved several pieces that other people thought could not be saved and I picked most up for nothing or next to nothing. I like taking stuff that other people deem to be of no use and make it useful again.