A Dutch oven is used to cook a berry cobbler during a recent Girl Scout outing. (Zoya Saltonstall photo)

It can be easy to put aside the things that are the richest with possibility in exchange for newer, shinier options: cars, appliances, clothes — out with the old, in with the new. Thinking it will be better. But in the end, it’s these tried-and-true relics that become part of us, our story. 

In our home, our Dutch oven is such a relic. 

A Dutch oven is large, heavy cooking pot with a lid. It is often made of cast iron and can be used in an oven or over the coals of a fire. My first Dutch oven memory is on the first date I had with my husband, Patrick. He invited me over for a deer stew dinner. A fire was going in the woodstove and it was the warmest place on Earth. I sat on a stool at his kitchen island, both of us seemingly nervous. We made first date small talk and drank wine until dinner was ready. 

Patrick pulled the stew out of the oven and it was love at first sight. There were carrots, chunks of tender deer meat and mushrooms — my favorite stew ingredient. It was the best stew my taste buds had ever landed on. Over the years, that stew became one of Patrick’s wintertime classics. 

All the good meals of our earlier years together were cooked in the Dutch oven. It was Patrick’s go-to; he cooked stews, spaghetti, soups in it. A few years later — at my suggestion — we put it away for a cooking pot “upgrade.” It was something with color and seemingly snazzier. The Dutch oven went off to the shed. For 10 years it’s been sitting in the shadows on a deep shelf.

Several weeks ago, my Girl Scout troop co-leader, Erica, texted, “Do you have a Dutch oven?”

Hmm, where was that Dutch oven from 10 years ago? We needed it for an outdoor cooking day, where the girls were going to make salmon in foil packets and cook a berry cobbler in the Dutch oven for dessert. 

When I asked Patrick, he knew exactly where it was. Which dark of corner of which shelf — he knew its whereabouts. 

He brought the Dutch oven in and began the process of re-seasoning it. For those who avoid using cast iron skillets because food sticks, it’s because the pan hasn’t been well oiled and perhaps someone used soap on it.

Cast iron needs very particular treatment to be non-stick. Nothing complex, but if someone washes it with soap, it can strip the oils from it. We oiled the Dutch oven, put it on low heat to let the oils soak back in. There were a few small patches of rust that Patrick scrubbed off. The house smelled of a faint cooked oil smell. The Dutch oven was warm.  

“It’s ready to go, Zoya!” Patrick said. There was a sparkle in his blue eyes. He was incredibly proud and I was impressed. The Dutch oven sat all shiny and ready for use again. I looked down at the more modern Le Cruset pots in our kitchen cabinet and thought, “Sorry, guys. I’ve been reunited with an old love.”

None of my Girl Scouts knew what a Dutch oven was, but they were all about buttering it up in preparation for fire-cooked blueberry cobbler. They rolled up their sleeves and eagerly slathered the interior with a thick coat of butter.

We put in frozen berries, topped them with strudel and onto the fire it went. Thirty minutes later, the berries were bubbling and the cobbler was served. 

The Dutch oven is back at home in our kitchen. Patrick used it the other morning to cook yummy hash browns and eggs for breakfast.

“The sausages were moister than normal, Zoya,” Patrick said, and I agreed. The lid on the oven helped retain the moisture from the sausages. 

I’m eagerly looking up more recipes to cook in the Dutch oven, with a warm fire somehow in the picture.

Whether the fire is in the wood stove on a winter night or putting the oven on an open campfire — it’s all about a fire. Enchiladas, casseroles, breads. The possibilities all involve a slow-cooking time and a wonderful burst of steam when the lid is taken off. 

Kodiak resident Zoya Saltonstall is a mother of two and a physical therapist. She loves black labs and chocolate.

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