Cook Inn at Virgelle Mercantile

This past weekend Virgelle Mercantile, located about 8 miles off US Hwy 87 between Fort Benton and Havre, held a Cook Inn. It was primarily “cooking with fire”, not electric ovens.

Lots of emphasis was placed on Dutch oven cooking, also cooking on an authentic wood burning stove.

I had hoped to get there earlier in the afternoon and spend some time watching the prep work but I didn’t. My stroke of luck was to get there about an hour before serving time! Oh yum.

I think I saw about 4 or 5 Dutch ovens in use and hot coals covered each one. An outside fire kept producing plenty more hot coals and several people took turns making sure the coals were at their prime temp. The photo at left is of apples baked in pastry, just one of our delicious desserts. Trust me, I sampled them.

The wood burning cookstove inside the Merc was generating plenty of heat. Add a half dozen or more cooks in the kitchen and things were hopping!

By time I arrived everyone had gotten to know each other so I was quickly trying to catch up and learn the participants’ names. Some were seated at picnic tables outside trying to gain more experience with outdoor Dutch oven use. Others were reading through the cookbooks provided for them as part of the class.

I started introducing myself in the kitchen of the Virgelle Merc and just about everyone said “oh, you have to try this appetizer”, or that appetizer or…well, you get the picture.

My first sample was something I wasn’t too sure about. It was bacon that had been baked in the oven, then coated with brown sugar and pecans. Don’t tell my doctor! I didn’t think I would like it and I absolutely loved it!

I grazed my way to the “shrimp pops” and tasted a wonderful dip for them. Next up was sliced and buttered bread that had been toasted on a grill over the campfire and a spinach artichoke dip made in a cast iron skillet. I began to realize that I had better pace myself since I was still just sampling the appetizer portion of this meal.

We all ate our way through the main dishes, dining on the picnic tables next to the Merc and soaking up one of the nicest days Central Montana has seen this spring.

Homemade bread and rolls, beef burgundy, two recipes of chicken, beautiful (and colorful) cauliflower, mashed potatoes, green salad…I’m probably forgetting something. Following that, our dessert(s) were apples wrapped in pastry and baked in a Dutch oven and then we had a molten lava cake. Oh…my…gosh.

Obviously, everyone was proud of their culinary creations and I think we all ate too much.

Some participants were spending the night in Virgelle, either above the Merc in B&B rooms or in the homestead cabins.

A few of the cooks were busy shopping in the antique store for something to take home as a reminder of their fun day at the Cook Inn.

Next weekend, April 28, is the “encore” session of this gourmet Dutch oven and wood fired cookstove class. I’m sure there will be many more delectable entrees.

All in all, it was a wonderful and relaxing afternoon and evening in this very tiny town named Virgelle.


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