02/02/2012

Merry Carter cooks up a winner in Dutch oven cook-off

Deanna K Willis, LLNL, (925) 423-5994, willis29@llnl.gov



Merry Carter

Disclaimer: Do not read this article on an empty stomach.

At the Alameda County Cattle Women's second annual Dutch Oven Gathering in November, Merry Carter bested 10 cooks to win two of the competition's six categories. Her winning recipes were enchilada pie and pumpkin pie cake. And Carter claims neither of those recipes is her best.

Carter's skill in Dutch oven cooking has been a lifetime, literally, in the making. Her family has been living in Livermore, working on ranches, cooking in Dutch ovens and contributing to the community since 1869.

Although Carter's grandmother, Ione Holm, did not cook in her Dutch oven over a fire or coals, she would cook Dutch oven meals for Carter's grandfather and his ranch hands in her traditional oven. "I remember being four years old and helping my grandmother serve meals at various locations in the Livermore hills -- one of those locations was near Site 300," Carter said.

Dutch ovens, which are cast iron cooking pots, were used by the colonists and later made their way across North American with the pioneers who settled out west. Today, Dutch ovens are flat-bottomed pots with legs, flat lids, and handles. They are designed to stew, bake, or roast foods in one pot with hot charcoal under the pot and on top of the lid.

"The great things about cooking in a Dutch oven are you don't need electricity and there's only one pot to clean," Carter said. "It can be done in remote locations, so it's a great skill to have when you're camping. And it can be challenging."

In addition to being a standout in Dutch oven cooking, Carter also has some serious chops in the kitchen. In 2008, her family (all Livermore natives) formed a publishing company and published a 240-page illustrated cookbook and made several TV appearances to promote the book.

"The Holm Family Cookbook" is more than just a compilation of recipes. It also tells the story of five generations of a Livermore family, including what they ate. The book includes vignettes like the one about the 1906 earthquake when Carter's great grandparents, Carl and Ida, went to San Francisco to attend a Danish convention. The story describes the horrors they saw while they struggled for three days to get back to Livermore.

The cookbook includes something for everyone. For the adventurous palate: 'rattlesnake a la Mines Road' (number of servings depends on the size of the snake) and 'mountain oysters.' For the more traditional foodie: Susie's poached salmon with sour cream dill sauce, Granny's cowboy beans, and some mean cocktail recipes.


Nancy Mueller, Spencer Christian and Merry Carter appeared on View from the Bay in 2009 to promote the "Holm Family Cookbook."

In the summer of 2009, Carter and her family appeared on "View from the Bay" (no longer in production) and "Sacramento and Company" to promote the cookbook.

"My sister, Nancy Mueller, and I made two different types of cookies on View from the Bay with host Christian Spencer," Carter said. "We were excited to meet him because we watched him for several years when he was the weatherman on "Good Morning America."

" 'Sacramento and Company' was a lot of fun, too. My cousin, Wendy Howe, appeared on the show with me. The host, Guy Farris, was very excited to meet us and knew the cookbook inside and out --- he was more familiar with a couple of the recipes than we were."

"The Holm Family Cookbook" has sold approximately 2,000 copies.

Carter says she has always enjoyed cooking, but she admits it's less enjoyable after a long day at work. She has worked at the Lab for 27 years. She is the group leader and service manager for the 4Help service desk and the Laptops on Foreign Travel (LOFT) program. Recently, as a result of a Six Sigma improvement project, Carter's 4Help team increased the incident resolution rate at the service desk from 50 percent to 70 percent. Her next big project is to define a LOFT process for iPads.

As for Carter's best recipe? She says it's caramel apple crisp in the Dutch oven and chicken marsala in the kitchen.

Download Carter's winning recipe for enchilada pie on the Web. The recipe can be cooked indoors in a conventional oven or outdoors in a Dutch oven.

Additional information about the cookbook and more recipes can be found online.

-- Deanna Willis, Computation

Founded in 1952, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory provides solutions to our nation's most important national security challenges through innovative science, engineering and technology. Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory is managed by Lawrence Livermore National Security, LLC for the U.S. Department of Energy's National Nuclear Security Administration.