Is the Dutch Oven Actually Dutch?
The story of how a Dutch technique made its way to America and back to Europe again.
Few things get the job done in the kitchen like the Dutch oven. Though an unassuming bit of cookware that lacks the bells and whistles of more sophisticated culinary gadgets, its versatility means everything from boiling to braising, baking, and deep-frying are on the table.
Just as we may take the utility of this low-tech wonder for granted, there's a good chance you've taken its name at face value without ever stopping to think about the Dutch oven's history and origins.
How long has this magical cast iron creation been around? How has it developed over time? And is it really even Dutch? Those are valid questions with interesting answers — featuring some surprising cameos from unexpected historical figures.
The Dutch oven's story does start in the Netherlands
While the Dutch oven has gone through some iterations over time, it's inspiration (at the very least) is Dutch. Back in the 17th century, the Netherlands was known for producing some of Europe's finest cookware, usually worked with brass and copper. Around this time, the Dutch began using a sand-molding technique for their cookware, supposedly offering smoother finishes than what was possible with the clay-based molds of old.
Though an Englishman ended up with all the credit
One foreigner who studied this Dutch technique was Mr. Abraham Darby, who visited Holland in 1704 to study up on the latest Dutch innovations in cookware. Supposedly, his aim was to develop a cheaper way to apply the new technique using cheaper materials like iron. After a few years of tinkering with the technique, Darby ended up patenting the process, and the basic version of the cast iron Dutch oven we know today was born, with a name that gave a nod to its original inspiration.
Of course, there are two sides to the story of any invention like this, especially where national pride is on the line. While Darby is cited as the originator of the oven in works like Dutch Ovens Chronicled: Their Use in the United States, author J. Wayne Fears posits that credit belongs to actual Dutch traders visiting the American colonies.
Those traders might have thought of what they were selling as a braadpan, a Dutch word meaning "roasting pan" or "casserole" (depending on who you ask) you'll see used in the Netherlands to refer to Le Creuset cookware and other Dutch ovens today.
Invented in Europe, perfected in America
Regardless of who lays claim to the invention of the Dutch oven, colonial America was where the Dutch oven not only caught on, but evolved to suit a unique set of needs.
Likely inspired by the combination of adventure and ingenuity that were hallmarks of the early American experience, the Dutch oven saw numerous improvements in colonial times. One of the major breakthroughs supposedly can be credited to a Bostonian primarily known for his exploits on horseback. Paul Revere, who spent some time as an artisan trying to improve the casting process, appears to have improved the Dutch oven by giving it three legs to stand on, as well as a flat top that could hold coals and thereby heat food a little more quickly and evenly.
That's why you may recall Revere Ware as a (now-defunct) maker of Dutch ovens, a brand whose roots go all the way back to the Paul Revere & Sons company of the 1790s.
The exploration of America arguably wouldn't have been the same without the Dutch oven, either. The intrepid Lewis and Clark brought this cookware with them on their westward journeys, and the duo supposedly held onto the Dutch oven once they'd settled down. Ranchers, homesteaders, and other open-country rabble-rousers made frequent use of them to the point that Dutch ovens with legs and a handle for hanging over an outdoor fire were often known as cowboy ovens.
Le Creuset and the French Dutch oven
Though improved kitchen tech and changing circumstances meant the Dutch oven was less of a necessity over time, its popularity persisted. The enduring and iconic Le Creuset line of Dutch ovens got its start in the 1920s, at a time when French restaurants found themselves increasingly catering to traditional tastes for dishes like coq au vin and boeuf Bourguignon.
Given that Le Creuset cookware wasn't designed for use with an open flame like previous Dutch ovens, it allowed for an interior enamel that made cleaning easier and eliminated the need for seasoning in order to avoid rust. So more than 200 years after the Dutch oven's first emergence, it was the French who can be credited with a significant refinement to it.
So to answer the initial question, yes: the Dutch oven is Dutch in a sense. But one can argue it's also English, American, and even French to a certain extent.
Just take it as further evidence that good food and smart cooking techniques know no borders. And next time you have to deal with cleaning your Dutch oven, just be glad (or wistfully disappointed) that you don't have to do it while camping out in the old West.