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Dump Cake

Recipes From the RanchAs unappetizing as it sounds, Dump Cake, is mainstay Dutch oven cooking.

Last week, Lisa Reiter of Sharing the Story, stirred up our memories of camping which led me to think of the camping cake that requires no stirring. That’s what a Dump Cake is–dump in the ingredients; no stirring required.

In 2007 my family camped in the northern forests of Wisconsin at Birch Lake. My kids were still kids then, as my eldest, Allison, was perched to fly the family coop. Kyle, the youngest was turning 16 and Brianna was going into her senior year of high school. It was trip that stirred my memory of fun family times in my Bite Size Memoir No. 5.

Birch Lake (2)

Because we were camping, the Dutch oven was working overtime. My husband grumbles that I bring the kitchen sink and I respond, “No, I bring the whole kitchen.” The kids tell him to hush and eat. They don’t mind packing the extra iron, utensils and food because we all like to eat like kings around the campfire.

A Dutch oven is a large cast iron pot with a flat lid. You can hang it over an open flame, set it on a grill or even snug it into coals. The latter is required for baking.

Ten years prior to this camping trip, in 1997, I was the writing intern for Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks. It was one of my first freelance gigs and I was covering an event called “Becoming an Outdoors Woman.” Being a buckaroo, I grew up outdoors and was no stranger to  logging camp meals and cowboy coffee.

Yet, I was not familiar with the Dutch oven. We had cast iron pans, enamel coffee pots and grills, but I learned how to use the oven on this assignment. Mountain-man, Darrel D. Johnson, was our teacher. He wore a fox-skin hat, leather leggings and was the keeper of  “extremely useful information.”

Today, I share with you Mountain-man Johnson’s recipe for Dump Cake.

Birch Lake (3)

It’s all in getting the coals white. Notice that we had half our fire pit dedicated to coals, the other half to wood. We aren’t fancy when camping, so just set that Dutch oven in the dirt and lightly butter the bottom. Add one can of cherry pie filling. Next, spread one box of yellow cake mix over the fruit. Melt one stick of butter and pour it over the mix. Don’t stir. Just “dump” the ingredients in the order given.

Birch Lake (4)

Nestle the Dutch oven into your pile of white-hot coals. Add a few coals to the lid, scattering evenly as you can see in the photo above. Bake about 10 minutes before you lift the lid to check progress.

Birch Lake (5)

Your Dump Cake is ready when the fruit bubbles up around the edges. When it is, remove it from the coals, but set the lid (with coals) back in place until the top is browned.

Birch Lake

Decorate if you’d like, as we did. Slice and serve like brownies.

The fun of a Dump Cake is that it’s versatile. You can use any can of pie filling or even canned crushed pineapple. You can add 1/2 to one cup of walnuts, almonds or pecans. You can use any boxed cake mix–white, yellow, spice, cherry, chocolate. Just remember to dump in order:

  • canned fruit
  • boxed cake
  • stick of melted butter

And there you have it–Dump Cake! And now a parting shot of Birch Lake:


And that’s Bobo swimming for the canoe, not Nessie. But if you like magical creatures, join us for the June 4 Flash Fiction Challenge: June 4, 2014 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes a fantastical element or creature. Respond by noon (PST) Tuesday, June 10 to be included in the compilation.





  1. Lisa Reiter says:

    Hey Charli! How fantastic to get such a complete reply to my query about ‘dump cake’. Boy, I bet that tastes extra delicious after a day in the outdoors! Do you eat it hot with custard or cream?!
    I’ve heard of Dutch Ovens but never seen one in action – your photos are fabulous and the concave lid to put coals in must mean you can do all sorts of things with it. I’m thinking my little gas stove doesn’t quite cut the mustard now and I haven’t done much proper camp cooking with a fire-pit.. We’re a bit restricted legally making them here and not usually allowed on formal campsites – but there must be a spot in the garden..
    Birch lake looks a heavenly spot to be, full of really happy memories!
    You now have me wondering about ‘Cowboy Coffee’.. I’m guessing I’ll still find room for my cafetiere !!
    Lisa xx
    (PS: I’m adding ‘Dutch Oven’ to my wish list and “Make a Dump Cake” to my bucket list!)

    • Charli Mills says:

      I didn’t think about fire regs, but back-country camping is also limited to cooking over gas canisters. That’s why my husband groans over my trudging around with cast iron! Love your idea of a fire pit in the garden, though. One of my bucket list items is to build a summer kitchen like the pioneers and ranch wives used to do and I bet they were in or near the garden! The made a half shelter of timbers, open on three sides and cooked and canned over a fire pit. They did it outside as it was cooler than firing up the wood stove indoors. Ah, cowboy coffee will have to be another topic!

    • Charli Mills says:

      Oh, and custard–that sounds delicious!!!

  2. Norah says:

    This looks delicious! The recipe sounds delicious! But the name sounds far less so! Thanks for sharing. I wonder if it would work in an ordinary oven; but that might not have the magic of the camp oven.

    • Charli Mills says:

      Ha, ha! Not the best name I suppose! Actually, I do believe you can bake it in the oven at 350 degrees for 40ish minutes. Not exactly sure on the time. Essentially its a cobbler that is easy to make camping or working from line cabins in the summer where you don’t have access to fresh food, thus it’s pretty much canned and boxed.

  3. Diana says:

    Next camping trip I’m making this cake. Love any dessert with cherries in it, especially made over a campfire. Thanks for the recipe and directions. Appreciated!

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