Dutch Ovens
December 9, 2004 12:32 PM   Subscribe

Etymology of the phrase "Dutch oven." (Stop giggling. The culinary sense, please.) I have a partial answer but am in need of authoratative confirmation.

Various web sites give a variety of different possibilities. Some that I am inclined not to believe include:1) Some sailor from Holland was almost cooked by cannibals in pot, so his crewmates adopted the phrase. 2) A Dutch process for casting the ovens somehow got attached to the thing itself. 3) Dutch trades at some point historically were an important source of said cooking tool.

This is the answer that I am inclined to believe: "Dutch oven" is in the same category of phrases as Dutch treat, Dutch courage, Dutch uncle, Dutch comfort, etc... Inferior versions of genuine things are called Dutch because these words were coined at a time when there was significant English antipathy towards the Dutch. Something about competing colonial interests...

Various google-able websites corroborate my version. I even found second hand references to Facts on File and a book called Wicked Words.

I'd be much happier with a more complete answer and a more authoratative one. My print OED doesn't have it and I can't get access to the online OED. Three different librarians have failed me. You're my only hope.

Thank you.
posted by stuart_s to Home & Garden (18 answers total)
There's a non-culinary sense?
posted by Mars Saxman at 12:47 PM on December 9, 2004

This page is called "A Brief History of Dutch Ovens." It draws from a book called "Dutch Ovens Chronicled, Their Use in the United States" by John G. Ragsdale, published by the University of Arkansas Press.
posted by sixdifferentways at 12:54 PM on December 9, 2004

I'd be interested in that non-culinary sense as well. Just in the interest of advancing knowledge for myself and all mankind, of course.
posted by idest at 1:02 PM on December 9, 2004

Were you guys home schooled, or something?
posted by MrMoonPie at 1:03 PM on December 9, 2004

I never heard of that meaning for Dutch Oven. And now I know why. I can't imagine doing that as something to put me "in the mood"!
posted by Doohickie at 1:12 PM on December 9, 2004

Just a note since you said you've also been doing library research: your library could probably get you a copy of the Ragsdale book through inter-library loan. A faster (and maybe cheaper) option would be to put in a request for the lending library to fax your library just the pages regarding the etymology. A good bet would be the U. of Arkansas library, since they would likely have any title published by the university. Make sure they include any footnotes or endnotes where the author references his original sources.
posted by sixdifferentways at 1:42 PM on December 9, 2004

Yes, I was home-schooled, actually. And now I wish I hadn't asked.
posted by Mars Saxman at 2:05 PM on December 9, 2004

No I wasn't home-schooled, and this is one of those occasions in which I am actually pleased by my ignorance.
posted by idest at 2:25 PM on December 9, 2004

I don't really understand why a "dutch oven" would have been included in a class as "inferior". They're extraordinarily useful and were as common in upper-class households as in bury-the-pot-in-the-dirt poor households. And did someone at the University of Arkansas *really* write a book that said that the name came from Dutch settlers in Pennsylvania??? Those people were Deutsch, not Dutch.

Which isn't to say that the name couldn't have come from "Deutsch Oven." Hrm.

Anyway, I'm fairly certain I have seen quotes from Lodge Manufacturing stating that they don't even know where the name comes from, and they've been making 'em for 200 years. Tough question.
posted by bcwinters at 2:40 PM on December 9, 2004

Online OED's no help, FWIW.
posted by ikkyu2 at 3:46 PM on December 9, 2004

The web page in question is not quoting from the book. It recommends the book.

The Pennsylvania Dutch are German settlers in the Western part of the state. "Dutch" is a corruption of "Deutsch" but it is a common appellation for that group of people. Maybe we're in agreement..?
posted by Slothrop at 3:50 PM on December 9, 2004

On preview: to bcwinters - the web page in question is not quoting from the book. It recommends the book. It is the web page writer who describes Dutch settlers.

