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DANIEL CLIFTON • PICAYUNE EDITOR

HOOVER’S VALLEY — As settlers and explorers pushed west, they often packed light. One item they didn’t travel without, however, was the Dutch oven — a squat, cast-iron pot that made it possible for people to cook just about anything.

Though microwaves and convention ovens now serve as the mainstay of kitchens, the venerable Dutch oven isn’t tucked away on some museum’s shelf as a relic from the past. It still finds lots of work, and, on Dec. 13, Sean Jones of Inks Lake State Park is holding a demonstration to show how you can use it, cook with it and enjoy it.

“Cooking with a Dutch oven is so simple,” he said. “When I make something here at the park with it, people can’t believe how easy it is. And that’s why I do this — to show them how easy it is.”

Dutch ovens trace their lineage to the 1700s. Early settlers and Europeans used the early cast-iron cooking implements to create meals of all sizes and scopes.

As people began settling America and heading farther west, they took the Dutch oven with them.

“It was instrumental in the settling of the West,” Jones said. “It was used on wagon trains and cattle drives and just about any place else as people began moving west.”

In fact, he added, the Dutch oven is the official cooking implement of Texas.

“It’s just so versatile,” Jones said. “You can cook just about anything in it you could cook in your regular oven.”

At the presentation, Jones will begin cooking a cobbler in his Dutch oven starting about 3 p.m. at the park’s amphitheater. He’ll share the recipe and techniques, but, mostly, it’s an easy, four-ingredient dessert that highlights the ease of using a Dutch oven.

“It’s crazy easy,” Jones reiterated. “But the results, well, they’re incredible.”

And yes, if you attend, Jones will share the cobbler with you.

One of the things that makes the Dutch oven almost foolproof is it cooks rather slowly, whether using charcoal briquets or wood coals.

“It’s really hard to burn stuff because it cooks so slowly and you can pop open the lid and check on it,” Jones said.

While this program features the cobbler (if he gets a volunteer to help, Jones might try other dishes), he plans on expanding the Dutch oven cooking program to include multiple courses in future months.

And with the cooler weather of December, people can gather around the fire as the food cooks, talk, share tips and just enjoy the outdoors.

Sort of like they did 150 years ago on the wagon train.

Call Jones at (512) 793-4689 for more information on this or any other programs at Inks Lake State Park. The Dutch oven cooking program is free, but regular park entrance fees do apply. The park is located at 3630 Park Road 4 West in Hoover’s Valley.

daniel@thepicayune.com