/imgs/articles/onepotmeals.jpgIf you think all cookware is the same, then you've never used a cast iron Dutch oven. Traditionally loved for long, slow cooking of roasts and stews, Dutch ovens are flexible enough to bake cakes and breads, boil sauces, braise meats and even flash-cook entire meals in record time.

Humans have a long history of cooking in Dutch oven-type vessels as cast metal pots have been used for cooking in Europe since at least as early as the late eighth century.

The term "Dutch oven" may originate from a Dutch casting process brought to England, and from there to the British colonies, in 1704 by Abraham Darby. Or, it could have been a nickname given to the Dutch immigrant traders who sold the pots in the new world, or possibly it referred to early Dutch immigrants in the Pennsylvania area who used the heavy, lidded pots.

However the name arose, the practical, versatile and durable vessels were the staple of the American pioneers and explorers, including Lewis and Clark on their famous expedition. The Dutch oven was popular because it could cook a wide variety of foods: plants and animals as well as staples such as flour, corn, and sugar. It could be used for boiling, baking, stews, frying, roasting, and just about any other use.

Older Dutch ovens often sported three legs and a hinged bail handle for hanging the pot over a fire; more modern styles are legless with side handles for easier lifting. Some have flanged lids for holding hot coals in a campfire, while others have flat or rounded lids. Some even have dimples on the insides of their lids.

Called a French oven or a casserole by some modern companies, Dutch ovens can be enamel-coated cast iron for a rust-proof, non-stick, dishwasher-safe surface, or simply raw, uncoated cast iron. You may even find Dutch oven-shaped pots made of stainless steel, aluminum, or non-stick materials with a glass lids. While these may be familiar in shape, they lack the cooking powers of cast iron and may not function as well in Dutch oven cooking methods.

Regardless, all Dutch ovens share some basic characteristics: a flat bottom (not conical or otherwise sloped), vertical sides (not convex or concave), and an inner lip around the lid that allows the lid to provide a closed seal when seated correctly.

Dutch ovens are making resurgence and appearing on cooking shows, in department stores and in kitchens everywhere.

Elizabeth Yarnell is a Certified Nutritional Consultant, inventor, and author of Glorious One-Pot Meals: A new quick & healthy approach to Dutch oven cooking. Glorious One-Pot Meal recipes are protected under US and Canadian patents. Visit www.GloriousOnePotMeals.com to learn more about this unique cooking method and www.EffortlessEating.com for Elizabeth’s philosophy and recipes for living naturally.