Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Tweaking the Bakeoven

[Apologies. Two, no, THREE shows at the theatre intervened. One, 22 actors, 23 characters; then 4 actors, and 22 or 23 or 24 characters. I lost track! And the last one, A Christmas Carol with eleven mainstage actors and a choir of 75, all in Victorian costume... This should have been posted ages ago!]

So, long long ago, up north on a friend's farm where we have an annual historical event, we built a bread oven. We'd actually envisioned it being used as a community bread oven for them what likes to bake bread. Of course, visiting the site only once a year does not make for healthy and productive maintenance.
We'd already discovered with our experiments here at our place, that weather can take a huge toll on an unsheltered, infrequently used stone oven.
Add to the general wear and tear of weather and time, the fact that one short weekend, full of a number of other time intensive projects (building a forge, smelting iron, making glass beads, earthworks and levelling...) meant that the oven just wasn't getting regular TLC. And with the passage of more than a decade, it was in sad shape indeed.

So, it was very exciting this year that a couple of ladies decided they'd like to put some effort into restoring the oven to its former glory and usefulness.

With the home oven, we'd already experimented with a number of building methods: stone, stone and sod, stone and clay, overhead cover, and eventually had just decided to mortar it. The snow load in our area is quite heavy, and the freeze/thaw cycles are extreme. Local clay eventually just degraded away. (Something we are now watching experimentally in our iron smelters.)
So our ladies decided to try a more effective attempt with clay, and brought a better grade with them. We'll have to see how it fares.

Their first step was just to find the oven!

It had been a very rainy summer this year, and the bracken was thriving. Normally the oven shows up a little bit better...

They had to clear away the bracken and accumulated dried vegetation, broken bits and pieces, and make sure the original stones were seated firmly. Then they mixed up their clay and began a serious mortaring effort. After getting thoroughly muddy in the process, they were eventually rewarded with an oven-like object, and were able to make a small fire to preheat and dry the clay.
"Useful tools" were found and created. Other friends had slaughtered one of their ducks and brought it to pluck and cook. A wing became useful to sweep out ashes. Another friend cut and carved a peel (a thin wooden paddle that allows you to slide the bread into the oven.)

Wood for the real heating was prepared, and the fire in the oven started. When it was deemed hot enough, the remains of the fire were swept out, and a loaf of bread dough placed inside, and the opening blocked with a stone. Later, after nightfall, the bread was removed, and declared a success.
Hopefully, next year the oven will still be in decent enough shape that so much time won't be spent on preparing it, and more time can be spent on using it. Ideally, if the heating is started earlier (not late in the day at the end of the weekend!) we may be able to use the oven to bake several things, utilizing the temperature curve that is part of the natural process.