Beehive Oven: how we did it, why we did it, what it was like.

    Below are various photographs (my apologies if some of them are not 
    horizontal---I haven't sorted that out yet). These pictures are of 
    my crew as they built an excellent rendition of a beehive oven for 
    use at an SCA event. I wanted the oven, partly as an experiment in 
    period baking techniques, but also to provide the bread for an early 
    Irish feast we were planning. As you can see, the oven was a smashing
    success.
    
    We used field stone from a local stone wall (indigenous stone to 
    N.E. Pa, USA), which is relatively flat and somewhat uniformly 
    shaped. It was thus easy to arrange the stone into shapes that 
    would work well as our round oven. On advice from another 'oven 
    expert', we used a 14" clay flower pot as the top half of the 
    oven rather than stone. In retrospect, the stone corbelled nicely 
    and we will probably use all stone next year. The photos below show 
    the stages of the oven building process which, all in all, took 
    about 3 hours to build. While some folks use a huge layer of clay 
    or mud as insulation, this was not available to us. Instead we used 
    the sod we cut from the fire pits. As an insulator it worked quite 
    well so long as we ensured that the chinks were all filled in with
    dirt between the stone (dirt excavated from the fire pits and the 
    oven floor). A large stone was found to use as a hearthstone, and 
    this proved to be the perfect touch, ensuring our success.
    
    How to fire and use an earthen oven:
    
    Use kindling to start a small fire inside the oven. Chop firewood 
    into slim, short pieces and use these to build a quick, hot fire. 
    Keep this fire going fairly strong (fire shooting out the top hole 
    (if you have one) is appropriate so long as you do not set the camp 
    on fire! We pre-heated the oven for the length of time it took the 
    bread to go through 2 risings on a chilly day (about 3 hours). By 
    this time we judged it had stored enough heat to bake our bread. 
    The fire was shovelled out and the ashes swept out quickly, and the 
    loaves were placed in side. The oven was sealed with a rock door 
    that had also been pre-heated (use thick leather gloves to handle 
    large, hot rocks!). The bread baked in the expected amount of time. 
    The oven had to go through another brief firing in order to bake a 
    second batch.
    
    Why bother? I hypothesized that when the oven used was different 
    from our modern ovens, the end product would be different from bread
    baked in a modern oven. I was absolutely correct, and don't mind if 
    I seem silly when I brag about it. You see, bread baked in such a 
    manner has a rougher crust, and retains some of the flavor of the 
    woodsmoke. Nothing I can describe to you can impart the experience 
    of a wholemeal loaf baked with fruitwood or maplewood smoke. You
    simpy must experience it some time in your life!
    
    In the pictures of this oven, you will notice my architects: 
    Gerhardt (in black, an invaluable historic cook), Val (baseball cap),
    my SCA son and general bad-boy-with-a-good-heart, known to be game 
    for any of my cooking adventures,and Hans (blonde ponytail--who knew
    a jeweler could also work with stone?). My undying thanks go to them
    for a job well done. 
    
    For questions or comments feel free to contact me at liontamr@ptd.net 
    Resources: The Regia Anglorum web page (linked elsewhere in my pages),
    and the book BREAD AND SALT, detailing food history in Russia and 
    slavic countries. There is some excellent information about oven
    construction there. The library of Congress Web page search engines 
    should be able to locate the ISBN number for you for the use of 
    locating the book through Inter-library Loan or at the bookstore.
    
    Sincerely,
    
    
    Aoife
    


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more oven pics: See the rest of the beehive oven construction process here!
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