It has been our dream to get off the grid, and build a safe environment for our daughters. There are basically four things to do: install a panoply of solar panels and/or purchase a small wind turbine (easier said than done, believe me); sink a water well (that is costly but ultimately viable), plow a portion of available land and purchase a plastic tunnel with the view of becoming self-reliant on vegetables, and build a kick-ass hearth oven, one that will withstand the fierce westerly winds and heavy winter rains of our Emerald Isle. Well, because I seem to start at the end, I’ve built a neat cooking/roasting/baking device that will be around for quite a few decades.
As you can see the finished product is now ready, complete with twin chimneys, and what follows over the jump is a pictorial diary of its construction, brick by brick!
First, a few words about building a masonry oven that will produce rustic hearth loaves: it is a lengthy and costly affair but well worth it in the long run. Well over a ton of re-enforced concrete went into it, some recycled 250 firebricks of two different sizes, roughly 300 building blocks, also recycled, 200 ordinary red paving bricks, steel rods lengths, chicken wire & foil, and several weeks of hard labor, dodging the rain, insects and our four doggies who became rather interested in the activity.
During my sojourn in OZ I had heard of Alan Scott, the famed Australian designer & builder of masonry ovens and purchased his book online, now in its eleventh printing. A friend of mine had built a similar oven in Sydney in the eighties and I was suitably impressed by his amazing rye loaves and light baguettes among other goodies he baked.
First, the delivery of building blocks & cement. It won’t be the last. My friend Terry, who is building this contraption, warned me that this would not be an overnight project. Well, we started this around mid May. Instructions of the plan must be observed to a T, a small mistake and a variety of problems would beset us: the roof can cave if not built to precision, the firebricks must be aligned properly or heat won’t be retained, the heated mass of the oven must be isolated from the foundation to reduce heat loss and to prevent cracking of the foundation when the oven is heated, firebricks hearths that transfer heat to the bread must have the correct rate when the oven is properly heated etc….
Now the base must be allowed to dry out for at least 5 days before the next stage.
It’s a good thing we built this eating area nearby last year.
Sorting out which firebricks will make the lineup! Playing with fire, really.
Next is the building of the dry and wet walls, and the support for this oven. The next stage is crucial: the second re-enforced concrete base must be strong to withstand intense heat.
As you can see lengths of steel rods have been inserted into the second base.
It’s all good! We can now play with the firebricks (which have traveled from County Kildare) and get a feel for it.
Two of my daughters have decided to make an impromptu musical act and are mimicking Lady Gaga!
Now comes the trickiest part of this oven: arching the bricks, and covering them fast with concrete.
A side view of the oven. Next is the chimney and the insertion of twin flues.
A wooden box must be built to strengthen the roof with chicken wire and foil, before pouring in more concrete.
The concrete is now poured and this must dry for a few days before resuming work.
Bessie has kept a keen eye on the pups during the building. Not one has strayed!
Almost done. The ash box has been made with stainless steel and the oven door (which weighs 20 pounds) has been fashioned with tempered steel. The guy who did this for me even put my initials to it, and the date! I didn’t ask, but I kinda like it.
Next, the finishing touches: a red brick wall on either side and a roof made with slate from the famous Valentia island. A coat of paint and it’s done. I have bought some very special Celtic tiles to adorn the oven (8 of them) and I’ll fix them next week.
The wood has come. It is mostly spruce and grown locally for this purpose. Each acre is replanted when depleted.
So we have baked some bread last night. In any case my partner had started her sourdough fermentation last week, and was way ahead of me. She waited patiently for the heat to become tolerable and baked her first rustic rye! We ate it with lashings of butter.
Well, Bobbie and me are going to bake….not now, as it is raining but we plan to bake twice a week. Now comes the fun: I have to learn the meaning of acid in pH, the art of making leavens, proofing loaves, working with new flours such as amaranth, buckwheat; understanding the process of natural fermentation, the autolyse stage, the paradox of salt, and so much more. It’s going to be fun.