The introduction of dutch oven cooking to Cleburne and Johnson County has grabbed attention, but group members hope to see more join the fun in the coming months.
Founded in November, the group initially flew under the Cleburne Dutch Oven Society banner before deciding the Chisholm Trail Chaparrals moniker rang more suitable.
“I’m overwhelmed,” Weatherford resident Kenny Garrett said during the group’s March gathering. “This has grown bigger than the other three North Texas area groups. Last month we had 18 pots on the table and more than 70 people eating.”
Garrett, a member of the Prairie Dogs Chapter, volunteered to serve as interim chapter advisor to the nascent Cleburne group.
Both the Prairie Dogs and the Chisholm Trail Chaparrals operate under the umbrella of the Lone Star Dutch Oven Society.
“This is our charter meeting [for the CTC],” Garrett said in March. “To be chartered you need three gatherings with at least three Lone Star members present.”
The group meets monthly at Cleburne State Park. The events run from about 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. with the goal of getting pots on the table for lunch by 12:30 p.m.
“It generally works out that way,” Garrett joked. “Of course, it depends on what people decide to cook and how long that takes.”
The group’s next meeting is Saturday.
The events are free although donations are gladly accepted. Attendees are required to pay admission to the park, however, which costs $5 for those 13 and older.
Temperature control is the trick. Hot coals placed around the Dutch ovens provide the cooking heat.
A November Dutch oven demonstration at the state park garnered a good-sized crowd and calls from several area residents and park staff members for a Cleburne chapter.
The Cleburne group has so far attracted both old hands and the newbies, many of whom quickly grow enamored with the hobby.
“We encourage people who have no idea what this is to come out and take a look,” Garrett said. “People are welcome to come out, eat with us, visit with our members and learn more about Dutch oven cooking. We like people to come see what we’re up to and, hopefully, get interested and join us. We’ve had several, both first-time cooks and just the curious out the past two months and they all had a great time.”
Being a newbie is no impediment, Garrett said, having not long ago been one himself. Garrett several years ago happened across a Lone Star Dutch Oven Society event in Canton and took a closer look out of curiosity.
“I’d never seen a Dutch oven,” Garrett said in January. “My wife and I had bought a new camping trailer and were looking for fun things to see. We heard about these, and I love cooking, so thought we’d see what it was about. I left there the owner of three Dutch ovens.”
Rain during the March meeting prompted members to set up in the breezeway of one of the parks buildings.
“Usually we’d be out there cooking in the outdoors,” Garrett said, motioning toward an expanse of green across the building’s parking lot. “But this works too.”
And it worked just fine. Early arrivals busied themselves with setting up and preparing their contribution to that day’s feast while at the same time catching up with fellow members and enjoying the view of Cedar Lake behind the building.
It’s more than just cooking, Garrett and other members said.
“It’s fellowship, socializing, fun and just getting together,” Garrett said. “And the state park is just incredible and the perfect place for this. The park’s people out here have been great too, just really bent over backwards to welcome us here.”
The food remains key, however, as does variety.
Garrett prepared chicken enchiladas in one Dutch oven that March morning and yeast rolls in another.
“You control the temperature with the number of coals you use,” Garrett explained.
Several feet away, Cleburne resident Nick Klingenberg mixed the ingredients for beef stew then moved on to corn bread and chocolate cake.
“I grew up in Scouts,” Klingenberg said. “I saw the article on this in the January Times-Review and thought I’d come out and see what it’s all about.”
Alvarado resident Rick Alexander made Chaparral dump cobbler, a mix of cherries, apples and spices.
“I was 11 years old the first time I used a Dutch oven,” Alexander said. “I’ll be 56 next month. I got into it because of Boy Scouts like a lot of us did.”
The menu changes from month to month, which is part of the fun.
“Anything you can cook in the oven or stove at home you can cook in a Dutch oven,” Garrett said. “So the possibilities are endless and there are a lot of inventive people in this hobby.”
Park volunteer Leda Davis said she became interested after seeing the November demonstration.
“I used cast iron all my life but never a Dutch oven and thought it would be fun to learn,” Davis said.
Davis decided to try twice baked potato casserole that morning.
“Never tried it,” Davis said. “I’ve done pizza monkey bread, 7-Up biscuits and roasted chicken. It’s a little bit of trial and error learning to place the coals right but a lot of fun. It’s great for families and every time out here I learn new things from these guys and every time you see someone doing something different. Even if you’ve never tried it you should come out. Everyone here is so helpful and eager to teach you how and share equipment with newbies.”
Like most hobbies, Dutch oven cooking can get as expensive as you want, but it’s also a fairly economical hobby to get into.
“You can start out with a good starter pot for about $50, get a charcoal starter for about $10,” Garrett said. “Altogether about $150 will get you going. Then, if you get into it, you can add more equipment down the road if you want.”
Two or three hours of preparation, jawing and enjoying the park — several deer were running about that March morning — culminate in that most beautiful of phrases: Lunch is served.
“We say a prayer then count off the pots, hopefully someone remembers to count off the pots, it’s kind of a tradition,” Alexander said. “Then everybody eats.”
Garrett said he intends to remain involved in the chapter but let Alexander take the lead.
“It’s been a lot easier than I thought to get this going,” Garrett said. “I put some work in but mainly a lot of people just showed up, stepped up and volunteered. We’d like to see more people come out but we’ve already generated a good amount of interest.”
Several members plan to attend the Lone Star Dutch Oven Society’s big regional gathering in Canton this month but several others still plan to be on hand in Cleburne on Saturday. The May 16 gathering should be the group’s largest yet.
After that, they break until fall to avoid the worst of the summer heat.
“That’s the plan,” Alexander said. “But we might try to do some breakfast gatherings earlier in the mornings.”
For information, visit the Chisholm Trail Chaparrals’ Facebook page.