By Brianne Dela Cruz, Gather & Grow
On a moody November day, our truck rolled down the long dirt road that runs parallel to the Bear River towards Maple Grove Hot Springs. In the distance, clouds of steam rose towards the stormy sky while shades of rusty toned plants glistened with dew along the river corridor. Along with twenty other folks, we headed to this off-grid destination for an outdoor dutch oven cooking class and a night of hot spring soaking. To our great excitement, my husband and I weren’t attending as students, but as the cooking class teachers. With all of our years of experience cooking outdoors, we were thrilled to share our hard-earned knowledge with aspiring open fire camp cooks in such a beautiful setting.
We gathered at the cozy Forest Yurt for our outdoor cooking class. Our terrace offered sweeping views of the Oneida River Valley in Southeast Idaho. Wrapped tightly in warm jackets and aprons and armed with copious amounts of hot tea, we began our cooking class around the community fire pit. After dividing into cook teams of two, students established their cooking stations before receiving instruction on heating coals and controlling dutch oven cooking temperatures.
While the dutch ovens were heating up, we moved into the camp kitchen, where we prepared ingredients for our hearty autumn soup. On the menu was a flavorful Zuppa Toscana featuring spicy Italian sausage, hearty root vegetables, seasonal greens, and an enriching broth. Paired with fresh loaves of sourdough bread and a bourbon cardamom apple cake for dessert, it was the perfect menu to cook and enjoy outdoors on a fall evening.
Heating dutch ovens over coals is a quick affair. We quickly transferred our ingredients to our hot cast iron pots and began cooking dinner. The beautiful thing about cooking a simple meal in a dutch oven outside is that once ingredients are added, we are free to walk away and enjoy the camp spot while dinner cooks on its own. During this free time, we socialized around the fire pit, nibbled on the seasonal charcuterie board, and drank up the scenic views of Maple Grove Hot Springs.
Just as the setting sun drenched the clouds in pink, dinner was served. We retreated into the warmth of the forest yurt, hands full with bowls of soup. Cozied up on cushions at a beautiful table, we dined and chatted well into the evening near the blazing wood fire stove.
There are few things more nourishing than sharing a cast iron dinner with friends, old and new, in a beautiful setting after a beautiful day outside together.
After the stars peeked out from behind the cloud cover, we all scampered down to the natural hot pools to soak away the day and melt into the night. The whole day was an experience to remember and one we’ll try to recreate as often as we can in the coming seasons. Of all the places we’ve cooked outdoors, it’s pretty tough to beat a dutch oven dinner that ends with a relaxing hot spring soak.
Brianne Dela Cruz is a master gardener, wild forager, campfire foodie, and acclaimed writer and photographer. From her home in Salt Lake City, she teaches online gardening and foraging courses for modern folks and budding naturalists as well as hosts seasonal community gatherings. Brianne's blog and online school, Gather & Grow, is a community of folks exploring the intersection between nature and personal growth by discovering ways to slow down and nourish themselves with nature.