I don’t know about you, but when I think about the West I often think about food.
This topic came up a lot when I was doing research on the history of dude ranching. (For more info see my previous post titled, “For Your Holiday Table: Cowboy in a Sack”).
Before the portable camp stove, and even before the chuck wagon, miners and cowboys did a lot of their cooking over a fire with a cast iron Dutch oven (there are so many stories about where this name came from, I don’t have room for them. You can look them up and decide which one you like.)
A hungry cowpoke or desert rat could make everything from scrambled eggs to peach cobbler in one of these versatile covered wonders. The most common use of the Dutch oven was for biscuits, that staple of the outdoor life. Here’s a 1920s recipe for those adventurous types who prefer fire to propane.
Dutch Oven Miner’s Biscuits
3 cups flour
6 teaspoons baking powder
3 tablespoon fat (lard or bacon drippings)
1 cup milk (or a bit less)
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
Sift together dry ingredients, then rub in lard with your fingertips until the flour is flaky. Pour in about a cupful milk to moisten. Turn out the dough on well-floured board or some kind (or a flat rock, the side of a dynamite box, whatever) and pat it down to about ½ inch in thickness. Cut out the biscuits with a drinking glass or coffee cup and put them in a greased Dutch oven that has been slightly preheated (including the lid). Biscuits should be touching but not crowded together. Place the lid on the oven and cover with hot coals. Place it on a bed of red coals and let the biscuits bake for about twenty minutes or until brown on top and bottom.
Dude ranches enjoyed serving Dutch oven biscuits to their guests, too.
To make this classic American treat in the comfort of your kitchen, put the biscuits in a cast iron frying pan, and then into a preheated 400-degree oven for 12-14 minutes. But where’s the fun in that?