Cast iron cookware has been an every day part of life as far back as I can remember. I’m pretty sure my first solid food came out of a cast iron skillet more years ago than I care to remember. My folks started my three sisters and me cooking at an early age. Growing up in a rural area of SE Idaho, cooking was just one of many life skills that kids of our generation were taught. I guess I took to cooking in part because first of all I like to eat and secondly because my Dad was a role model not only in the kitchen but many other areas.
Camping as a kid meant my folks and all four kids would pile into our 1954 Ford Station Wagon for a weekend of fishing on one of Dad’s favorite ‘cricks’. Mom and Dad’s camp kitchen consisted of a couple of cast iron skillets, a Dutch oven, and a cast iron griddle that dwarfed their two burner white gas Coleman stove. Going camping meant that we kids would get to roast marshmallows and hot dogs over the campfire on willow sticks that Dad cut along the ‘crick’. Dad, a sheet metal worker, actually made the cooler we used on those childhood camping trips.
Mom and Dad upgraded from our old Army surplus squad tent to a new pickup and cab over camper just before I graduated from college in 1974. Three days after graduation I headed for a new job working on a dude ranch in Central Idaho. As I loaded the family 1966 Ford pickup in preparation of the move, the folks gave me the old squad tent and the cast iron cookware I’d grown up with as my college graduation gift. The old squad tent lasted a few more years before I cut it up for horse packing mantis, but the cast iron skillets, Dutch oven, and griddle remain the core of my cast iron collection.
My first Dutch oven cookbook, published in 1996, came about as a result of my being a reasonably good camp cook and story teller. When I began writing that first cookbook back in the mid 1990’s, I put on hold a book of stories that had been rolling around in the back of my mind. Little did I know at the time, my book of stories would spend another twenty-five years in my mind, becoming more numerous and gathering some dust while I wrote five more cookbooks. The upside of the delay allowed me to substantially increase my repertoire of stories. But I must admit that I could not help but to include a few of those stories in my cookbooks, one thing that set my cookbooks apart from other cookbooks.
In addition to writing cookbooks, over the years I hosted the first Dutch oven cookin’ show on TV; and, with my wife, Penny, traveled thousands of miles teaching Dutch oven cooking, appearing at book signings, sportsman’s shows, county fairs, and other venues. I still participate in ongoing TV projects about cast iron cooking.
Here is a peek into what life on the road is like for a traveling Dutch oven cook. The winter of 2009 we covered 5,500+ miles when we appeared at nine different venues on nine consecutive weekends. We started in early January from our home in the Texas Hill Country for shows in Pasco, Puyallup, Yakima, and Tacoma, Washington; Kalispell Montana; Portland(2 shows), Redmond, Oregon; and finishing up in LaGrange, Texas. Our dogs, Scooter and Rosie, must have thought we’d been featured on the TV show “America’s Most Wanted” because we would load up every Sunday night and drive all night to get to a different motel in another town.
In 1997 we began teaching Dutch oven cooking with an extension course for Lewis & Clark State College in Lewiston, Idaho. We’ve lost track of how many classes and clinics we’ve taught over the years, but my estimate is approximately 50-60. This past June, we taught our last Dutch oven cooking clinic at McKinley Springs Winery near Prosser, Washington.
Over Labor Day Weekend 2018, we made our eighth appearance at the Walla Walla County Fair doing nine one-hour Dutch oven cookin’ demonstrations over three days. We’ve not kept a running total, but a very good guess would be we’ve done between eleven and twelve hundred one-hour Dutch oven demo’s going back to 1997.
Our odyssey started with my 1993 Dodge pickup and continued with the truck we’re still driving now that we bought new in August of 2001. We pulled into home from our Walla Walla trip with 349,711 miles on the odometer. Along the way we cooked, taught and/or appeared in the following states: Idaho, Texas, Louisiana, Wisconsin, Montana, Oregon, New Mexico, Arizona, Nebraska, Tennessee, Colorado, Wyoming, Washington, Utah, Nevada, Georgia, and New York. With the nine demos we did in Walla Walla over Labor Day in the history book, so to speak, we’ve arrived at a fork in the road. We are retiring as ‘traveling’ Dutch oven cooks. But, we’re not stopping, just taking another fork in life’s road.
Our new direction in part is prompted by a criticism of the books that’s come up over the years. It is best summed up by what one of my old bosses said after getting our first cookbook. “Welch, the next time you write a book, please leave out the damn recipes!” To that end, my book of stories I’ve had rolling around in my head all of these years is now a work in progress. Chronicles of a Raconteur starts with stories of a snot nosed little kid growing up in Chubbuck, Idaho, and continues on through college when I worked on large potato farms, worked on a dude ranch after college, being a long haul truck driver, trapping grizzly bears for the Inter-agency Grizzly Bear Study Team, working for the Idaho Dept. of Fish & Game as a Bio-Aide and Conservation Officer for almost 25 years, and culminates with stories about our twenty plus years as a Dutch oven cook, author, and TV host.
But…since that isn’t quite enough to do, I’m also branching out as a public speaker, too. It’s way more fun to tell stories to a live audience than to sit at a computer key board and write them. Shortly, we’ll be adding more information to our websites, posting on social media, and blogging on a regular basis. We’ll keep you in the loop!