The Pennsylvania Dutch are German settlers in the Western part of the state. "Dutch" is a corruption of "Deutsch" but it is a common appellation for that group of people. Maybe we're in agreement..?
posted by Slothrop at 3:51 PM on December 9, 2004

I have always thought a Dutch Oven was an outdoors stone or brick, free standing oven. From the OED:

b. Often distinguishing a particular sort of article, originally made in or imported from Holland: e.g. Dutch barn, [.....] Dutch oven (see OVEN n. 2a); also slang, a person's mouth;


1769, 1849 *Dutch oven [see OVEN n. 2a]. 1922 JOYCE Ulysses 419 O, cheese it! Shut his blurry Dutch oven with a firm hand. 1968 Islander (Victoria, B.C.) 11 Aug. 7/2 Other relics of trail days, which time has not completely erased, are three beehive Dutch ovens built from native stone.

Note that it is not listed under OED meaning 4:

4. Characteristic of or attributed to the Dutch; often with an opprobrious or derisive application, largely due to the rivalry and enmity between the English and Dutch in the 17th c.
Often with allusion to the drinking habits ascribed to the ‘Dutch’; also to the broad heavy figures attributed to the Netherlanders, or to their flat-bottomed vessels. Sometimes little more than = foreign, un-English.

Dutch auction (so auctioneer), bargain, concert, courage, gleek, nightingale, uncle: see AUCTION, BARGAIN, etc. Dutch comfort, consolation, defence, feast, palate, reckoning, widow: see quots. Dutch act (see sense B. 4 below); Dutch lunch, party, supper, treat (orig. U.S.), one at which each person contributes his or her own share; Dutch wife, an open frame of ratan or cane used in the Dutch Indies, etc. to rest the limbs upon in bed.
posted by Rumple at 5:21 PM on December 9, 2004

I've asked the folks at Wordorigins about this.
posted by languagehat at 5:24 PM on December 9, 2004

Thanks, ikkyu2. That was nagging at me.

Thanks, languagehat. I've got high hopes for your post on Wordorigings.
posted by stuart_s at 7:15 PM on December 9, 2004

Rumple, a dutch oven is nowadays usually aluminum, traditionally cast iron. It's basically a thick pot with a thick lid. You heap coals around and on top of it, and it cooks food fairly evenly. My sister runs a rafting company and uses them to cater large groups in the middle of nowhere. Apparently you can make a good lasagna in them. Also, they are a "must buy" item in Oregon Trail, presumably to cook all those thousands of pounds of buffalo you bring back.
posted by Hildago at 9:51 PM on December 9, 2004

Thanks Hidalgo. I have never even heard of what you describe, by any name. Interestingly the OED citation I quoted above references stone outdoors ovens and the cited reference is from my home town so maybe its a purely regional thing.
posted by Rumple at 3:05 PM on December 10, 2004

I'm a history museum professional and have done my time open hearth cooking. A Dutch Oven is exactly what Hidalgo says. Not only do they make a good lasagna, you can bake anything in them that you would bake in a conventional oven -- bread, cakes, biscuits, casseroles. The baking takes about the same amount of time a modern oven does, providing you have your hot coals already, which with an open hearth you always do.

One reason the pejorative "Dutch" was applied to this appliance is that it's kind of a 'cheater' oven. Most hearths included a 'bake oven', which is a small cave of brick or stone built into the side of the hearth with a small opening that widens to be a large, half-beehive shape. It resembles a modern-day pizza oven: large flat stone surface, low arched brick ceiling. Once or twice a week, the woman of the house would go through the laborious process of oven baking. This entailed building a large fire right inside the bake oven, stoking it and allowing it to burn for several hours. The fire heated the stone and brick inside the bake oven. Once it had burned down, the coals and ashes were scraped out, the interior swabbed to remove still-smoldering ash, and then foods to be baked were placed inside, often right on the hot stone. The heat radiating from the brick and stone would then cook the contents of the oven over several hours. A cook would usually prepare many loaves of bread, several pies, and dishes like baked beans all at once in this way.

As you can imagine, using the bake oven generated a lot of extra heat in the kitchen. In the warm weather, this was awful. At any other time, the heat might be welcome, but baking was an all-day process. So let's say you just wanted to make 6 biscuits for dinner, or one loaf of cornbread. Why not just use the Dutch oven? It didn't use as much wood fuel, didn't heat the kitchen up. Of course, it wasn't 'really' baking since it wasn't really a bake oven. Thus is was a Dutch oven.
posted by Miko at 7:40 PM on December 10, 2004 [2 favorites]

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