Today, as we were working on the Masonary stove, Jax decided that while we were waiting for Fernando, the maestro, to lay the bricks we could build a temporary bread oven and make some bread for the work crew, their wives that often hang out embroidering and my brothers. My first thought was, no way! But he ignored my comments and proceeded to start his project. I went inside to keep helping the maestros, but they had lit a fire in the old kitchen “stove”/hole and unlike them, I could not breath inside the house. Side note: The first day the maestros were working in “La Casita”, they lit a fire and the house immediately filled with smoke, I asked them if they minded the smoke and they said that they grew up with a wood-burning stoves and that their houses were full of smoke most nights. – Note to self: research health consequences of breathing so much smoke, especially the effects on young children and newborns. Later on the day, Jax noticed them putting a variety of PLASTICS in the fire! – Second note to self: try to organize a campaign to stop the plastic burning practice.
Anyway, after the house was full of smoke my only option was helping Jax on his project, which turned out to be a great project, especially when my brothers arrived to help.
Instructions: For those of you who want to try it at home.
The first thing to know is that it is a mud oven and that it needs a roof or it might “melt” in the rain.
The first step is to gather clay-rich dirt and mix it with water. The ratio is probably 8 buckets of dirt to 1 1/2 of water – maybe. The goal is to obtain a dough-like consistency that you can form into a ball, drop it to the ground and its shape doesn’t “smush” more than half – aka no pancakes. After you have your mud, get some friends together and walk all over it for 5-10 minutes, let it sit, then maybe walk on it again for good measure.
The next step is to lay some sort of flat surface/foundation – it can be wood, concrete, whatever – it just needs to be sturdy and flat. Then lay floor of bricks on top of that. Next, form a steep-sided dome 16 inches tall with four more buckets of dirt (just dirt). After you have your dome, lay wet newspaper on top of it, until it is all covered.
Now you get to use the mud. Lay four-finger-wide clumps of mud in a circle around the dome. Keep adding layer after layer of these clumps, working your way up the dome sides. Here it is important to press down, rather than into the dome – as the supporting “form” can be easily misshapen. An easy way to do this is to put one hand on top of your clump of mud and the other as a “wall” to keep the mud from smushing out more than 4-fingers wide.
The next step – we have not done yet:
After letting your dome dry, for about 2-24 hours, you cut a door out (like a jack-o-lantern lid and start taking the inside dirt out from the inside. After the dome is clear of dirt and you’ve reached the newspaper, you light a small drying fire and voila! It may take a few small drying fires before you are ready for a real firing and a batch of bread.
Tomorrow, we will finish the oven and add the rest of the photos. In the next weeks, we will be building a permanent bread oven outside “La Casita”. Stay tuned.