The elk scaloppini episode from the Outdoor Cast Iron Cooking YouTube channel starts with a few cooking shots before Joanie "the Teardrop Nanny" and Dean "the Fogcrawler" introduce themselves on the bank of the Trinity River. Dean wears an American flag and eagle T-shirt as he announces his "most amazing wife has an awesome recipe for you." Joanie, silver hair falling in curls around her shoulders, walks us through cooking the game version of the Italian classic over coals in a 12-inch lidded cast iron Dutch oven, or camp oven. The plating is outdoor realism: spaghetti in a paper bowl. Joanie informs us we can substitute with deer meat and the pair wave goodbye wishing us "happy trails."
It's got none of the casual banter of the Bon Apétit Test Kitchen or the faceless precision of those overhead shot videos that fast forward us through clever cooking "hacks." But the homey DIY videos Dean Hubbard and Joanie Hartman-Hubbard have been shooting in Humboldt's great outdoors over the last decade have won them a following of nearly 50,000 subscribers from Norway to Brazil and garnered just shy of 10.4 million views.
Their collection of cast iron cookware is mostly stacked and stored in the entryway of their home on Humboldt Hill, a decommissioned fire station with cinderblock walls and a hammer-and-bell alarm doorbell. The dozens of pots, pans and Dutch ovens range in size from too small for an egg to large enough for Joanie to sit in. Dean's favorite is the size of a watermelon and has a pair of Elk on the lid, the words "Humboldt County" in block letters above them.
The two have known each other since junior high school band, when she was a saxophonist and he played drums, but didn't date until after his first marriage ended. "Waited 10 years before I'd marry him," says Joanie, who adds she became a first-time bride at 56 during a teardrop trailer gathering at Shasta Lake. These days they camp out almost weekly and, despite what they estimate at more than 100 years combined experience in Humboldt's outdoors, they still find spots that are new to them.
Getting into teardrop trailers was a gateway to cast iron obsession. A polished wood teardrop camper — always packed for a weekend trip — waits in an old firetruck bay, along with another mostly built custom trailer and an inlaid canoe, long-term projects Dean has put aside to work on in retirement. When they started going to "tearjerker" gatherings, camping out with other enthusiasts from all over, Dean says he "noticed most of 'em carried cast iron around with 'em and they were eating like kings." They culled recipes and tips from fellow campers until they'd mastered the methods. "They were all so helpful," says Joanie, adding that sharing what they'd learned via YouTube seemed like a good way to pay it forward and show off Humboldt's scenery. Along with the channel, they run the Humboldt Dutch Oven Society and its public and private Facebook groups.
"I MacGyver cook. You give me a hibachi or the top of a burn barrel lid — anything that'll hold heat," says Joanie. Dean, a former contractor who works for Milgard Windows, prefers a custom setup. He built himself a low table with metal walls on three sides to block the wind and upcycled a collapsible screen out of linked license plates to stave off gusts from the front.
They contend anything can be cooked in a Dutch oven, citing the souffle Dean turned out at his daughter's challenge and the ice cream his son made using ice instead of coals. They stick to a formula, using the size of the pot and the required cooking temperature to figure out how many charcoal briquettes are needed on the lid and underneath the pot. Baking requires coals above and below, frying only below and broiling from above. Of course, the same results can be achieved with wood but that requires thorough knowledge of particular woods and how hot they burn. For the videos, they want to make sure even absolute beginners can replicate their recipes.
Dean angles a thumb at his wife. "She's very health conscious with her recipes. I'm more, uh," he trails off, setting them both chuckling. Joanie runs her hands over a fat binder of recipes she's clipped out and converted over the years. She says they both lean toward comfort foods but don't eat the Mountain Man Breakfast (a popular episode) every day. Still they receive regular dietary scolding from commenters.
On YouTube, backlash can be a boost. Their Dungeness crab video and its accompanying controversy, "got us on the map," says Dean. In the video, he places live crab in a boiling pot, belly-up with legs flailing. The comments blew up. "They said we should be boiled alive," says Dean, who shrugs it off, satisfied with his conventional methods and Outdoor Cast Iron Cooking's raised profile.
"This is so foreign to us, the computer," says Dean. They started with a flip video camera and upgraded to a handheld Canon, adding a drone for scenic shots. They've learned some editing and, after looking at analytics, trimmed videos to five to seven minutes, but their camerawork and presentation remain charmingly unprofessional. Despite what Dean estimates at $20,000 in earnings from their channel over a decade, they remain amateurs in spirit, camping, cooking and filming because they love it.
Dean's main concern now is an "ultimate corn dog" with bacon and cheese he's hoping to nail down and film at Swimmer's Delight, so long as the temperature doesn't drop low enough to stiffen the batter like last time. Joanie pats his arm as he squints at the sky. She says she knows he'll get it. And she already has the trailer packed.
You can watch the video for this recipe on YouTube (outdoorcastironcook). Light the briquettes using a charcoal chimney and, with long metal tongs, arrange the top coals evenly on the lid. Arrange the bottom coals in a ring with one coal in the center for even heating. A lid lifter is highly recommended.
For the topping:
¼ cup sugar
2/3 cup shredded coconut
½ cup (one stick) unsalted butter, melted
1 cup all-purpose flour
For the filling:
1/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 Fuji or granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and chopped
3 cups fresh or frozen blueberries
Heat a 10-inch cast iron Dutch oven to 350F using 15 hot briquettes on the lid and 7 under the pot. It should be hot enough after a few minutes.
In a medium bowl, mix the topping ingredients with a fork or your fingers until it feels like coarse breadcrumbs. Set aside.
In a separate bowl, combine the filling ingredients. Spoon the mixture into the heated pot. Sprinkle the topping over the fruit and replace the lid. Bake for 35-45 minutes, checking after 30 or when you smell it. It's done when the topping is golden brown and the apples are tender. Remove the coals and let the crumble cool a bit before spooning and serving warm.
The next Humboldt Dutch Oven Society gathering is April 25. Call 445-2582 for information.
Jennifer Fumiko Cahill is the arts and features editor at the Journal and prefers she/her pronouns. Reach her at 442-1400, extension 320, or email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @JFumikoCahill.