Regular readers know I’ve been reading old-time Westerns the last couple of weeks. As in most novels I’m always curious about what the people in the story are eating. As I was reading The Day the Cowboys Quit (my review at Quirky Girls Read), I noticed the chuck-wagon cook had his iron pot out making a pot of beans for the cowboys, along with some sourdough biscuits.
That chuck-wagon cook’s iron pot reminded me that I haven’t shared with you my experiences with our iron pot – our Dutch Oven. We bought our three-legged oven over forty years ago to use while camping.
Those were the days when campers could dig their own fire pits and could easily gather wood from the forests. The standard fare for at least one meal on a camp-out was Bean-Hole Beans. For some reason the men in our camping parties always loved this dish and the ritual that went with it. Here’s how we did it and probably how the cowboys did it too:
First you have to dig a good sized hole that’s about twice the depth of your dutch oven. It should be round enough for the oven plus room for coals.
Second, you need to build a good enough wood fire. (Although I’m sure the chuck-wagon cooks used cow chips.) The wood needs to be burned down enough so it is all hot coals. You’ll need enough coals to surround the dutch oven.
Third: Prepare the beans. Take a couple pounds of beans (any dried bean will do) and the water that you have been soaking them in (at least half a day). Pour them into the dutch oven. Add about half a cup of molasses, a cup or so of brown sugar, half a pound of cut up bacon or a couple of ham hocks and two or three chopped onions. [These are the basic ingredients. Every cook adds their own touches such as garlic or green, red, or hot peppers, tomatoes, and so forth.]
Stir all the ingredients real good and then cover it tight with a couple of layers of heavy-duty aluminum foil. Then put the lid on the dutch oven so it’s also tight.
Now you’re ready to start baking the beans. In the bottom of the hole put a good layer of hot coals. The legs on the dutch oven will let it sit right on top of those hot coals, so it’s okay to put the dutch oven, now full of beans, right on top of the coals. Put more hot coals around the sides of the dutch oven and then on the top. The dutch oven should now be completely surrounded by the hot coals.
Next, carefully shovel a layer of dirt over the top. The dirt will insulate the hot coals and keep the low fire going. Do not fuss with it.
Go fishing, hiking or whatever, and come back in about 10 to 12 hours. Dig out your pot of beans and eat. If you’ve been camping outdoors for several days and have built up a hearty appetite, these beans taste as good as a gourmet treat. It never fails to impress children and new campers.
For us, making Bean-Hole Beans and other dutch oven specialties was part of the fun of campiing. We knew we would soon go back to our quick-heating stoves and our refrigerators. We’d be able to quickly cook up anything we wanted. But these experiences gave us and our children an appreciation for the ways our ancestors had to work hard for the simple food they were able to make.
If this post sparks an interest in dutch oven cooking, I’d like to recommend a good resource: The Complete Book of Dutch Oven Cooking by J. Wayne Fears. (It’s available at Amazon.) Half the book is a great primer on buying and caring for a good dutch oven. The other half is filled with recipes including Bean Hole Beans.
As I do every Saturday, this post is linked to Weekend Cooking at Beth Fish Reads. It’s a great collection of posts about food by other bloggers. Click the button below.