Friday, May 15, 2020

Retro Reads: The Tear Droppin' Ladies at the Dutch Oven Cookoff

The two ladies who won the Dutch oven cookoff arrived in these teardrop trailers.
The Tear Droppin' Ladies' rigs, Michelle's (left) and Marlyn's (right)

Retro Reads: While camping at our local county park, my wife and I happily discovered we were camping during a Dutch oven cookoff competition--and two other tiny trailers were in attendance! We met some great people, learned a lot about cooking with Dutch ovens over charcoal, and had a great time camping and mingling with friendly campers and cooks who loved to share their knowledge. This story was originally published a year ago in May of 2019.

It was our ninth night of camping at Jefferson County Park, and it was Friday night. The next day the Dutch Oven Cookoff was to be held at the park, so we thought we might have more company . . .

And yes indeed, when we arrived at our tiny teardrop "standy" trailer from our day in town, where we had been the sole occupants of our camping area (with four other campers around the bend and over the hill at the end of the park), now all the campsites were filled. We were one-in-twelve at our neck of the woods.

All the activity was a bit dampened by the constant threat of rain, but the novelty of all the campers in a campground kept us looking and listening. Tiny trailer camping is much different than with the big rigs, but it was interesting to experience how the "other half" does it, and it was also great to see families camping together, parents and children, and to also see some set-ups where more than one family had come to spend the weekend together with people moving freely from one site to another.

Our attention was more focused, though, on two particular sites when we came back to the campground. We were set up in Space 6, and in spaces 3 and 4 were two teardrop trailers. And what about Space 5, you may wonder? Of course, a huge RV was parked there, blocking out the two tiny trailers from being with us.

We were planning on visiting our teardrop neighbors after dinner but were happy to welcome two ladies to our camp as they walked by and asked about our trailer. They were, of course, the owners of the two teardrops, Michelle and Marlyn. They had arrived and were one of the teams for the Dutch oven cookoff on Saturday. We chatted for a while about all things teardrop and also about Dutch ovens, then promised to drop by after dinner and check out their rigs.

Marlyn's Teardrop

This teardrop trailer was one of seven made by an enthusiast.
Marlyn's teardrop (and the Green Goddess in the background, Saturday morning)

Marlyn's teardrop is a home-built that was built by a gentleman from Manchester, Iowa. It was built in 2015 and has a 1940s design. It was his seventh teardrop and is eight feet by five feet. He has since built two more. Randy owns his sixth one that resembles Marlyn's a lot but his is a 4’x8’.  Marlyn says, "I took it to Ohio a couple of years ago for the National Dutch Oven Gathering. I also go to a number of teardrop rallies during the year."

This teardrop trailer has beautiful interior veneer.
Marlyn's interior (owner photo)

The interior woodwork of Marlyn's teardrop is beautiful, lovingly finished by the builder. She is fortunate to have connected with a private builder who pursues his passion with such attention to creating a solid, cozy tiny trailer. For those of us who love them, this is just eye candy. Marlyn did mention, though, that her husband won't sleep in it. Such tiny nests aren't for everyone!

Marlyn now pulls her rig with a big Ford Expedition SUV, so she has plenty of room for all her cast iron and cooking materials. A person of diverse interests, she also has a rack on top of her new black Expedition for kayaks.

Michelle's Teardrop

This Big Woody teardrop was at the Dutch oven cookoff.
Michelle's teardrop (Saturday morning)

Michelle's teardrop is a Big Woody teardrop. Big Woody teardrops are home built by owners, but Big Woody provides detailed  plans, kit materials, and all the support you need. Here is a description of their program from the website.
Based on the designs of the 40's and 50's, BIG WOODY CAMPERS teardrop trailers are built to provide years of enjoyment and a "look" that will turn heads, whether it's towed behind a classic car or modern vehicle. These sturdy, durable teardrop trailers are lightweight and can be pulled behind any size car. There is no need for electric brakes or extended mirrors. The "cabin" is 4' x 6' or longer, and sleeps two people comfortably. Use a futon mattress, or we can supply a custom fit mattress and cover. The rear "galley" is your "kitchen on wheels" and can be as simple or as elegant as you choose. is your one-stop-shop for detailed PLANS, plus the PARTS AND ACCESSORIES you need to build your own Big Woody Teardrop Camper!
I wasn't able to get more than the outside shots of Michelle's Big Woody, but I really liked the colors of the wood stain and the overall beauty of the unit. Below are some photos of other Big Woody teardrops from the company's website, to give an idea of the galley and interior. From the website's photos, many options are available for customizing the basic teardrop plan.

The Dutch Oven Cookoff

Saturday morning we made it up the hill to the cookoff area, wearing our rain gear and bringing an umbrella. We were slated for a rainy day. The cookoff participants had set up on the grass so they could anchor their pavilions. They could have set up on the asphalt, but as one participant said, "What if the winds came? Kind of hard to move with all our cast iron and coals." Good point. However, that meant the cooks slogged along, standing in mud. These were hardcore cooks, though, who believed the saying "if you can't stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen" works just as well if you replace heat with mud.

Dutch oven cooking on a metal table
Cooks had steel tables for their cookware and charcoal.

Dutch oven cooking at the Jefferson County Park
Harold, who patiently explained the cooking process while his stuffed pork loin cooked.

Pork loin in a Dutch oven cooker
Harold uncovers the cooking pork loin for a look. 

The cookoff participants were quite helpful and patient in providing information, even though they were focused on cooking. Two participants, Harold and Gordon, had competed with Marlyn and Michelle before. These guys were active in Boy Scouts and were really good at interacting and explaining outdoor Dutch oven cooking. Sandy and I wandered through the kitchens of the contestants, asking questions and observing the busy cooks, learning quite a lot.

  • Cooking with charcoal is easier than with wood because achieving and maintaining the desired heat is more controllable.
  • Dutch ovens for outdoor cooking are different than home Dutch ovens. The outdoor ovens have legs and a top that can hold coals.
  • Most of the cooks have metal tables to cook on so that they don't have to cook on the ground.
  • The charcoal is lit in a separate starter so that the coals can be added when ready, eliminating ups and downs in temperature. 

JCP Dutch oven cookoff winners
Michelle and Marlyn preparing to bake their lemon bread

Our tiny trailer contestants, team Tear Dropin' Ladies, were busy preparing their entries, so Sandy and I continued scooping the loop, peering into pots, enjoying the glowing coals, and asking questions. It was a friendly group and an enjoyable day, not even the rain dampening spirits.

Michelle and Marlyn did well at the Saturday Dutch Oven Cookoff event, even though it was only the first year they had cooked together. Their cookoff entries are listed below.

Lemon Bread Dutch Oven Cooking
4th Place, Lemon Bread

Dutch Oven Cooking Dutch Letter Cheesecake
3rd Place, Dutch Letter Cheesecake

Dutch Oven Cooking cookoff at Jefferson County Park, bacon-wrapped, stuffed loin pork
1st Place, bacon-wrapped, stuffed pork loin

Marlyn and Michelle are already thinking of recipes for next year. "Needless to say, it was so much fun cooking with Michelle. We have always competed against each other but always cheered each other on in competition."

It was Sandy and my pleasure to meet such friendly and helpful people. We learned a lot about Dutch oven cooking, but mostly we just had a fun weekend doing something different. The National Dutch Oven Gathering 2019 will be at Sunset Lakes RV Resort, Hillsdale, Illinois, on October 11-13. The site has some great photographs of beautiful food. Who knows? Sandy and I might head on over come fall! Whether we make it or not, the Tear Droppin' Ladies have assured us that tiny trailers will be well represented among the cookoff contestants.

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