Wednesday, March 19, 2008


The big day finally arrived: the oven was ready for use! Odel and I have moved to Rosanna's, just steps from the oven, and we have three days to experiment before we head off.

Day One got off to a great start. Rosanna has a huge stash of very dry wood, the remnants of her neighbor Marvin's woodworking projects. We gathered a couple of boxes of wood, newspaper and a firestarter and got ready to fire 'er up.

I brought the infrared thermometer gun (which we use for checking our tires at rest stops when we are on the road), a notepad and a pen so we could periodicially check temperatures and make notes. My little chart has six points for measuring temperature: the apex of the oven on the outside, the floor near the front, the floor in the center, and three points on the inside walls - straight back, right, and left.

It has been cold here, and our hearth bricks around the walls of the oven were still damp! I doubt that our foundation has ever been warm, as nighttime temperature have frequently dropped below freezing. The temperature in the center of the floor was 51 degrees; the floor on the south side, where the sun warms the wall daily, was 7 degrees warmer; the floor on the north side, infrequently warmed by the sun, was 11 degrees cooler.

Because our oven is not huge (though perhaps we should have made it a little smaller!), because we weren't going to be baking loaf after loaf of bread, and because we were too darned impatient, we burned our fire for just two hours - making notes constantly. We took temperature readings again (at least on the spots not covered in coals or flames) every 30 minutes, and timed the frequency at which the fire required more wood.

After two hours of firing, the top of the oven on the outside had gone from 75 degrees to 112 degrees - we could lay our hands on it, but not keep them there long. Without the cob insulation, it was not possible to keep your hands on the clay when a fire was burning, so we concluded that our insulation paid off. The floor near the front of the oven had gone from 47 chilly degrees to 430 degrees, and the temperature of the back wall was a blistering 650 degrees (from 52 cold).

And, we were HUNGRY. We scrapped the coals out of the oven into a metal bucket, then wiped the oven floor with a wet t-shirt on the end of a stick - yes, this is the "approved" technique, recommended in the book! We wrapped the wooden door (which had been soaking in water) in a wet towel, fitted it in place, and trooped inside to create our individual pizzas while the oven "soaked" in heat - the 30 minute rest period that allows the heat to equalize throughout the oven.

It's lucky Rosanna has a big kitchen - we had pizza crusts, toppings, and people working everywhere, full of excitement and hunger. Rosanna had made a big batch of sourdough bread/pizza dough, with a backup ball of Trader Joe's yeast pizza dough. We had raided our refrigerator to contribute pesto, marinara sauce, goat cheese, marinated feta, mozzarella, jalapenos, chicken sausage, fresh tomatoes and fresh basil.

We learned immediately that Rosanna's sourdough bread dough was far superior to TJ's yeast dough, but we each made a pizza with both. Our pizzas were ready by the time the "soaking" had finished, and we trooped back out with pizzas, the new pizza "peel", and cornmeal to lubricate the peel so the pizza wouldn't stick.

Before we put a pizza in the oven, we took another series of temperature readings, and were disappointed. The back wall was 370 degrees, the middle of the floor was 395 degrees. The inside of the southern wall, which was warmed by the sun every day and presumably dry (or drier) was 335 degrees; the north wall, thicker, wetter and colder when we began, was only 300 degrees. These temperatures were suitable for bread, but we wanted a far higher starting point for our pizzas.

In the name of science, we plunged ahead, placing two pizzas in the oven. After 10 minutes, they were edible - if you were as hungry as we were! Luckily, we are fast learners and quickly grasped that a pizza stone in the indoor oven would yield superior results... which you can see in this picture!

So... our first cooking experiment in the clay oven was a qualified success. Next up: a loaf of sourdough bread. While Carol zipped inside to get the backup oven heating, we slide Rosanna's little sourdough loaf into the cooling clay oven.

An hour and a half later, we were completely full of delicious, homemade pizza and Zinfandel - and the bread was DONE! Our too-cool oven hadn't resulted in a lovely, crispy brown loaf, but it was cooked and delicious. I had room for one bite!

What did we learn? Our oven has thermal MASS, and both it and it's foundation are COLD and a bit damp. Until they are both completely dry, a two-hour fire won't do the trick. Today we are going to start the fire early and burn it long, hoping to completely dry the walls and floor. We'd like to have the temperature of the floor and walls above 600 degrees when we start our pizzas tonight.

A couple last notes on the temperature: The low temperature here last night was 27 degrees. We had left the door of then oven closed. At 7 am, Odel measured the temperature of the oven floor in the center: 82 degrees! We are making progress.


  1. Oh, it is soooooooo much FUN!!!!!

  2. the pizzas is looking great mouth watering
    I love odel Tshirt

  3. Congratulations on your first outdoor oven "appetisers" and loaf!

    I know you are perfecting it to invite us over.....