Saturday, February 21, 2009


Just about a year ago, we built an earth (clay) oven at Paws and Hooves Ranch, using materials from the immediately surrounding area: clay from the back acreage, gravel and sand from a nearby wash. The finishing touch was a two-inch layer of cob (a mixture of clay and straw - in the form of horse manure) to protect the clay from Arizona's summertime monsoon.

We decorated the oven with a few raised designs so we would have a way to measure, visually, how much the cob weathered and eroded after the rains. The photo to the left shows the oven in pristine condition in March of 2008.

During the monsoon season of 2008, the oven was drenched with 15 inches of rain, the highest rainfall Rosanna has recorded here in several years. The photo on the right shows the condition of the oven yesterday: the raised designs are visible but a bit melted, and there are some noticeable cracks in the cob.

A couple of weeks ago, we took step one towards re-cobbing the oven: we dug enough clay to fill 5 kitty litter buckets (any bucket will do, but if you have 9 cats, kitty litter buckets are easy to come by) half full. We added water and let them sit until the day arrived to make the cob. That day was today. Here is the recipe:

Remove the ice from the top of the water in the buckets of wet clay (top left), and dump them into a wheelbarrow. Add two teapots of boiling water to warm up the almost-freezing clay mixture (top right)! Have a big pile of (preferably) fresh horse manure on hand.

Put on dishwashing (or, for RV'ers, dumping) gloves (top left). After removing all the rocks and pebbles from the clay (by hand), add the manure (aka "horse apples"), breaking the apples up by hand - very good for strengthening your grip. Mix thoroughly to incorporate all the ingredients (upper right) until the mixture is thick, uniform, and wet enough to stick but dry enough not to slump - in other words, PERFECT (bottom).

Slap the mud/manure mixture (so much nicer to say "cob") onto the oven in big, mushy handfuls, melding the cob together to encase the oven smoothly. Add a few decorative flourishes, admire, then go wash the mud off the buckets, the wheelbarrow, the hoe, your hands, nose, and eyeglasses. Scrub your shoes, and under your fingernails. Take a break.

That seemed like a reasonably full day's work, but we had a long "to-do" list and felt energized. Odel took off in the truck to get hay and alfalfa for Rosanna's horses. After he came home and unloaded all the bales, we programmed the new tire pressure monitor (the first one turned out to be defective). While he drained and changed the coolant in the generator, I worked on pinning a new zipper on the front of a favorite jacket, and Rosanna sewed the zipper in place for me. Odel tore off to the hardware store before they closed to get a part to fix the ice-maker (this project is still underway).

While we all worked on our projects, Auntie Carol made our dinner: Eggplant Parmesan, a big green salad, and carrot cake. What a treat! Plenty of wine to go with it..., you'll understand this: An hour ago, Odel started our little propane heater for the night, found a movie on TV he wanted to watch, and stretched out on the bed with the remote in his hand. I heard him mute the TV during the first commercial break... and it never came back on. All I hear is a gentle snoring, all I see when I peer back there is the glow of the TV. Yes, it was a BUSY day!


  1. And a FUN one!!! THANKS so much for all of your help!!!!!!!

  2. Now that the WORK is done, we wish we could be there with you to enjoy the fun & Carol's cooking. However, it's hard to beat where we are too.
    Hugs, JoAnn

  3. What's amazing is to remember the pictures from last summer when the grass was so high, I couldn't even see the oven! Enjoy the pizza!