Saturday, April 26, 2008

wood fired pizza or corn in my cob

I've been dreaming of owning a wood fired oven for a long time. To me, it just seems like the ultimate marriage of simple technology and fantastic results. Besides, with all the home made bread we do around here, it seems inevitable that it would be high on my wish list. Over the past year I've done some reading on the subject to familiarize myself with the probability of building my own. I figure, I'm a do it yourselfer, right down to the doing it yourself part, so this past week I finally "got my ass in gear" and did something about it.

I started by making a willow frame to help shape my earthen oven. A few days previous, I trimmed the willow in the backyard, so I had ample material on hand. I stripped off a few switches and started weaving a basket of sorts. It reminded me of tying together sticks into an "x" way back in grade school and then weaving yarn around the sticks to give them strength. I repeated this procedure a few more times and added several sticks. When I was happy with the shape, I set it on the floor to let the kids have at it. I thought, if they don't destroy it after abusing it for an hour, then it just might be strong enough to support some mud on top of it.

When the willow was being trimmed, I also played with the various bricks we had in the backyard to envision a base for my oven. With the arrangement I felt would work best with the materials at hand (one of the biggest goals of the whole endeavor) I placed our willow basket on top. It appeared that the size would work nice. I scraped the nice topsoil from our garden and dug a hole in the nice clayey stuff at the bottom. Tossing the dirt into a wheel barrow along with a bucket of trimmed, leftover hay from last year, then adding some good old H20 and mixing thoroughly, we were ready for some construction.

The princess "Cobina" was on hand to bless the work. After mudding in the bottom bricks to keep them stable and in place I started working my way up. When the willow frame was reached, I covered it with some thick paper bags and newspaper and tried to tuck this in to keep it in place. The weight of the mud was pushing in and distorting the paper layer so I packed the void space with some small blocks of wood and a few bricks. I continued on my way up, and after reaching about two-thirds of the way to the top, began just slapping mud everywhere and concentrating on achieving a nice round shape.

After sitting overnight, I was anxious to see if it fared all right and had dried ever so slightly. All looked well, no slumping or distortion had occurred during the night, so I went ahead and cut access to the packing material and emptied it. I now had a pile of small blocks of peach wood that would be returned a few at a time to their former residence, though much, much hotter. After about 6 hours of flame, the outside of the oven was nearly completely dry to the touch. The inside was blistering hot, so I put a large tile over the entrance and went inside for an hour to see how it held heat.

When I came back out, there was still some heat, but not enough for baking some pizza. I tried one anyway, but the bottom was the only thing cooking rapidly. I took it out and re-lit a small fire on one side. After it was burning for about twenty minutes, I raked the coals over to the other side, swept up the ashes some and put in another pizza. This time, the bottom cooked nicely, but the side nearest the flame was getting burnt to a crisp. By pizza number three, I had the heat and rotation aspects worked out and started making some decent looking pies.

Well, there you have it: wood fired pizza from my cob oven. The sourdough cornmeal crust, carmelized onions, mushrooms and pesto were all locally sourced. The mud for the oven came from under my feet. Now that, is local.

So come on. If this looks intriguing to you, go do some reading and build one yourself. Really, they are quite easy. You play with sticks, dirt, water and hard can it be? In fact, while making the cob part I was thinking how it was like the adobe bricks and tiles we made as school children back in 4th grade at the Sonoma Mission while on a field trip. Simple technology, simple building materials, just give 'em a little knowledge and watch 'em go!

So, if you doubt your own abilities, then ask yourself: have you graduated 4th grade? Do you have some dirt in your backyard? Love wood fired pizza? Then get to work and make yourself a cob oven. Do it!


K & S said...

wow! that is impressive. way to go :)

Kimberly said...

I am impressed...waiting on an invite for Pizza...xxoo's Mom

cookiecrumb said...

We can do this???
I mean, you did. You can.
Can I?
I am so totally impressed.
And inspired.

leena! said...

Man, if I owned some earth or even just a backyard, I would be all over this. Good job, Monkey man. The pizza looks delicious!

Zoomie said...

Now, that is truly cool! You go, guy! By the way, I can't get over the growth and development of your youngest "monkey" in just the few months since Cookiecrumb's party! Amazing!

Chilebrown said...

How did the fire draw? I am very impressed. Did you do any planning on your basket? I took 'Underwater Basket Weaving' in college. There is a formula for the height and door size for best draw.
You want to have a beer at the Belgian place this week?

Monkey Wrangler said...

Kat: Thanks!

Ma: Soon.

Cookie: Yes we can.
I can.
You can.
We can even do one without cans.....well, not without Budweiser cans, but maybe no other cans.
If you want, I'd gladly help you in any way.

Leena: No earth for you? Drag. Soon I'm sure. Maybe good old 'merican dirt huh?

Zoomie: Thanks. And yep, that little one ain't so little anymore. He's damn near 1!

Chile: It drew flame alright. On firing number two, I altered the door a bit with a hand held sawzall blade as I lit the fire. It seemed to give it a better draw. I have yet totake any strict measurements, but I certainly kept in mind the formula for the dimensions that I got from the book you loaned me.

Belgian beer? At the Trappist? Perhaps Saturday afternoon, pre A's game.......

Rev. Biggles said...

Congratulations, you did what thousands of people have been threatening to do for years, include me in that count.

Will be interested to see how long those bricks last. Let me know if you find a local source for firebrick. Our building supply places don't carry 'em.


Rev. Biggles said...

Oh, and no. Have you ever seen The Simpsons? Even seen Homer build anything? I should not be building ovens.


Mimi said...

Great oven. I was laughing at how cute and small it is until I saw that you saved $2000.
Now maybe you'll be laughing!

HipWriterMama said...

Wow! This is so impressive. You're totally spoiling your family. Plus you'll never get rid of your kids' friends--a good way to keep an eye on them. ;-)

Monkey Wrangler said...

Biggles: Yep, thousands I'm sure. And nope, not much fire brick around these parts. If you look at the pic with the basket on top of the bricks you only see three "fire" bricks set on the sides of my pizza stone that I used for the center. This will be a prototype until I find more fire brick in fact.......

Mimi: I know, like hella bucks for such items! But they work great..........

Hip: I hope I'm spoiling them. And thanks for the tip on being able to keep an eye on them; I hadn't thought of it that way.

renae said...

Your oven reminds me of the paper mache masks I made in elementary school. I'm pretty impressed that you got the cooking technique down so quickly.