In the weeks leading up to the 55th annual Soldotna Progress Days, the Anderson household circulates competitors of all ages for the Alaska State Dutch Oven Championships. Two at a time, the groups come seeking the couple’s expert advise.
Soldotna Mayor Nels Anderson and his wife Carla Anderson have been boosting public interest around the central Kenai Peninsula in the traditional method of Dutch oven cooking for decades. Within the last five years they gathered enough support to host the state championship during the city’s annual festival.
Nels Anderson is president of the Last Frontier chapter of the International Dutch Oven Society while Carla Anderson has placed in the state competition. The first-place winner for the adult session is eligible to compete in the International Dutch Oven Competition in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Carla Anderson said many local residents have families who have traditionally cooked with the large food warmers, and continue the practice today. Coals placed on top of the lid heat the massive cast iron cookers, which can be placed on any non-flammable surface.
“Many people in the area have ancestors who cooked with Dutch ovens,” Carla Anderson said. “It’s a traditional way for pioneers to cook.”
When the former first lady Martha Washington was alive it was common for people to include their Dutch oven in their will, which shows how important the item was to people, she said.
Using the large cookers does require some practice. The biggest hurdle to understand is temperature control, Nels Anderson said.
Jonas Vikstrom and Sebastian Gabriel stayed with the Anderson’s as exchange students two years ago, and are back visiting for three weeks, Gabriel said.
The two are in this year’s competition, and have spent their afternoons on the large porch at the Anderson home overlooking the Kenai River and learning to monitor the coals on the traditional German and Swedish dishes they will be cooking during Progress Days.
“We are the underdogs,” Gabriel said with a laugh. “But we may have a chance.”
There are many benefits to being able to use a Dutch oven, Carla Anderson said. Disaster preparedness, such as in the case of a power outage, is one practical use of the skills, she said.
Wood, charcoal and propane can be used to heat the Dutch oven. Anything that can be cooked in a regular oven can be baked in a Dutch oven, she said.
Many of the younger competitors get very excited about the competition, Carla Anderson said. This year the youngest contestant is 8 years old, she said.
Nels Anderson said being able to use different, non-electrical dependent methods of cooking is always a good skill to have.
In the adult competition, each challenger must prepare a dessert, bread and main dish. In the youth division for ages 12-18, and the junior division for ages 5-11, only a dessert and main dish is required.
This year the competition will be held at Gerhke Field in Soldotna. It provides plenty of space for the workers and equipment, he said.
“In the end people are also learning to cook a great food dish,” Nels Anderson said.