40 Pots of Cornbread – Lessons Learned

Now that the Mountain Man Rendesvouz is behind us, I’ve been thinking about the lessons learned from working with forty groups of scouts over several days.

Cornbread closeup#1 This is the perfect recipe to teach about baking outdoors in a camp Dutch oven.  Here’s why:

  • This simple recipe is easy to follow and teaches the importance of following the directions (specifically about folding the wet and dry ingredients together).  The scouts were able to measure and mix the batter properly with very little assistance.
  • The recipe demonstrated the difference between baking and cooking.  Baking requires attention to detail and precision or the results will be disappointing.  Cooking is far more forgiving.  For example, if we overbeat the cornbread or forget the leavening (baking soda or baking powder), the cornbread will look more like a big, heavy hockey puck.  If we forget the garlic in a baked lasagna, it will still be edible but may not be as tasty if the garlic were present.
  • This recipe cooks up quickly, helping to keep adolescent cooks’ attention longer.  They were able to mix up the batter, put it in the hot Dutch oven, and a few mintes later were eating their hot, fresh, made from scratch cornbread.  Not quite instant gratification, but close!

Perfect!

#2 While the cornbread baked, the scouts were able to learn about the importance of temperature control.  After all, nothing is more disappointing than burning your meal!

  • The 12″ camp Dutch oven needed to be preheated to 425 degrees Farenheit, a very hot oven, which gave us an opportunity to explain temperature control.  The scouts could see the batter sizzle when it hit the hot oil, so they understood how hot the oven was.
  • At the same time, we were able to explain how to keep an even heat over the course of the baking time (about 25 minutes) by rotating the oven 45 degrees clockwise and the lid 45 degrees counter-clockwise to avoid hot spots.
  • While the cornbread was baking, we explained four different methods of temperature control:  The Lodge Baking Temperature Chart, the Dinwiddie Ring Method, the “three up/three down” method, and the Handy Hand method.  Briefly, the Handy Hand method says to place your open palm about 8 inches above the lid filled with hot charcoal and begin counting backwards from 500 by 50’s.  The point you have to withdraw your hand is the approximate temperature of the pot.  The Handy Hand method works on any source of heat, old or new charcoals, or any type wood coals.

Handy's HandThere are many more lessons learned, but these two are at the top of my list.  What a great experience, well worth doing again in the future!

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