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Dutch Oven Apple Crisp - A n00b's Guide

As my son has advanced in Scouting, I have continued to take classes and learn new things, too. One thing that is taught at every level of Scouting is Dutch Oven cooking. They take on an almost mythic proportion. A grizzled instructor will take out a 30lb, cast iron pot, start some charcoal, and pretty soon you have an amazing dinner. The people who really know how to use them can cook just about anything. At first it seems a bit over the top because it does take a bit of effort and you need a lot of gadgets, but I can tell you that good, hot food out of a Dutch Oven really can make a camping trip something special. Also, all men like gadgets and cooking with fire, so really it is a win-win.

I have helped people cook, and I have done a little of my own cooking in a Dutch Oven, and I have reached the conclusion that the recipe writers all have some kind of conspiracy going. It is quite possible that I am just a n00b, but their cooking times are all off by about half, and it is my opinion that it is because they don't use enough charcoal. For example, the recipe below is taken from the book that came with my Dutch Oven, and it says that, if I use a certain number of pieces of charcoal, then it will add up to 350 degrees. I am going to call shenanigans on that because, when I tried it, the water from the apples never boiled. I am no Iron Chef (boo - terrible pun), but when I went to school I seem to remember someone telling me that water boiled at 212 degrees, and I seem to remember someone else telling me that 212 < 350, so I would expect the water to boil. Maybe the water had sugar in it which raised it's boiling point? Well, pbbth! The oatmeal never cooked so we need more heat. So there. Anyway, what does it matter? Have you ever been camping in a downpour with a bunch of starving, cold Scouts who keep asking every 10 seconds if dinner is ready? I can assure you - time matters. With this in mind, here is my modified recipe for Dutch Oven Apple Crisp with an improved ingredients list (better taste) and the correct cooking instructions.

Dutch Oven Apple Crisp

The ingredients can be prepared in advance (at home, for example) in 2 different, 1 gallon zip-lock bags. Put each mixture into its own bag, zip shut, and then squish around to mix. It is probably a good idea to keep them cool if it will be a while before they are used.

Essential Preparation Equipment:
  • Norpro Apple Master. You can make this recipe without an Apple Master. Then again, you can take your clothes down to the river and wash them with a washboard, but I don't think that is going to happen. Disclaimer: I am not responsible if you become obsessed with peeling apples after using one.

Apple Mixture:
  • 10 cups Granny Smith apples (about 8 large apples, or 10 smaller ones), peeled and sliced. 
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice (1 big lemon)
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup cranberry raisins (Craisins)

Topping Mixture:
  • 1 1/2 cups brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups oats
  • 1 1/4 cups flour
  • 3/4 cups butter, melted
  • 1 T cinnamon
  • 1 T nutmeg

Baking Equipment:

  • Set up your cooking area somewhere where it is OK to have a fire, and have your bucket of water handy.
  • Use the Newspaper and the Charcoal Starter to get the Charcoal started. Everyone will tell you that this only takes 20 to 30 min. This is Scout time. In actual Earth time it is at least 45 minutes. When the charcoal at the top of the Charcoal Starter Chimney start to turn gray, then dump out the charcoal so the hottest ones will be on top. While you are waiting for the Charcoal, you can move on to the next 3 steps....
  • Grease Dutch Oven with Pam (do not spray near the fire...)
  • Spread apple mixture in the bottom of the Dutch Oven
  • Spread the topping mixture evenly on top of the apple mixture.
  • Cover and bake with 16 coals under the oven and 24 on the lid for 30 min. Give the lid a quarter turn every 10 min. (Yes, that is a lot of charcoal, but it will actually cook the food correctly and really be done in 30 min.)
  • After baking, remove the Dutch Oven from the heat and remove the charcoals from the lid. Be careful about this so you don't dump ashes into your apple crisp when you remove the lid. Let the Dutch Oven sit covered with the lid (with no charcoal on it) for 20 min so the apple crisp will set up and not be watery. It will also be nice and warm after 20 min as opposed to lava hot. 
  • If you are an insane person and are camping in arctic conditions, you will probably need to adjust the times in this recipe - or just stay home where it is warm.

The apple crisp is good alone, or with vanilla ice cream on top. This recipe supposedly serves 8 to 10, but it really serves 15 to 20, depending on the people, the availability of ice cream, and how big their dinner was.

Prep time: 30 min if you have a Norpro Apple Master. If you have Scouts doing the prep, allow *a lot* of time.

Charcoal prep: 45 min if you have a Weber Charcoal Starter Chimney

Cooking: 50 min (30 baking + 20 resting)


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