When Nancy Hise and her husband John were camping at Lake Wissota State Park near Chippewa Falls about 10 years ago, the couple attended a program on cooking with cast-iron Dutch ovens.
“They had a half dozen Dutch ovens lined up with different things in each one, and it was wonderful,” Hise said.
The couple bought a Dutch oven and decided to take it to a church outing that summer.
“We thought it would be different than the usual brats, hamburgers and hot dogs,” Hise said. “I made apple crisp but forgot to add the raisins, so I put them on top. When it was done, the raisins were black and hard. People joked that it looked like a rabbit had gotten into it.”
She now makes sure all ingredients are mixed according to the recipe.
Hise will share her expertise in cooking with a Dutch oven from 6 to 8 p.m.
Saturday, June 28, at Harrington Beach State Park in the Town of Belgium.
She recently practiced making pineapple upside-down cake and apple crisp — this time with raisins mixed into the batter — in her Dutch oven. She also plans to make a breakfast casserole.
“A lot of people know about making stews and roasts in a Dutch oven, but do they ever think about making desserts?” Hise asked. “They’re fun, and I love desserts.”
The pineapple upside-down cake was delicious and the cake was the perfect texture, but some of the pineapple burned, so Hise plans to re-arrange the briquettes next time with less heat near the fruit.
The apple crisp did not get done in the expected time so I didn’t taste it, but it looked and smelled wonderful as it was cooking. It got done an hour later and was delicious, Hise said.
“I thought the apples would add more liquid than they did. I should have put more briquettes on the bottom so it got hotter and cooked faster,” she said.
While preparing for the demonstration, Hise learned the cast-iron oven got its Dutch name because it was perfected in Holland.
The Dutch used dry sand to make the pot molds, giving their vessels a smoother surface than those made in England. After studying the Dutch method, Englishman Abraham Darby patented a similar process and began making Dutch ovens for Britain and the American colonies in the early 1700s.
Over the years, feet were added to the kettles so they would sit more securely over coals and a lip added to the lid so coals and ashes don’t fall into the food when the cover is lifted.
The Dutch oven was so valuable to colonists and settlers that they were often listed in wills.
Mary Ball Washington — mother of President George Washington — specified in her will dated May 20, 1788, that her “iron kitchen furniture,” which included several Dutch ovens, go to her grandson and granddaughter.
“This particular style Lewis and Clark took on their expedition,” Hise said of her Dutch oven made by the Lodge Cast Iron Manufacturing Co. in Tennessee.
Using the Dutch oven has been fun, Hise said, and she and her husband will use it more when they camp, especially in the fall when hot meals are welcome.
“My husband is an engineer and likes things to be precise,” Hise said. “So, we follow the recipes in our Dutch oven cookbooks. If it calls for 16 briquettes on the bottom and eight on top, that’s what we use.”
The couple, who moved from the Neenah-Menasha area to a condominium in Belgium seven years ago, are avid campers.
They introduced their five children to camping, sharing their love for the outdoors. Their nine grandchildren also enjoy camping, but don’t live nearby.
“We graduated from tent camping to a pop-up camper and last weekend we bought our first, and probably last, hard side camper,” Hise said.
“We’re going to Devil’s Lake this weekend.”
The Hises camp at least once a month with friends. They used to stay at private campgrounds, but now are exploring state parks, hoping to camp in each one.
Wherever they live, the couple gets involved in their community.
John Hise, who works at Charter Steel in Saukville, is a Belgium village trustee.
Nancy Hise became involved at Harrington in 2009, shortly before the campground opened, at the suggestion of their neighbor Bob Helminiak.
“I was a secretary at Kimberly Clark, and he knew they needed help in the office,” Hise said. “From there, it grew into an affiliation with the Friends group and now I’m the secretary (of the board of directors).
“It’s a great Friends group, and we’re all friends. Some members have been here since it was founded 20 years ago. The challenge is recruiting new people who have a passion for the state park system.
“Without Friends groups — without their fundraising, programs and volunteers doing maintenance and repairs — it would be hard for the parks to operate with their limited budgets. What’s important for people to know is that what they contribute to a Friends group stays in that park. It doesn’t go into the general DNR (Department of Natural Resources) budget.”
Last year, Hise became a summer part-time employee in the office, working three to four days a week. She also trains other office staff.
“But I’m down here every day, even on days I don’t work,” she said. “I love this park.”
Visit www.friendsofharrington.org for more information and upcoming events at the park.
Nancy Hise lifted the lid of a Dutch oven to check her apple crisp. Photo by Sam Arendt