Earthen Oven Building and Baking
This class is for folks who want a (hand-sculpted) masonry oven that requires no special materials, tools, or skills — and very little cash! With little more than hands and mud, we’ll make a wood-fired oven directly from the earth that feeds us. Your (small) kids can help (indeed, they’re likely to build their own mini-ovens!), and the result is a sculpture unlimited by the square edges of industrial bricks: a dirt-cheap, beautiful masonry oven that works just like the brick ones. (Remember that bricks are just fired clay, so fire will transform the mud of your oven into your own, very local brick.) The technology is as old as the cultivation of wheat: local soil is selected for clay content, combined with varying amounts of sand, straw, and/or sawdust, and hand-sculpted into a series of layers to absorb and hold the heat of the fire. Pizza cooks (under a live flame) in as quickly as a minute or so. After the fire is removed and the floor swept clean of ashes, you can cook sourdough loaves directly on the brick hearth in as little as 30 minutes. As the heat stored by the earthen masonry slowly declines, you’ll have hours to cook a full menu of baked and roasted meats, vegetables, pies, casseroles, stews, soups, and slow-cooked, overnight breads and puddings – not to mention drying your firewood, or your shoes!
The goal of this course is to give students a practical feel for the basic principles of retained heat ovens - as well as gaining knowledge and confidence to build an oven anywhere there is mud underfoot. As for bread, we provide starter, some important rules (Patience, Wonder, Nae Stress), and enough simple instruction to give you confidence to try whole-grain sourdough (a variant of the classic desem loaf), as well as your favorite “artisan” recipes.
Kahlil Gibran says, “work is love made visible:” the enthusiasm, love, and cooperation of many people working and learning together makes mud ovens an inspiration on many levels. The work is as physical as you like and/or want. Working together means everything gets done without too much strain. Within reason, activities will be adjusted to meet group interests and preferences.
This hands-on workshop will cover:
- materials & properties:
- identifying, testing, & sourcing clay soils
- mixing, shaping, sculpting
- adapting mixes to maximize: mass, insulation, conduction, resistance
- building the oven, from foundation to finish
- quick mini-ovens you can build in an hour
- principles & steps for whole-grain, naturally leavened bread
- fire, heat, temperature, cooking
- heating the oven: fuel, firing, efficiency
- baking in the oven: time, temperature, measurement
You will need the following tools for this class:
- workgloves (not necessary, but if your hands are sensitive or you just prefer the protection, you might want your favorite waterproof or water-resistant gloves).
- foot protection for stomping/mixing mud: also not necessary, unless you have very tender feet. We’ll be mixing coarse river sand, clayey subsoil, and straw.
- rubber boots or lightweight shoes (“aqua sox” or elastic slip-on shoes) all work, but barefoot is most fun. Slip-on sandals are nice to have between mixes.
- a sample of your local sub-soil, so we can compare and contrast (bring at least a cup to a quart).
- skin lotion (mud/earth can have a drying effect; I prefer pure lanolin applied before I start)
- sun hat, sun protection, change of clothes
- rain gear (we hope this will just be insurance)
- water bottle
- camera, paper and pen/pencil for notes/records, etc.
- photos of your own work to share with the group, or any other information/inspiration that seems interesting/applicable
- We will break each day for lunch so either bring a bag lunch or plan to drive to a nearby restaurant. Please bring any snacks or emergency rations you might need, especially if you have special dietary needs, and feel free to bring contributions if you like!
- Book: Build Your Own Earth Oven by Kiko Denzer with Hannah Field (may be available from the North House School Store - www.northhouse.org)
Once registered, students will receive a confirmation email with further class information. Please call us if you haven't received it within 24 hours.