About 40 years ago, my dad, my brother Rob and I dragged my old camper down the Swan to a spot called Point Pleasant. It is a camping area on the Swan River. Rumor had it that the deer were hopping out from behind most every tree, shrub, and patch of tall grass and we were there to check it out.
After setting up the camp, we wandered the campground looking for some friends who were already supposed to be set up and waiting for our arrival. We located the group easily enough and were introduced to a couple who had been in the area for several days and were going to be joining us.
Near their camper, they had a huge cast iron Dutch oven hanging over some hot coals. The aroma of a Mulligan stew wafted from the steam escaping the confines of the oven.
At dinner time, we went from campsite to campsite, inviting everyone camped there to come and join us. It turned into a big pot luck.
The meat in the stew came from a hind quarter of a big doe that had been harvested two days before. There were about 10 pounds of potatoes, three large Walla Walla sweet onions and three pounds of carrots. Celery, tomatoes, and other garden stock made up the rest of the ingredients.
It was a grand feast for everyone, not just hunters.
In the years since, I have studied various campfire cooking techniques. I own two Dutch ovens, a large and a medium sized; a bean pot, camp griddles and various other cast and non-cast iron cookware. I have three griddles: a round one for my wife and me, a double-gas-stove-sized flat one good for three or four, and a huge stainless steel one for use on top of a wood-burning sheep herder stove. The last one can cook an entire breakfast for up to six elk hunters at one time (bacon, eggs, and hash browns or flap jacks)
Baking in a Dutch oven is not difficult. The hardest part is keeping everyone at bay while you set up the rest of the meal. Once the lid is removed and the buns come out, it is every man for himself. Slathering a hot-from-the-oven bun with sweet cream butter and homemade raspberry preserves does not help maintain the dietary restrictions, but it does lead to being a welcome addition to most hunting camps.
I keep my eyes open for the odd cast iron cooking piece. All of my children have a collection of odds and ends I have discovered at rummage sales and thrift shops. Now, even my grandchildren are receiving the treasures I reclaim.
To make an old piece look like new, I will carefully place it in a pyre of coals and fill it with the glowing embers. Care must be taken that the cast iron does not cool too rapidly. It can shatter. The following morning I remove it from the ashes and wash it. Then I warm it in an oven and apply fresh oil to all the surfaces. This is the beginning of re-seasoning. Before long a black coat will cover it and it becomes almost nonstick cookware.
Cast iron is the best cookware I have found for even heating. For open flame or camp cooking it can’t be beat.
C. 2018 R. Thomas Funk