If you have been following along with me you know by now that our house has a beautiful fireplace in the dining area that was built for cooking. It even has a bake oven or bread oven, pizza oven as they are sometimes called.
Last winter I tried to make a pizza inside of this oven but I had no idea how to do it. I read whatever I could find on the internet, which isn’t much and gave it a shot. Needless to say my pizza was a flop, half of the dough was cooked and burnt while the other half was still raw. So this year I decided that I would do my best to find out more information and keep trying until I got it right. Luckily for me one of the previous owners stopped by awhile back to introduce herself and see what we had done to the house since she had lived here. She told us great stories about this house and showed us things we would never have found on our own like secret doors, compartments and where she had dumped her horse manure and turned the soil into black gold perfect for my gardens. Just recently she emailed me an article from a magazine that this house was featured in and a hand written note from the original owner with instructions for firing up the bake oven. I was in business! Now I could try once again to cook in this beautiful oven and hopefully it would be a success.
Yesterday was a cold, windy day and after a morning outside tending to the farm folk I was freezing and hungry. I was ready to come in to get warm and I wanted to make something comforting for dinner. I decided to make a chicken chili stew and a pan of corn bread. I figured that would satisfy my hunger but I was still cold. One glance into the dining room and I knew what I would do. I decided to experiment with my bake oven and attempt baking the cornbread inside it. I pulled out my hand written instructions and went to work. Within 3 hours my family and I sat down to a delicious, hearty dinner complete with cornbread cooked in my bake oven.
Here are the instructions, word for word that I was given.
Firing your bake oven
- In a nutshell you will be building a fire in the bake oven to heat the bricks. When sufficiently heated, you will remove the fire, let the oven cool to required temperature, load it with your items to be baked, place the door in front and bake.
- The oven should be fired up with a soft wood kindling (ex. white pine)
- Place a large pile of kindling on the central floor of the oven piled in a lattice or “Lincoln log” pattern. Keep it 6 in. from the walls of the oven to allow for air circulation and even heating of the bricks.
- Soon after lighting, the bricks will turn black with soot.
- Keep a roaring fire going by adding kindling. The smoke (and some flames) will exit the oven along the top edge and go up the fireplace flue. (the door is off for firing)
- After about one hour of firing, the bricks will burn clean (no soot). You now stop the firing ( adding kindling) and the oven will be at 600 degrees.
- Remove all the fire and ash. A peel (wooden or iron) works well for this and then a straw broom to sweep the oven floor clean ( dip the broom in water first or it may catch fire )
- Let the oven cool with the door still off. It will be at 350 if you put your arm in the oven and can count to 12 before saying OUCH! ( or you can use an oven thermometer if you don’t want to be a real colonial…)
- Load the oven, back to front, longest cooking items in first. For example, baked beans in first, then bread then pies. Breads can be backed right on the oven floor. Don’t place items against the walls…again for better more even heat circulation.
- Place door in front of oven…it fits snuggly into the stonework and seals pretty well. Cook times are about the same as in a modern oven. The oven is continuously, slowly cooling off so try not to take too many peeks inside as it will then cool off more quickly. You have one shot at baking then you must do the whole firing process again. With some experience you gain a real feel for your ovens characteristics and just “know” when the temps are right and things are done
- Note: About 30 tons of masonry went into building the central chimney. Surrounding the bake oven is much sand and rubble stone which insulates it. This keeps the cooling in the oven to a minimum and protects the surrounding house structure (nothing is close anyway) from any possible fire.
That last line is good to know because I would not want to have to explain to my local fire department how I burned the entire house down making cornbread in my bake oven!
I am currently working on the story of this house having learned much by talking to neighbors, reading that wonderful magazine article I was given and visiting with one of the previous owners. It is a story I am sure you will enjoy as the man that built this house and left these baking instructions was a man that put his heart and soul into what is now my home.
~ Thank you John ~