Fresh peach cobbler is a terrific way to end a campsite dinner and a great start to mastering Dutch oven cooking. Practice a few basics and you can turn out biscuits, stews, soups and pies as you tap into a cooking tradition as old as Scouting itself.
The Dutch oven was born four centuries ago when an English inventor took a method used in Holland for making brass cookware and applied it to less-expensive cast iron. It came to America with colonists. Lewis and Clark toted Dutch ovens across the continent during their Corps of Discovery Expedition. Ranchers, settlers, homesteaders — just about anybody on the American frontier with bread to bake and stews to simmer — were eager to own a Dutch oven. It was so important to American history that legislatures in Texas, Utah and Arkansas proclaimed the Dutch oven the official cooking implement of their states.
It became a favorite cooking tool for Scouts, too. A good size for Scouts is a Dutch oven with a diameter of 10 or 12 inches. You’ll also need protective gloves and a lid lifter.
Season your oven by heating a few tablespoons of cooking oil in it. The oil will work its way into the iron, protecting it from rust and creating a nonstick coating. Wipe out any excess oil with paper towels.
Dutch oven success is all about coals. While old-timers used hardwood embers, today’s charcoal briquettes are easier to manage. For baking, you’ll want two or three times as many glowing embers or charcoal briquettes on the lid as underneath. Experience will help you determine when to add or remove coals to get the best heat.
Generations of campers have baked ranger cobbler at Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico. The recipe is a great backcountry dish for novice Dutch oven chefs and experts, too.
Philmont Ranger Cobbler
2 large (28 oz.) cans of peaches
2 cups of dry biscuit mix
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
Heat a Dutch oven over a good bed of coals. Pour the juice from one can of peaches into the oven. Use the juice from the other can in place of water to stir into biscuit mix to make a dough. Put the peaches from both cans into the oven. Add the sugar and cinnamon, and bring to a boil.
Carefully drop spoonfuls of biscuit dough onto the hot peach mixture. Put the lid on the Dutch oven, and set the oven over 10 to 12 glowing briquettes. Place another 18 to 20 briquettes on the lid, and let the cobbler bake about 20 minutes until the biscuits are golden brown.
Wipe out the oven after it cools, and rinse with clear water. Avoid soap — that can remove the coating of oils built up on the metal that creates the nonstick surface.
Just don’t wait too long for your helping of cobbler. It will go as fast today as anything cooked in a Dutch oven in the last 400 years.
Robert Birkby is author of three editions of The Boy Scout Handbook, two editions of the BSA’s Fieldbook and the latest edition of the Conservation Handbook. Find him at robertbirkby.com.