What has three legs, is made of cast iron, and can cook dumplings?

What has three legs, is made of cast iron, and can cook dumplings?
Dutch ovens and lid lifters are available at sporting goods stores and online. (Glenn Koenig / Los Angeles Times)

Similar to the Dutch ovens you might find in the kitchen, a camp oven is a deep pot with a tight-fitting lid, usually made of cast iron. But unlike the kitchen version, a camp oven sits on three stubby legs over hot coals or briquettes. It usually comes with a flanged lid (formed with a lip on the outer edge) to keep ash or coals out of the food when the lid is lifted.

Simple as it sounds, a camp oven is a wonderfully versatile piece of equipment. Use it as a pot or sauté pan. Flip the lid over and use it as a griddle. Or place the food inside the oven and fit the lid tightly over the top, then use it just as you would a conventional oven at home to bake or roast or braise to your heart's content. All while enjoying your surroundings.


A camp oven is so easy to use. To heat it from the bottom, simply stand the legs over a batch of hot coals, embers or briquettes, or suspend the oven over the campfire. To use like a conventional oven, heat the oven from both the top and bottom, placing twice as many coals on top of the oven to generate enough heat to transfer downward into the oven. Adjust the heat simply by adding or removing coals.

Camp Dutch ovens come in a variety of dimensions and depths, depending on how many people you plan to feed, ranging from 8-inch diameter (2-quart) ovens to 14-inch (8-quart) sizes. For a typical family of four, a 10-inch (4-quart) or 12-inch (6-quart) oven should work just fine. While most ovens are made of cast iron, ovens can be found in lighter materials, such as aluminum.

If you plan to buy a Dutch oven, invest in a lid lifter (or pot hook) as well. Lid lifters keep the lid stable as it is removed, which helps to keep ash or coals from spilling into the food.

Dutch ovens and lid lifters are available at sporting goods stores as well as online. Prices for ovens vary by size and material, ranging from about $40 to $90. Lid lifters typically cost around $10.

Total time: 45 minutes | Serves 8 to 12

Note: To simplify this recipe at the campsite, combine dry ingredients for the dumplings (flour, sugar, salt and baking powder) ahead of time in a plastic bag so they're mixed and ready to go. Leftovers make a great camp breakfast.

    2 1/2 pounds peaches, peeled and quartered
    2 pints blackberries
    2 tablespoons maple syrup
    3/4 teaspoon almond extract or 1 tablespoon almond liqueur
    Zest of 1 orange
    1 1/2 cups (6.4 ounces) flour
    3 tablespoons sugar
    1/2 teaspoon salt
    2 teaspoons baking powder
    6 tablespoons (¾ stick) cold butter or lard, diced into ½-inch pieces
    3/4 cup cold buttermilk
    1/3 cup sliced almonds

1. Lightly grease a 4-quart (10-inch) Dutch oven. Prepare a batch of coals (at least 27) without starter fluid in a chimney starter until they are hot enough to have formed a thin coating of white ash over the surface of each coal. Alternatively, the dumplings can be baked using a greased 13-by-9-inch baking dish in a conventional oven heated to 425 degrees.

2. Combine the peaches and blackberries in the Dutch oven, and toss with 2 tablespoons maple syrup, the almond extract and orange zest.

3. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, salt and baking powder. Cut in the cold butter using a pastry cutter or fork until the butter is reduced to small, pea-sized pieces. Pour in the buttermilk, and stir until the mixture is combined to form a thick, sticky batter. Gently stir in the almonds to combine.

4. Scoop the batter into 8 or so portions, using a large soup or small serving spoon. Space the dumplings evenly over the peaches and blackberries. Cover with the lid.

5. Place the Dutch oven over nine of the hot coals (evenly spaced), and evenly space 18 coals over the lid. Cook until the dumplings are puffed and a rich golden color and the fruit is soft, 20 to 25 minutes. If cooking in a conventional oven, bake the dumplings, uncovered, until puffed and golden, 30 to 35 minutes. Cool slightly before serving.

Each of 12 servings: Calories 206; Protein 4 grams; Carbohydrates 32 grams; Fiber 5 grams; Fat 8 grams; Saturated fat 4 grams; Cholesterol 16 mg; Sugar 16 grams; Sodium 196 mg

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