Dateline: 2 October 2007
My last three blog entries were about our recent three-day family vacation to Pennsylvania. On two of those days we went to a sustainable energy festival. The festival introduced us to a lot of new ideas. One of the best ideas I saw is an old idea that is becoming popular once again.... mud ovens.
Here’s a picture of a very simple mud oven that was built at the festival last year:
We stopped by the mud oven many times during the two days to study and watch it bake pizzas. Here’s a picture of a just-cooked pizza coming out of the oven (look closely and you can see another pizza is still in there).
A mud oven is incredibly simple to make and use. First, let me tell you how it is made: A layer of firebrick is placed on a solid surface as a base. Then a circle is drawn on the firebrick (27” diameter will work). The circle is an outline for a half-circle dome of damp sand that you then place, pack down, and shape by hand (it's around 16” high). Once the sand dome mold is made, a 4” thick layer of clay/sand mix is carefully packed over it.
When the clay/sand mud has dried a bit (but not completely), a door is cut into the dome. Then the sand is scraped out and a small fire is built in the oven chamber to cure the mud.
After the mud is cured, a layer of clay-and-sawdust “insulation” mix is packed over the whole oven. Chopped straw can be used in place of the sawdust. The oven in the above pictures had bits of straw sticking out of the surface.
That is how you build a mud oven. There is more to it. I have simplified the process. But even with added details, it is still a very simple thing to build a mud oven. So simple, in fact, that I think I can do it. I'll bet you could do it too.
I purchased a book att he festival titled Build Your Own Earth Oven. It tells everything you need to know to make very inexpensive mud oven.
Such ovens are incredibly functional. In addition too cooking a pizza in 3 to 5 minutes, you can cook bread and anything else you would cook in a regular household oven. The flavor of foods cooked in an earth oven is said to be better than modern ovens. My son James had an earth oven pizza and said is was great.
To use the oven, a small, hot fire is built inside it. The heat of the fire is absorbed by the mass of the mud. It will get up to 600 degrees pretty quick—--just right for cooking pizza. The coals are then removed, or they can be pushed back out of the way. No electricity is needed. No propane gas of any kind is needed. Just a small amount of firewood. This is sustainability, efficiency, survival, and FUN in a simple heap of dried earth. I am inspired.
A man I work with was born in Italy. He moved with his family to America when he was 12 years old. He told me his grandparents had a simple earth oven in their back yard. He said everyone in Italy had such ovens, and used them all the time. He says you can make the best dried tomatoes in these ovens with the heat down low. I am inspired.
Last year when we went to the farmer’s market in Ithaca, NY, there were people there selling pizza made in an earth oven that they pulled to the market on a trailer. I didn't pay that close of attention. But I noticed they were selling a lot of pizza. Now Marlene is thinking that, instead of making hand-cranked ice cream at events as a money maker, maybe pizzas from a portable earth oven would be better.
Maybe it would be. But before we get to that point, I hope to build some sort of an earth oven in my back yard next year.
Making the oven, heating it up, cooking the food, eating the food... it is shared experiences like those that create memories, establish family traditions, and help to bring a family closer together.
That is a good thing. I'm inspired. Stay tuned.....