Hearth ovens, building and using
- john clark Jan 4, 2005 10:00 AM
I just found this very informative post (link below) in another thread. I wonder if anyone has anything to add to the discussion of building and using hearth ovens.
I have wanted to do this for a while and the book cited in the linked post looks like exactly what I need.
Has anyone else out there tried this? Any other resources on the topic?
The Bread Builders by Alan Scott and David Wing is the resource for a retained heat masonry oven. The ovencrafters.net web site I've linked to also has a resources list.
I'm in the middle (winter stopped me - I'm behind schedule) of the basic oven they lay out in their book with only a few modifications. The Bread Builders book is two things, first an essay on the chemistry of hearth breads and second a discussion on how to build an oven. It is not a blueprint, with step by step instructions. I have had to think through each and every part of the oven until I understand why the plan is the way it is. I have a basic understanding and practice of construction. So far I have the base built on top of an insulated slab. I also have friends who work in concrete. There plans for example call for a concrete block base and then a fascia over it. I'm using textured concrete block from the odds and ends section of a concrete block manufacturer that is down the road from work. It saves me a step at the end and money. I also made the base an extra course (I'm taller then average) and built in an ash chute to collect the ashes.
"the last time I Googled the subject, it was all squillion-dollar custom-built rigs or Agincourt-reenactors trying to cook bannock in like a mud-lined grocery sack or something."
I would be one of those Agincourt-reenactors, the difference being that I'm making several kinds of bread, tortiere quebecoise, seafood newburg en croute, boston baked beans, pizza... and will be working on Cassoulet in short order. The oven we built was, indeed, made from mud, straw, rock and gravel that we scrounged from building renovation dumpsters in the area and laboriously hand formed. The book we followed was the Kiko Denzer tome on the other message to this thread. I followed the posters link to the plans he was using and sort of chuckled a bit (no offence!)... Plans- JUST the plans- for ovens, STARTING at USD$100! That's what we PAID for our completed oven (had to buy some gravel & fire bricks)!
So yes, you might call us 'agincourt reenactors', but the fact is it's still a massive, earthen oven (that's what bricks are made of, don't forget) that works just like the squillion dollar ones (more or less), that cost me practically nothing and has lots of my blood (dropped a few stones) and sweat in it's making. My goal is to get closer to my food in every respect, and making the oven was integral to my approach. No bannock for me!
Anyway, got a bit side-tracked there... my point is, you can make an oven for practically nothing, if you're willing to do a lot of work. And the first one you make might not work very well. So you smash it down and build another one! It was a very satisfying endeavour and, for me, something of an epiphany in my culinary pursuits.
Dude I intended no offense. When I say "Agincourt reenactors" I am talking about people dressed like Aqualung, out in a field in the rain, trying to pile up enough mud to cook their sorry loaves. I certainly appreciate that the project you describe is of much greater merit. My point was that there is a wide spectrum, and one which I did not previously know was populated, between trying to cook in a hole in a creekbank or just cutting a check for thousands of dollars to a contractor for your "Imported European-Style Oven."
On Kiko Denzer's web page advertising the book you used, the guy who sells the expensive plans says that if you are going to get only one book on the subject you should get Kiko's. I bet he's right, as he seems to really know what he's talking about.
OTOH you should not discount the value of his costly plans. If you are interested in stepping up to his style of oven then you are looking at an investment of money and effort that would certainly have room to include the cost of the plans. Even if you diverge from the published plan, I am sure that he includes a level of detail that would elude anyone but another expert.
re: john clark
He he... no offense taken! Oh, I guess I'm just so happy with having made a bake oven with my own two hands for less than the cost of 'plans' that I'm on a bit of a high horse. No doubt the 'planned' ovens would work fine (most probably better!) than my little experiment... there is very much a learning curve associated with my little creation.
Hmmmm... hole in a creekbank... interesting idea, but living in a major metropolitan area, it'd be hard to find a creek that wasn't buried over sometime in the last century... :)
For me the most important aspect of the project, like I said, was to get closer to my food, in every way that I could. It was also a great experiment for the kids: you can see them on the website participating in the construction, they then help with the firing and getting the food in and out... it was a very informative, instructive hands-on experience.
Scroll down past the plans to the book - which I recommended not the plans. You don't need the plans if you have any construction experience, preferably masonry experience.
And since the original poster stated he was not into the Society for Creative Anachronism, the half of the book dedicated to bread chemistry might still be useful even if he goes the way of mud, straw, water and cut feet. However, either way, it is a lot of work as all the materials are a bit heavy.