Why Do They Call It a Dutch Oven?
Think of a Dutch oven, and you probably conjure to mind bubbling French-style casseroles, hearty winter soups, Mexican mole and Texan chili bean stew. You might even have in mind a delicious, fresh fluffy and crusty baked loaf of bread. What you probably don’t think about is the Netherlands, either concerning the style of cooking or the origins of this heavy cast iron or popular ceramic cooking pot.
Famously associated today with the prestige brand Le Creuset, just how did this piece of highly versatile and incredibly popular piece of cookware become known as a Dutch oven? Sure, it’s referred to in some countries as a generic casserole dish, but it is known the world over as the iconic Dutch oven. So, let’s look at just why they call it a Dutch oven.
How has this tight-lidded, heavy-walled construction with its excellent cooking versatility adopted and retained that name? Does the Netherlands have anything at all to do with it?
The Origin of the Dutch Oven and Its Background
There is some evidence to link it to The Netherlands, so it’s not just a chance name. It was initially the Dutch back in the 17th century no less, who developed a new technique for casting metals, initially out of molds that were made from sand.
Before this invention, clay molds had always been used, but the experimentation with and introduction of sand molds by the Dutch lent itself much better to the production of sturdy iron cookware and was used to develop all kinds of cookware, but most notably what was the precursor to today’s Dutch oven. This was a heavy-constructed cast iron pot that looked something like a kettle that was used to cook over an open flame.
A Chronicle of the Use of Dutch Ovens
In his book, Dutch Ovens Chronicled: Their Use in the United States, the writer John G Ragsdale informs us of how the Dutch method migrated at the hands of one British man named Abraham Darby who traveled to Holland on a research project looking into manufacturing processes for his own business.
He observed the Dutch way of sand-molding and decided to bring that back to the UK in around 1704. He then went on to develop the process further in his own manufacturing and actually went as far as to patent the process in 1708. He used that process to very effectively construct and manufacture a whole host of pots at his Coalbrookdale plant, based in the United Kingdom.
The containers, using the original Dutch method, proved to be so popular that he gained a global base of customers and those sand molded pots began to make their way around the world, reaching the United States. At that point, they still hadn’t been given the name of a Dutch Oven.
The pots instead were given all kinds of very descriptive names like dinner pots, bean pots, stew pots and stock pots, or they named after the local families who were lucky enough at that time to have been able to invest in one or somehow acquire one.
The Dutch Trader Theory
The above is just one theory about the provenance and origins of the name. One other opinion that is firmly held by many historians who have chronicled the origins of the Dutch oven is that the name came about because of the Dutch traders who were responsible for taking these pots with them on their travels and selling them wherever they went. Thus the name Dutch oven began to stick because the tradesmen selling the pots were mostly of Dutch origin. So far, a couple of theories exist all of which point back to the connection to The Netherlands.
How then Did the Dutch Oven End Up Being So Popular in France?
This is a good question, and most likely, if you were asked to guess the origins of this heavy cast iron cooking pot, you’d make an educated guess that it was developed in France. This is in no small part due to the global popularity of the esteemed cookware brand Le Creuset who have really popularized this market with their high-end and relatively expensive Dutch oven range.
A Le Creuset pot makes it onto many an engagement and wedding gift list the whole world over. They are a truly exceptional pieces of cookware and get passed down through generations. Le Creuset began making ovens in the 1920’s so quite some time on from the Abraham Darby discovery of 1704. French cuisine was undergoing a massive shift and becoming increasingly popular and very much revered.
A more rustic style of traditional cooking was being enjoyed with dishes like coq au vin and boeuf bourguignon being loved. These dishes were created using large non-porous pots with heavy enamel non-stick interiors that were perfect for this style of cooking – long and slow to thoroughly and evenly tenderize the large cuts of beef and whole chickens.
The pots also happened to be super easy to clean and maintain and didn’t require ongoing seasoning of the cast iron to retain them. While the original Dutch oven that had been used over an open flame, with the advent and popularity of the Le Creuset Dutch oven, these pots had now been designed and developed for use in the modern kitchen, creating the perfect vessel in which to fry, bake, braise, roast and broil.
This French pot, very much with its origins taken from the original Dutch foundry process, is still manufactured in the same way today. It can now be found in kitchens around the world whether being used to create an aromatic Japanese hot pot, a Southern-style fried chicken dish, or re-creating that traditional and rustic homestyle French Provencal stew.
One thing is for sure, the Dutch oven has most certainly stood the test of time and continues to be an enduring, much loved and entirely versatile cooking pot that is used for cooking styles and features in domestic and professional kitchens the whole world over.