By Jenny Neyman
Johnathon Kreider and Kaleb Henderson knew they had a strong recipe to prepare for their main dish in the youth division of the second annual Last Frontier Dutch Oven Society’s cooking contest, held during Progress Days in Soldotna on Saturday — a pork loin cooked with apples and cranberries. But in an effort to give it a little extra oomph, they employed a culinary tactic well known to chefs twice to three times their age:
“We wrapped it in bacon,” Kreider said. “And we added some seasoning. We looked up online what would go good with it. We tried it and it was awesome, so we decided to keep it.”
Those strips of succulence ramped up the flavor and difficulty to the dish — elements judges considered in awarding points, along with aroma, presentation, and complexity and execution of the recipe.
That the pork loin required multiple steps of preparation, was a creative recipe, was cooked to perfection and looked, smelled and tasted like something out of a five-star restaurant’s kitchen contributed to the team’s winning score in the youth division. Their overall score included their points from the dessert category, as well. They made a three-tier chocolate cake topped with as much ooey-gooey goodness as they could slather on it — frosting drizzled with caramel sauce studded with chocolate chips.
They weren’t quite satisfied with the cake, but they’ll have time to tinker with the dish before they heat up their Dutch ovens in competition again, this time at the Alaska State Fair’s Dutch oven cook-off Sept. 5.
“We’re going to modify that for sure. It didn’t turn out as well as we wanted it to. It was a little bit burned, the frosting wasn’t exactly the way we wanted it to be,” Kreider said. “But we’ll probably go up to the state fair. We said if we win (the cook-off in Soldotna), we’ll do it.”
Henderson and Kreider, both 16, got the spark for cooking in Dutch ovens from
Boy Scouts. Their scoutmaster is Dr. Nels Anderson — co-founder, with his wife, Carla — of the Last Frontier chapter of the International Dutch Oven Society, the Progress Days cook-off and this year’s first-ever state fair event. They were intrigued when Dr. Anderson produced gourmet fare out of the unassuming round, black, cast-iron Dutch oven pots while on a camping trip.
“He got us started Dutch oven cooking since our first camp-out, and ever since then we’ve been hooked on it,” Kreider said.
Nine two-person teams competed in the youth division in Saturday’s cook-off, having to make a dessert and a main dish. Ashley and Stockton Jones were second, and Josh Henderson and Savannah Kreider were third.
The adult division, with an added bread dish, drew eight entrants. Carla Anderson and her daughter-in-law, Allison Anderson, took first with their Middle Eastern-spiced lamb chops and roasted vegetable terrine, jalapeno surprise rolls and blueberry goat-cheese basil pie. The win qualifies them to participate in the IDOS World Championship Dutch Oven Competition, held each year in Utah. They represented Alaska in the 2011 world championship in March, placing eighth out of 23 teams.
Second place went to Sally and Rick Oelrich, with chicken cordon bleu,
Southwestern bread and carrot cake. Third place was Sarah Michael and Amanda Larby. First place in the adult novice division was Mike Crawford.
Such enthusiastic participation, despite the cool, rainy weather Saturday, was heavy-metal-lid-clanging-onto-a-pot music to Omar Alvarez’s ears. He’s the 2008 winner of the IDOS world championship and an advocate for generating more interest in Dutch oven cooking.
“The idea of this whole event is to get those novice cooks and the youth out here cooking. We don’t want to lose this art. I think it’s an art, cooking in Dutch ovens,” Alvarez said.
Alvarez served as a field judge at the 2011 world championship, where he met Dr. Anderson, who was there to watch Carla and Allison compete. Anderson asked if Alvarez would come to Soldotna to help with the Progress Days cook-off. King salmon fishing in Alaska being on his bucket list, Alvarez agreed. Though tired from the previous days of fishing and sightseeing, Alvarez was on hand Saturday to oversee the competition and offer tips, tricks and advice.
