The topic of catering large groups often surfaces on Dutch oven discussion boards, like the IDOS forum and Camp-cook.com. Conversation rarely centers on the business side catering. It's the culinary side of feeding large groups that draws most of the attention. Questions about menus, portion sizes, amount to prepare and equipment are among the most common.
The last discussion that I joined in on began with a question from a Dutch oven group in Porterville, California. Dutchin' Dave, a member of the Sequoia Dutch Ovens, asked this question at Camp-cook.com:
Got a problem. We've been asked to do cobbler for 300 folks at a fancy fundraising dinner for our Cancer Camp for children. We're thrilled to do it, but the problem stems from the fact that the majority of our Sequoia Dutch Ovens chapter is already committed to another function and there will only be 4-5 of us left. Under the circumstances, it's going to be critical that our operation run as efficiently and streamlined as possible. We need to figure out how many ovens these 4-5 cooks are going to have to manage and so we need to calculate pretty closely how many servings we can get out of an oven.Dave went on to explain his thought process on the issue. Even though he knows how many servings can be served from a 12-inch regular Dutch oven ("6-18 servings of a 'main dish' or 'to 30' servings of a 'side dish'"), he recognized that the number of servings per pot depends upon the portion size.
He planned to prepare one recipe in a 12-inch Dutch oven and scoop the cobbler out in 2- to 3-ounce portions. Dave estimated that the his recipe would yield about 15 servings. The results will, of course, depend on the volume of fruit and topping in his recipe.
To feed 225 guests, Dave figures it will take 15 (12-inch) ovens. He believes "approximately 3/4 of them will want dessert." The remaining 25 percent will avoid dessert due to health concerns or personal taste, said Dave.
Number of cobbler servings per No. 12 Dutch oven
Let me answer Dave's question in two parts. I'll address his immediate cobbler question first since that's the main point of his discussion. Then in a couple days, I'll address the broader question of catering large groups out of Dutch ovens.
I always work from volume, not some generalized table of servings per Dutch oven. Most Dutch oven food is semi-liquid or semi-solid. It spoons or ladles out very well. The key is to calculate the volume each Dutch oven holds for a particular dish and divide by the serving size. That's the basic formula for determining portions per Dutch oven.
There are other factors, like toppings and the number of pieces (of meat, chicken, potatoes, etc.) in the pot. It's hard to serve 20 (1-cup) servings out a pot of pork chops and gravy when there's only 15 chops in there to begin with. Toppings will also limit the number of servings. A pot pie or cobbler that's topped with 15 biscuits will only give you 15 servings.
I like to work out of 14-inch oven when cooking for a crowd. They're lighter than 16-inch ovens and holds more than a 12-inch oven. The 14-inch is a happy medium between lugging heavy 16-inchers and having to wrestle lots and lots of 12-inch ovens. I recommend that you locate as many 14-inch ovens as possible.
I don't recommend using deep-style ovens for recipes that use a topping as a key component of the dish. Deeper ovens are best reserved for bread loaves, large cuts of meat and soups, chili and stew.
The problem with baking a cobbler or crisp in a deep-style oven is it can hold a larger ratio of filling to topping. You'll run out of topping long before the filling is gone. The people at the head of the dessert line will get all the topping.
For the cobbler, I use 2 or 3 (14-inch) Dutch ovens to serve apple crisp to 150 campers. A 14-inch regular oven holds 8 quarts full to the brim. A good working volume is about 2/3 of the oven capacity, or about 5-1/3 quarts of product. Divide that by 1/2-cup into 5-1/3 quarts and you get about 42 servings per 14-inch regular oven. I round to 40. My recipe (below) uses three 14-inch ovens to feed 100 campers.
You can get 50 servings if you push the volume to 6 quarts. Just make sure you leave enough head room for the crisp topping to brown. But remember, to get 50 (1/2-cup) servings per 14-inch oven, you need about 6-1/2 quarts crisp/cobbler in each oven. And don't forget my caution about the filling to topping ratio above.
APPLE CRISP FOR A CROWD
Dutch oven instructions are located in the notes.
3 (#10) cans sliced apple
1/2 cup lemon juice
1 tablespoon lemon zest
2-3/4 pounds sugar
8 ounces cornstarch
3 tablespoons ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon salt
3 pounds brown sugar
1-1/4 pound rolled oats
1-1/4 pounds all-purpose flour
1-2/3 teaspoons baking powder
1-3/4 teaspoons baking soda
1 tablespoon salt
2 pounds butter, softened
Arrange 4-1/2 quarts apples in each greased 18x26-inch sheet pan. Sprinkle juice and zest over apples. Combine granulated sugar, starch, cinnamon and salt; sprinkle half over apples in each pan.
Combine brown sugar, flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and butter or margarine; blend to form a crumbly mixture. Sprinkle an equal quantity of the mixture evenly over apples in each pan.
Using a convection oven, bake at 350 deg F for 30 minutes or until top is bubbling and lightly browned on low fan, open vent. Cut each pan 6 by 9. Serve with serving spoon or spatula.
Yield: 2 sheet pans
Serving ideas: Serve 1 piece or approx 1/2-cup per portion. Acceptability is approx. 100 percent.
NOTES: Use 3 #10 cans sliced apples per 100 portions. Use two 18x26-inch sheet pans per 100 portions. Three lemons will yield 1/2-cup juice. Two pounds flour (total) may be used in place of rolled oats.
For 14-inch Dutch oven, use 1 #10 can of canned apples and a 1/3 the remaining ingredients per oven. This will yield approx 33 (1/2-cup) servings per oven.