Over the weekend, my family went to a reenactment of the French and Indian War. I learned so much asking the reenactors a billion questions about each skill they were demonstrating.
One of my favorites was the earth oven. I didn’t get to take as many photos as I would have liked, because I had a husband and four children yanking on me from all directions (so much to do, so much to see!), but I took a few shots and was able to ask enough questions to satisfy my curiosity. I basically asked the demonstrator everything I could think of about how they built the oven and how they use it.
The first thing they did was build the frame of the box. As you can see, it was a roughly constructed log-cabin style frame. The sole purpose of this was to raise the firebox to a convenient level. They then filled the box in with dirt.
Next, they placed flat rocks (or maybe one large flat rock) on top of the dirt, to act as the floor of the oven.
To build the oven over the flat rock(s), they used sticks to create a skeleton, bending and weaving them into a dome. They then packed the outside and inside of the skeleton frame with clay (which was dug up locally), leaving an opening for the door, which was framed out with wood.
A structure was built over the oven to protect it from the elements. A fire was started 2 hours before the baking was to begin, in order to preheat the oven. They recommended using oak with maybe a little bit of pine (not too much pine because of the resin), because oak doesn’t impart any undesirable flavor to the bread. Before placing the bread dough in the oven, they scooped the hot coals out and scraped remaining ashes off the stone for a cleaner surface. There was a pit to the left of the photo where they dumped the coals.
I watched as the lady threw a handful of flour into the oven, and then let her husband know it was ready. I asked how she knew, and they said that if you throw flour into the oven and watch it, it should turn golden by the count of 14. Then you know it’s about 300*.
I wish I’d taken a picture of the bread, but there leaning against the post is the wooden paddle they used to place the dough into the hot oven. They were round loaves of what they called “dark bread” (not sure what that means exactly). Once the bread was in the oven, a wooden door was placed over the opening, and the residual heat would continue the baking for about 20 minutes (unless it was windy, then it may take a little longer). The man threw a cloth over the door, probably to help hold in the heat even better.
It fit about 6 good sized round loaves in there (a great way to only have to bake once a week, and all at once!)
I’d love to build something like this myself one day. Imagine how delicious pizzas would be!