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A long-revered utensil in cooking, the Dutch oven is as popular now as it was when America was still a new country. It is a large metal cooking pot, sometimes made of the same cast iron as a skillet, or possibly made of enamel, steel or aluminum. A cast iron Dutch oven is suitable for use in an oven, on a stove top or over a campfire.
Abraham Darby, an Englishman, went to Holland in 1704 to see how the Dutch had improved their cast iron production, and was so impressed he came back to England and began casting his own pots. This is one theory of how these cooking pots got their name.
The cast iron Dutch oven became popular quickly, especially in the American Colonies. It was so versatile, it was a valued and essential utensil in any Colonial or frontier kitchen. The design at that time had a flat top with a wide upturned lip around the edge. This lip allowed the cook to pile hot coals on top of the oven, as well as use it over a fire, or even packed into the hot coals. The coals on top allowed cooks to make quick breads such as biscuits, and even bake pies.
This versatility also made the Dutch oven indispensable on the Western range, and every chuckwagon cook had several in the wagon. With these, he could make a pot of beans, chili, bake biscuits and make a pie, all over the same campfire. Keeping a crowd of cowboys well fed was essential to keeping them happy and working hard while on cattle drives.
The Dutch oven is still available in cast iron, with a large handle over the top, for hanging over a fire. Boy Scouts and frequent campers still swear by their usefulness. However, most cookware sets also come with what they term a Dutch oven, which is usually the largest, heaviest pot in the set. Some manufacturers make these pots from enamel, which produces a sturdy, colorful, durable pot that is a little lighter in weight than a cast iron Dutch oven. They are still used for stews, vegetables, and anything that may need to go from the stovetop to the oven and vice versa.