“The main thing in Dutch oven cooking is temperature control. If you can get your pots to 350 degrees, which is the basic cooking, baking temperature, then you’re good to go,” Alvarez said. “That’s the hardest thing to do.”
Dutch ovens don’t require electricity, propane, natural gas or other modern
conveniences to work — just hot coals nestled underneath the pot and settled on the lid. They retain heat well, are nearly indestructible, don’t require any fancy cleaning and can be used to cook anything an oven can — from breads to desserts, stews to casseroles and even gourmet meat dishes. Their versatility, ease of use and durability made them a staple of Western pioneers, cowboys and other campers throughout history.
In recent years, use of Dutch ovens has slipped but their popularity is experiencing a comeback. Julie Saltz is a newly converted devotee. She only started using Dutch ovens about three weeks before last year’s Progress Days Dutch oven cook-off, in which she and her daughter won second place. Now her cast-iron pots are regularly in circulation.
“I like that you can make a whole meal in one pot and only have one pot to clean up. I like having options when I go camping. And if the electricity goes out in the wintertime, we just use these on our wood stove,” she said.
Saltz competed in the adult division Saturday with help from her 13-year-old son, Joseph Saltz. They made apple-stuffed pork loin, sourdough rolls and a deep-dish apple pie that has been a work in progress,
“We’ve been practicing. My husband has been taking about a pie a week to work to get critiqued,” she said.
Joseph also competed in the youth division, with Isaac Larson.
“I love it, the food that comes out,” Joseph said of Dutch oven cooking.
Julie Saltz is thrilled that her son is learning to cook, even if his terminology still needs some refinement.
“We’re making 40-garlic chicken and yellow cake with chocolate galosh, raspberries and blueberries,” Joseph said of his youth-division menu.
“That’s ‘ganache,’” Julie said, correcting pronunciation of the velvety, chocolate-and-cream icing mixture.
A few cooking tents down the line at Soldotna Creek Park on Saturday, the
Oelrichs were also fairly new to Dutch oven campfire cooking. Sally Oelrich started using them while chaperoning a Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints youth camping outing last summer, meant to re-create the pioneer hand-cart conditions Mormon settlers faced while heading West.
“On the trek we used them for the first time,” she said. “We were supposed to be teaching the youth but we didn’t know how to do it ourselves. But we’ve been doing a lot of it since.”
She is no newcomer to cooking, however. Her Southwestern bread recipe came from her Harvest Traditions bakery that she ran in Soldotna in the late 1990s.
Being new to Dutch oven cooking doesn’t mean being bad at it. Cooks can make it as easy or as complicated as they like and still get tasty results. And knowledge of baking, barbecuing or other styles of cooking are easily transferable. Alvarez, for instance, said he had only been cooking in Dutch ovens for two years when he won the world championship. It’s about love of good food, being creative and having an open mind to the possibilities of what can come from Dutch ovens.
“This has gotten away from cooking your basic chilies and stews and cobblers. You won’t see a cobbler here today, we’re taking it up several notches,” Alvarez said. “It just goes to show you you can cook anything in a Dutch oven. It’s great to go cooking like this at the campsite. People come by and ask, ‘You making a pot of chili?’ ‘Oh no, I’ve got a turkey or a prime rib roast in here, and I’m cooking a bread.’ It’s not hot dogs and hamburgers anymore.”
Participants in the second annual Last Frontier Dutch Oven Society’s Progress Days cooking contest:
Adults — Carla and Allison Anderson, Joel Warner, Rick and Sally Oelrich, DeRay Jones, Julie Saltz, Sarah Michael and Amanda Larby, Mike Crawford, and Debi and Dawn Smith.
Youth — Brenner and Cajewl Musgrave, Daniel and Jenna Barry, Rachel Frederickson and Desiree Barbosa, Elijah and Caleb Frederickson, Raleigh Van Natta, Johnathon Kreider and Kaleb Henderson, Josh Henderson and Savannah Kreider, Joseph Saltz and Isaac Larson, Stockton and Ashley Jones.