Dutch Oven Cooking Brings Back Memories

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With great curiosity and a sense of nostalgia I read an e-mail from Town Parks and Recreation Department Coordinator Mary McMullen.

The e-mail told of a Sept. 8 first-ever offering by the P&R department that will teach the art of Dutch oven cooking to the first 16 persons who register.

Much like Back to the Future, my thoughts of Dutch oven cooking sent my mind spinning to the fall of 1983, about the time I took over the head football-coaching job at Show Low High School.

Those weren't good times for the Cougars. The previous SLHS coach Joe Girardi, a college friend of mine, had been killed months earlier in a car accident near Winslow.

His death sent shock waves through the team, school and town.

The Cougars were also a team without a mission. They'd won only one game the previous season, had never beaten rival Snowflake in the history of the school and had long been the doormats of the league, losing most games by 30 or 40 points.

In assuming the reins of the down-and-out program, I often questioned my sanity. There was no winning spirit, no commitment by the town, school or players, the coaching staff was in disarray and there was no tradition to build upon.

One of the first persons I made sure was aligned with our team was Jerry Frost, a fellow math teacher.

Jerry, a devoted member of the LDS faith, was our team bus driver, spiritual leader and a darn good cook.

He had learned the art of Dutch oven cooking from his pioneering parents and grandparents who had settled the Snowflake, Show Low and Linden areas.

Our faculty had often been to his ranch in Linden for Dutch oven dinners that most often included what he called "Mormon biscuits and gravy."

For all us newcomers to Show Low, his meals quickly became the stuff of which legends are made.

Some evenings following preseason football practices, Jerry -- usually accompanied by his father, Aut --as on hand to serve his biscuits and gravy to grateful members of our team.

In fact, those Dutch oven meals became one of the Cougars fondest traditions.

In the final weeks of the season, we came to believe the meals were the key to the success we were enjoying. Players and coaches almost demanded they be a part of our rituals.

I know our coaches realized there's something magical about eating dinner with teammates and coaches around an evening campfire that builds camaraderie.

Lo and behold, our once lowly team began to win. We posted the best record (8-2) in the history of football program, beat Snowflake for the first time in school history, won the Class A region championship and qualified for state, also for the first time in program annals.

The season blossomed into a magical turnaround for the Cougars and many of us believed our improved team chemistry was due to the tradition of the Dutch oven cookouts we enjoyed together.

Those cookouts, coupled with our belief that coach Girardi's guiding hands were still with us, made the Cougars a tight-knit group.

After leaving Show Low years later, I set a goal of someday teaching the art of Dutch oven cooking to my grandchildren.

I knew a little about the pioneer cooking art because Jerry had sometimes allowed me to help and I always watched his cooking methods with great interest.

Jerry even trusted me enough with family recipe secrets to send me to Nick's Market to purchase meal ingredients.

"Don't tell them," he often scolded me.

Hoping to keep the cooking tradition alive in my grandchildren, I recently fashioned a cooking area in a side yard. Over the years, we have purchased three well-seasoned Dutch ovens.

The grandchildren are now old enough to enjoy the art of campfire cooking and we'll begin soon.

I'll tell them, I can't even pretend to know how to cook over white-hot oak coals like Jerry Frost, but I think I enjoy it as much as he does.

Dutch oven classes

For those who are interested in learning more about the art of Dutch oven cooking, the upcoming class will be a great opportunity.

The class will be held 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sept. 8 during the Northern Gila County Fair to be held at Payson Event Center. Russ and Susan Richins, who are the current Arizona State Dutch over champions, will teach the class. Russ is also an Arizona Game and Fish Department employee.

"He has been cooking for about 40 years with a Dutch oven, starting as a Boy Scout and his wife joined him in his hobby three years ago," McMullen said.

The cost of the program is $25, which includes the use of a Dutch oven if participants do not have their own.

"In addition, they get to eat what they and the group cook," McMullen said.

The P&R department is also planning a Dutch oven cook-off as a new offering at the annual Fiddler's Festival to be held at end of September.

"This (the class) would be a great tuneup for those interested in competing," McMullen said.

Call McMullen at (928) 474-5232, ext. 358 for more information.

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