Jefferson County Conservation Board hosted the 11th Annual Spring into Summer Dutch Oven Cookoff Saturday at Jefferson County Park.
The event featured 13 teams competing in categories such as dessert, main dish, and bread. Jefferson County Naturalist Therese Cummiskey said that, despite the early morning rain, it ended up being a nice day. “It was awesome, and I so appreciate our volunteers who helped,” Cummiskey said. “Our competitors were cooking furiously for 4.5 hours!”
What is a Dutch oven?
For those unfamiliar with this piece of cookware, a Dutch oven is a thick-walled cooking pot with a tight-fitting lid and usually made of seasoned cast-iron. According to the book “Dutch Ovens Chronicled: Their Use in the United States,” author John G. Ragsdale suggests that the name might have come from early Dutch traders peddling cast iron pots, or perhaps from the Dutch who settled in Pennsylvania and who used similar pots or kettles.
Whatever its origin, the participants at Saturday’s cookoff agreed that a Dutch oven is a great addition to a camping party.
“Anything you can make in an oven, you can make in a Dutch oven,” said competitor Kaitlyn Post, who cooks with her mother Cynthia Post on team “Sweet and Sassy.”
“I’m totally the sweet one,” Kaitlyn added.
Kaitlyn, 17, has participated in the Dutch Oven Cookoff for at least eight years. Her younger brother Dillan, 14, started a few years after her. In their first few years in the program, the two kids were in charge of mixing ingredients, leaving the sharp knives and scalding pots to the adults. By the time Kaitlyn was a freshman in high school, she was taking a leading role. Dillan soon followed.
Kaitlyn’s favorite dish to prepare in a Dutch oven is the first one she ever made: Santa Fe chicken, a mix of chicken, creamed cheese, green chilies, Rice-A-Roni and Mexican-style flavoring. Dillan’s favorite is called a “breakfast bubble brisket.”
The Post family took a shine to Dutch oven cooking thanks to grandparents Kortney and Richard Heald, who accompany them on camping trips. Kortney said she and her husband picked up the habit from camping buddies Jeri and Ron Meyers, who were once the park hosts at Jefferson County Park.
The Ledger asked Kortney what she liked best about Dutch oven cooking.
“What’s not to like?” she responded. “You can make lots of different food. It doesn’t have to be the same old hot dogs and hamburgers when you go camping.”
Kortney said the menu can range from tasty side dishes like scalloped potatoes and soup, desserts like cheesecake, lava cake, and apple crisp, and her favorite main dish: Richard’s sweet and spicy pork loin.
“And this year he finally mastered bread in the Dutch oven,” she said.
Richard and his grandson Dillan are on a team, and they made parmesan Italian rolls in the bread category. They call themselves “Team Divided” because Richard is a Cyclone fan, while Dillan cheers for the Hawkeyes.
Kaitlyn said the most challenging part of Dutch oven cooking is mastering how to apply the right amount of heat with charcoal so the food is fully cooked without being burnt.
“It’s hard to get the timing just right,” she said.
Another group of regulars at the Dutch Oven Cookoff is the Hammel family. Dad Dennis and mom Jennifer comprise the team “Packer Backers,” while daughter Olivia is a team all her own on “Dutch Oven Cupcake.” This is the sixth year the family has participated in the event.
The Hammels cooked a family favorite, an apple dumpling dessert, and for the first time, a Mediterranean main dish called chicken Marbella. Members of the public can pay a fee to sample each of the dishes the competitors cook. Dennis and Jennifer said they received a lot of positive comments on their chicken Marbella dish.
“We’ll see what the judges say,” Dennis said.
Jennifer said the family uses its Dutch oven plenty of times the rest of the year. In fact, they couldn’t have Thanksgiving without it.
“We do sweet potato casserole, oyster dressing, red dressing, apple dumplings and Black Forest cake,” Jennifer said.
Jennifer said most people cook on Dutch ovens with charcoal, though wood or chips can be used, but their heat is harder to control.
Olivia, a 2017 Fairfield High School graduate who is now a student at the University of Northern Iowa, made a peach bread as one of her dishes for Saturday’s competition. She got her start as a sous chef for her parents the first two years, and has done it on her own for four years.
One of her favorite dishes to make in a Dutch oven is a recipe of her own making: a raspberry apricot yum-goodie. She said it’s not quite a cookie, yet not quite a cake, either.
“It was actually a mistake,” Olivia said. “It was supposed to be a tart. The raspberry jelly mixed in with the sugar-cookie crust, and it ended up tasting really good. It won on its first year.”
Douds residents Hannah Sprouse and Josh Baker competed for team “Hot Pots.” Their red raspberry star bread was a hit in the bread category. Earlier that day, they baked a chocolate lava cake for dessert, and a chicken bruschetta pizza for the main dish.
“So far, the response from the public has been pretty positive,” Baker said.
“I haven’t heard any ‘yuks’,” Sprouse joked.
This is the third year Sprouse has participated, and the fourth or fifth time Baker has competed. When they’re not competing in cook-offs, Sprouse and Baker are busy hitting the books as students at Iowa State University, where Sprouse is majoring in ag studies and Baker is doing mechanical engineering. The two are fellow Van Buren alumni, with Baker graduating in 2016 and Sprouse following the next year.
Those who missed Saturday’s cookoff, or even those who want to try again, have another chance at a Dutch oven competition, which will be held June 30 during the Greater Jefferson County Fair at the Jefferson County Fairgrounds.
Exhibitors will meet at 8 a.m. near the activity building. The public can sample dishes beginning at 11:30 a.m. There is no cost to enter. Prizes for first and second place will be awarded in the categories of brunch and dessert. For more information, visit jeffersoncofair.com.
Results from Saturday’s cookoff
1st place: Cast Iron Widow (Teresa Adair from Niota, Illinois)
2nd place: Packer Backers (Jennifer & Dennis Hammel from Fairfield)
3rd place: Tear Droppin’ Ladies (Michelle Shock from Waterloo & Marlyn Hoksbergen from Pella)
4th place: Sweet & Sassy (Cynthia & Kaitlyn Post – Fairfield) Note: Mother & Daughter team)
1st Place: Dutch Oven Cupcake (Olivia Hammel – Fairfield)
2nd place: Danielson Duo (Doug & Roberta Danielson – Fairfield)
3rd place: Locust Grove Regulator (Lois DeVore Shreves)
1st place: Tear Droppin’ Ladies
2nd Palce: A Guy & A Gal (Loren Bolkema & Lois Standley – Fremont, IA)
3rd Place: Sweet & Sassy
4th Place: Team Divided (Richard Heald & Dillan Post- Fairfield) Note: Grandfather and grandson team)
Cook’s Choice (Novice)
1st Place: Skunk Holler Gang (Tim & Dee Ann Lantz-Fairfield)
2nd Place: Danielson Duo
3rd Place: Locust Grove Regulator
1st: Southwest Iowa Boys (Gordon Crawford and Harold Auten – Creston & Villisca Iowa)
2nd: Dutch Oven Cupcake
3rd: Team Divided
4th: Tear Droppin’ Ladies