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Reader voices: Dutch oven cooking and the plan of happiness

Published: Sunday, Sept. 16 2012 5:00 a.m. MDT

This monument of a handcart on Temple Square includes a Dutch oven hanging from the front. (Steve Fidel, Deseret News archive) This monument of a handcart on Temple Square includes a Dutch oven hanging from the front. (Steve Fidel, Deseret News archive)

When I first got the idea to learn how to cook in a Dutch oven, I found myself at the local sportsman’s store, aisle D, sort of wandering aimlessly with a blank stare on my face.

I must have been pretty transparent because in no time at all, I was assisted by the resident Dutch oven expert who attempted to sort out all the choices by asking me questions like: What size do you want? What do you plan to cook in it? Do you want a storage cover? Do you want one that is "seasoned" or just basic cast iron? Flat lid or rounded? Take a look at these pretty stainless steel ones. Here is a great deal “on sale.”

I thanked the well-intentioned man and asked if I might just have a few minutes to myself so I might process all the information he just laid out for me. He obliged, and I quickly began to run back through all the information I had learned and tried to narrow down my choices to one or two, mostly motivated by price. I figured I wouldn’t take the biggest one, an 18-inch, or the smallest one, a 10-inch. I ended up purchasing a 14-inch basic cast iron, flat top, with a storage cover. Not the most expensive, and not the cheapest either.

The key to Dutch oven cooking is adjusting to the variables. (Chuck Malone) The key to Dutch oven cooking is adjusting to the variables. (Chuck Malone)

I was now the owner of a genuine Dutch oven and anxious to join the thousands of outdoor enthusiasts who had already perfected the art of cooking sour dough biscuits and yummy peach cobbler.

You are probably wondering at this point just how an article on Dutch oven cooking made its way into the readership of news media primarily focused on spiritual matters and family values.

As I read the instructions on how to prepare my Dutch oven for cooking to achieve maximum results, it seemed there were direct correlations to our life on earth with the opportunity to also achieve maximum results.

Taking my first Dutch oven out of the box was like handling the new birth of royalty — he (or she) looked like other Dutch ovens, but I knew the potential was there to become something magnificent and special.

Dutch oven cooking is legendary, originating in the Netherlands in the late 17th century among the Dutch people.

“The pioneers who settled the American West also took along their Dutch ovens. In fact, a statue raised to honor the Mormon handcart companies who entered Utah’s Salt Lake Valley in the 1850s proudly displays a Dutch oven hanging from the front of the handcart. The Dutch oven is also the official state cooking pot of Utah and Arkansas,” according to Wikipedia.

My first attempt at cooking sour dough biscuits in my Dutch oven yielded 20 or so “white and dry” chunks, yet with a little jam and milk they tasted like nothing out of a box. But that first experience with Dutch oven cooking gave me a foothold on which to build and improve on the next batch.

I mentioned to my wife that I was somewhat glad that my first batch wasn’t perfect. “If it had been perfect,” I mused, “I would not have learned anything. There would have been no reason to become better, to study cooking techniques and to see how I could improve the next batch — and the next.”

Actually, I was quite startled by my statement. To me, It sounded a lot like the plans for eternal life that were presented in the grand council in heaven, as recorded in the Pearl of Great Price (see Abraham 3:22–26). The plan of happiness, as presented by our Father in heaven to his spirit children, provided for “failure” as a means of becoming like him.

Lucifer, a son of the morning, would disagree, stating that to fail means “to fail,” or to otherwise lose or regress. Lucifer would propose a life without failure so that no matter what choices were made in life, none would be lost and all would return to God, happily forgiven for their sins.

Having tried and failed in my goal of producing sour dough biscuits that were not only moist, but lightly brown on the top and bottom, I vowed to try again; this time, I would adjust the heat and reduce the number of biscuits in order to give the biscuits “space” and room to grow, instead of crowding in so many and trying to cook more than the capacity size provided. Sort of like us mortals, when we try to run faster and do more than we are capable.

Although I was willing to keep trying, to learn and apply, this resolve did not remove the presence of “trial” that is necessary to produce a seasoned cook, able to adjust with the circumstances and still produce the desired result.

Failure is a necessary ingredient to success, for without it, how do we ever come to realize our limits and our achievements? If we succeed in life without experiencing failure, how do we know we have achieved our best?

Repeated attempts at perfecting my Dutch oven cooking skills have revealed certain variables — some quite invisible such as “wind” and “altitude.” Even the choice of charcoal briquettes produces a variable, since charcoal already conditioned with a “quick light” substance also produces a “quick burn” effect. Thus, I must add more briquettes and allow for a longer cooking time.

To test and season us, the plan of happiness also provides for variables to enter our lives — some not so invisible. A loss of employment may cause us to consider other sources of income, which may lead to a happier, more productive life. Temporary loss of financial stability may cause us to change our spending and saving habits, leading to greater happiness and prosperity in the future. Sickness or injury may cause us to change our eating habits, lose necessary weight or invent a revolutionary safety product.

Variables or “trials” as we mortals refer to them are usually not welcomed but provide the opportunity to make choices. It is from these choices that we learn life’s lessons as we grow into manhood and womanhood. We adjust and try again, taking with us the “memory” of failure, but in time forgetting the “sting” that producing burnt biscuits can bring. It is the choice of “trying again” that fulfills our Heavenly Father’s plan of happiness. It would be Lucifer’s desire that we quit and place the dream of becoming better back on the shelf — to remain “safe” and without risk.

Heat applied to cast iron pots, without the necessary preparation and seasoning, can crack and warp the structure. The plan of happiness provided time for seasoning, first in our “safe” state as infants, then we begin to experience a stage of moral/religious responsibility (age of accountability), the taste of sin and the effects of our choices.

It is the application of oil that prevents the pot from cracking. It is the application of the Atonement of Jesus Christ in our lives and our efforts to live by his commandments that keep us eligible to return to his presence.

How grateful I am that a wise, loving Heavenly Father has provided this earth for us to maintain and enjoy while we grow through the “seasoning” process to become more like him. As I take the lid off my next batch of freshly baked sour dough biscuits, and delight in the chorus of “oooh’s” and “ahhh’s” as the aroma of success assaults the senses of those about to celebrate with me another successful batch, I will silently give thanks for the seasoning process along the way that has endeavored to make me the best I can be.

Chuck Malone is a native of Arizona, a real estate broker during the day and a freelance writer at night. His passion is exploring new trails in life and sharing with his readers. Email: cmalone44@cox.net; Blog: chucksquest.blogspot.com

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