Camping on the Cheap | Pie Tin Dutch Oven
If you have a craving for fresh biscuits, here's how to make them in the backcountry!
Sometimes you just need a little home cooking - even in the backcountry. One of the staples of the old time mountain men and the fur trade voyageurs was fresh biscuits. Whether for biscuits and gravy, fruit cobblers, dumplings, or to accompany a hot soup or stew, there is nothing like a piping hot biscuit!
Some people are baking purists. I'm not and I cheat by using Bisquick or other baking mixes. With these baking mixes, all you need to add is milk. Of course, I don't carry whole milk on pack-in trips, either. Instead, I simply substitute powdered, freeze-dried milk and water.
If weight is no object when camping from a vehicle or on flat trips without portages, the best cooking method is a heavy, cast iron Dutch oven. Traditionally, the mountain men and voyageurs would simply fry their biscuits in a cast iron pan, maybe propped up against a rock to brown the topside. Today, some people lug a folding reflector oven to make biscuits, cakes, and pies next to the campfire. But my preference is to use the cheap and ultralight pie tin "Dutch oven". Here's how to make your own:
First, measure your preferred camp frying pan. I like to use a 10-inch pan because this is the standard size for basic pie plates. When I was at the Thrift store buying a used frying pan, I also picked up two pie plates for $1.49. Brand new, you can find pie plates for a few dollars each. These pie plates will be fastened together to form the lid of the Dutch oven.
To connect the plates you will drill hole in both plates. The connection is made with a bolt and nut. In the version shown here, I used an eye bolt to make it easier to finger-tighten. Also, instead of a nut on the bottom, I first installed a threaded insert. A nut and washer works just as well - just be careful not to lose it in the fire!
Stack the pie plates and mark the exact center. Use a straight edge or compass and get as close as possible to the center. Drill the hole to match your choice of bolt and/or threaded insert - 5/16-inch in my case. I then crimped the threaded insert - which is similar to using a pop-rivet tool.
As shown, the two pie plates are held together by the eye bolt. The bottom pie plate forms the lid of the Dutch oven, covering the frying pan. The top pie plate forms the surface where you will place the coals to bake your biscuits.
Once assembled, you are ready to get baking. Now it's time to build a fire using the hardest wood available. While the coals are burning down, mix your dough. You can simply drop the dough into the greased frying pan. Or you can let the mix set for a few minutes, then knead it to form your biscuits. This extra effort will yield a more flaky biscuit. If making cobbler, add sugar to the dough mix, then pour over canned fruit or fresh berries.
Baking using this improvised Dutch oven requires finesse since the frying pan is much thinner than the traditional cast iron Dutch oven. Rake the coals away from the fire to create an area at least one foot in diameter. Leave only a thin layer of the smallest coals under the frying pan. Then use the baking rule of thumb and scoop twice as many coals into the top pie plate. There should be enough heat that you can only hold you hand over the coals for less than 3 seconds. Any hotter and you will burn the top of your biscuits or cobbler.
Another reason I like the eye bolt fastener is that it gives you a handle to raise the lid and peak at your biscuits. Use a thin stick - or better yet - the pot tongs. A final Dutch oven trick is to rotate the bottom every 5 minutes, and then rotate the top layer in the OPPOSITE direction to avoid overcooked and undercooked dough.
If the biscuits start to burn , remove a few coals from the top or bottom. If they are still doughy after 15 minutes, add a few more coals. The biscuits are done when a wood sliver poked into the dough comes out dry.
If you greased the frying pan, cleanup should be easy. The top of the Dutch oven should need little cleaning. Just disassemble and it is ready for storage.
The pie plate Dutch oven can also be used to bake pizza, mac and cheese, or anything else you can pour into the frying pan. For the cost of a bolt and two pie plates, you can add some variety and home-cooked goodness to your camp meals!