Fresh air is a key ingredient
Danica Loucks wanted to learn to cook outdoors. And she wanted to do more than roast a hotdog on a stick. That was four years ago. Since then, she has led the charge to take
Danica Loucks wanted to learn to cook outdoors. And she wanted to do more than roast a hotdog on a stick. That was four years ago. Since then, she has led the charge to take outdoor cooking to new levels. In fact, she wrote the book on it. “I had heard about Dutch oven cooking. I wanted to teach myself, but I wanted other people to be able to do the project, too,” she said. So she researched Dutch oven cooking and created activities, using 4-H project books as a guide.
Through her work, the project is now available to 4-H’ers in Ravalli County, with five kids currently enrolled. As a teen leader, Danica does monthly workshops to help lead kids through the project. She also conducts larger workshops, both in and out of 4-H.
To take some of the expense out of exploring this fun technique, Danica put together a grant to buy equipment for her county. Now kids can check out the stuff they need to participate in the project. “I love doing workshops so kids have a taste of Dutch oven cooking,” she said. Some of the kids she’s worked with have gone on to make meals for their families and have helped lead workshops.
Baking with a Dutch oven involves placing hot coals beneath and atop a special cast iron pot. It doesn’t look at all like an oven, but it cooks like one... if you know how to use it. People usually think of cooking stew in Dutch ovens, said Danica, but there’s no limit to what you can make. Cookies, cheesecake, pies, cakes, bread and roasts are just a few menu items she cooks over hot coals. She has even cooked crawdads.
At first she relied on cookbooks for cooking times and for how many coals to use for heat, but it took trial and error to discover success.“The higher the altitude the faster the coals burn, so you have to add more coals to get the same amount of heat,” Danica explained.
She said her “Aha” moment happened while making a sweet potato pie for her grandparents. She thought for sure she’d burn it by adding extra coals, but it came out perfectly. Another secret: Every time you check under the lid, it increases your cooking time by 10 minutes!“As I’ve become more experienced, I cook by feel and smell,” said Danica.
Now Danica can take recipes from anywhere, or even make up her own.
With her Dutch oven project book complete, she hopes to propose to the state office to make Dutch oven cooking a statewide project. That sounds like a delicious idea.
Montana 4-H Projects
Young people get involved in 4-H to make or do something and 4-H projects are your passports to opportunity. Montana 4-H has more than 200 different projects from traditional animal projects such as beef, sheep and swine, as well as foods and nutrition projects like cooking, breads, and international foods, to newer projects such as photography, woodworking, cowboy poetry, leadership, child care and many more. Projects provide you with a way to show off what you have learned and exhibit at your local fair. Check out all that Montana 4-H has to offer by surfing the selections below!