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February 2009 cover image of Davis Mountains State Park

Park Pick : Campfire Cornbread

Learn how to cook almost anything in a Dutch oven this month at Mission Tejas.

By Sheryl Smith-Rodgers

One black pot and a dozen or so charcoal briquettes — that’s all Charles McMath needs to cook up some spicy chili, crusty cornbread or moist apple-strawberry cobbler. “You can cook ­anything in a Dutch oven,” says the Houston County resident. “Casseroles, yeast breads, baked beans, pies, you name it!”

Skeptical? Then head over to Mission Tejas State Park this month, and McMath — who belongs to the Lone Star Dutch Oven Society — will show you how. Every first Saturday, club members gather near the park’s pavilion and tend black pots all morning. “We cook whatever’s on our mind,” McMath says. “We get the pots on the table by noon, and visitors are welcome to sample dishes.”

Use of cast-iron Dutch ovens — Texas’ official cooking implement — dates back to the days of Spanish explorers, early pioneers and chuckwagon cooks. The name typically refers to a heavy iron kettle outfitted with three short legs and a rimmed flat lid. “You control heat by the number of briquettes you put under the pot and on top,” McMath explains. “To save space, some people stack another oven on top of the first one with coals in between. We’ve seen as many as three pots stacked.”

After lunch, enjoy a stroll through the pines and visit the park’s namesake: a commemorative representation of Mission San Francisco de los Tejas, the first Spanish mission in Texas. Built in 1690, the original mission stood for three years before the Spanish destroyed the site, which is probably located on private property. In 1934, the Civilian Conservation Corps constructed Mission Tejas, a one-story log building.

Near the park’s entrance stands the Rice Family log home, built between 1828 and 1838. Many travelers venturing across early Texas stopped and ­rested at the home, which was restored in 1974 and moved to the park.

More than three miles of hiking trails wind past a pond, where anglers have snagged catfish as long as 22 inches. The park also offers picnic tables, wooded campsites and group facilities. In late March, native dogwoods burst into beautiful white blooms.

Dutch oven cooking events run from 10 a.m. to noon the first Saturday each month. Regular park entrance fees apply. Bring your own Dutch oven and join the fun, or just watch and learn.

Mission Tejas State Park is located in Weches, 21 miles northeast of Crockett on State Highway 21. For more information, call 936-687-2394
or visit <www.tpwd.state.tx.us/missiontejas>. 

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