|The Milmerran Camp Oven Festival attracted many spectators.|
Millmerran is a small country town of 1,200 residents in southern Queensland. Last weekend it was swamped by an extra 7,000 visitors and thousands of caravans as they held their two yearly Camp Oven Festival. The festival began on the Friday morning with a workshop for beginners and experienced camp oven cooks. Throughout the Saturday and Sunday there were cooking workshops, displays, competitions, trade stalls and entertainment.
|An array of camp ovens cooking a meal.|
A camp oven is a thick-walled, cast-iron cooking pot with a tight-fitting lid. The camp oven originates from the Dutch oven, used in the Netherlands for hundreds of years. The Dutch manufactured them using dry sand to make a mould. In 1704 an englishman, Abraham Darby travelled to the Netherlands and after observing how the Dutch manufactured them he patented his own design. From England the oven spread to the colonies of America and Australia. Suited to life in a wilderness the oven became an essential item with the design often being changed to suit the environment or what it was used for. They also became such a valuable item that owners would specify in their will who their cooking pot should go to.
Dutch immigrants also took these pots to South Africa. Here they are round and have three legs arranged as a tripod. They are known as 'potjie pots', potjie being translated from the Afrikaans or Dutch word meaning 'little pot'. Potjie can also refer to the technique of slow cooking and layering of food to cook in these pots. Camp oven, Dutch oven or potjie pot, all have become popular because they are suited to cooking over a campfire. They are well suited to cooking slowly and for making flavoursome stews, soups, roasts and casseroles.
|These ovens produced trays of fresh-baked pies.|
The weekend centred on the camp oven. I watched the workshop on the Friday morning. Each 'expert' had their secret tip on how to produced the best results over a camp fire and I was able to pick up a few tips. Watching the ingredients table I could see the participants coming back time and time again just to add that little bit of extra sauce, relish, sugar or spice. There was a bottle of red cordial on the corner of the table and I did wonder wether I should move this before someone tried to add a dash to their simmering stew. I was also amazing and as a beginner maybe a little overwhelmed by the vast range of camp ovens and the uses that the experts could put them to. There were large oven where stews could be made for large groups, special arrangement to bake dampers and cakes, and 44 gallon ovens used to cook trays of pies.
At different times over the weekend there were other workshops, cooking displays and cooking competitions. One group of beginners produced breadrolls, a sweet bun and a cheese and herb damper from three ovens. The competition had teams cooking full roast dinners, apple pies with custard and an assortment of curries and stews. The versatility of these ovens seems unlimited.
|Breakfast with a bush poet.|
Supporting acts include a tractor pull competition, including competitors who must have been about 12 years old, damper throwing, whip cracking, and a poets' breakfast. The breakfast was attended by about 3,000 people. Bushies told jokes and recited poems about how the farm shed was kicked down by the cow or how the visitors from the city outlived their welcome and had a nasty experience. "Rural culture at its best". Later in the day there was a line up of country singers. There were also displays and talks by bush historians and a blacksmith demonstration. Other displays included the rural fir brigade, racing go-karts and old machines which had been restored and were working pumping water.
All in all it was a good fun weekend. I did manage to pick up some good tips. I had also been surprised at the size of the crowd there for what is a friendly country weekend.