Sunday, September 9, 2018

Kindred Works

I was recently in Shelburne, Nova Scotia.  There on the waterfront, in a building that two hundred years ago was a cooper's shop AND was rebuilt in the 90's for the set of "The Scarlet Letter", I met Raymond Rhuland, a real barrel-maker.

logs become staves

Aside from the infinitely specialized equipment for shaping and forming barrels, Raymond was infinitely approachable, a laid-back artisan, who in the latter part of his life, enjoys talking about barrels as well as the northeast penchant for just 'visiting'.

During the few days I spent in Shelburne, he showed me the process from which a log is transformed into a barrel.  I've sometimes looked at barrels.  I acknowledged that they are made of staves (shaped and bent pieces of wood).  But I hadn't known of the kindred process in which the making of a barrel is akin to the making of the brick ovens I build.

Firstly, the  raw materials don't at first suggest either a round hollow container in either of our cases.
Secondly, precision is required to bring the raw materials to the point where we can assemble them into the round, hollow containers.
Thirdly, the assembly of the pieces requires both specialized tools AND experience.
AND lastly, there are very few of us doing this by hand.

Most of the barrels used in making wine or whiskey are manufactured in large factories by the thousands otherwise whiskey would be either expensive and rare OR it would be made in our backyards...hmmm?

Pipe Barrel from 1700's
In Nova Scotia, in the past, barrels were used for packing dried cod.  Raymond said in the past, his yearly production was over a thousand barrels and he had employees.  Now, it's just he and his partner Donna, and the barrels are mostly for ornament (barstools, buckets, etc).

I asked Raymond about what he'd like to do when he stops making barrels.
"I want to make pizza in a brick oven!"

There you go...

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Masons who Bake in Brick Ovens

First Oven
Twelve years ago, when I built my first brick oven, I wanted to bake bread.  Now, after having built nearly 40 ovens for others (it has eclipsed my former landscape design and stonework business), I understand more about baking, brick ovens, AND why masons who have never used a brick oven may fail at building a successfully functioning one.
making Focaccia with Chris Dill
in the TBO 54 I built at Brewster Academy

A prospective customer recently sent me photos of brick ovens taken off the internet to show me the style he was looking for.  Two out of three of them were built wrong.  By wrong, I mean, they had mouths too big to be able to retain heat, flues at the back or top where the heat would rip through the oven cooling it, or no insulation under the floor or over the dome.  This just scratches the surface of what I've seen pass as a brick oven.

I have hoped to remedy the mistakes other masons might make by posting extensive information on this blog about the correct ways of designing or constructing ovens.  Still, a mason who builds fireplaces well and doesn't know anything about brick ovens will build your oven as if it were a fireplace.  It will act like a fireplace: throw heat out, cool off quickly, and make cooking a pre-colonial task.

My wife pointed out that the reason I understand (and continue to gain new insights into building) brick ovens is because I USE THEM.

Without the hundreds of bakes I've done, I would have little clue as to the successful physics of the device.

'Nuff said'

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Elmore Mountain Bread

I met Blair Marvin of Elmore Mountain Bread in Johnson VT at the recent Kneading Conference in Hinkley Maine.
She is a powerhouse of knowledge and energy.  She led her workshop participants through the making and baking of dozens of loaves of artisan bread over the course of two days.

This was a light work load for her as she and her husband bake 700 loaves twice a week at their bakery in Vermont.

Here are some photos:

Monday, July 30, 2018

Baking Bread with the Pros

I just returned from Maine Grain Alliance's Kneading Conference avid bakers meet and attend workshops with avid professionals.

I brought one of my portable ovens for use by a group of bakers.  Over the course of the two days, nearly 100 loaves of bread were baked in the oven and I was in the company of an extraordinary group of bakers from all over the country.  The workshop leader, Stefan Senders, owner of Wide Awake Bakery in Trumansburg, NY. led us through a steeplechase of processes with calm guidance and humor.

For anyone slightly familiar with bread baking, this conference is the difference between singing in the shower and the opera.

For anyone slightly familiar with bread baking, this conference is the difference between singing in the shower and the opera.

The range of breads mixed, risen, formed, and baked was staggering.  The conference organizers pulled off a joyful and deeply informative two days despite torrential rains, blustery wind, and steamy heat.

Many thanks.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

2018 Kneading Conference

2000 year-old oven in Pompeii
I'll be at the 2018 Kneading Conference in Hinkley, Maine next week (July 26-27).
It's the premier baking, grain, and wood-fired oven conference in the Northeast.
You can meet me there with attendees from across the country for two full days of learning, sharing, and (duh) baking.  There are lots of workshops covering topics from growing and milling grains, baking artisan breads, brewing beer, and using wood-fired ovens.  I will be presenting an visual talk called:


Bread from my oven last time I presented

Kerry Altiero (who will be there) cooking in my oven
(which will be there)

Get the inside scoop from a brick oven

Monday, June 25, 2018

Ciao Italia

Recent visits to my blog have included many from Italy.  Grazie!

My visits to Italy, where I saw brick ovens in almost every village, contributed to my enthusiasm and knowledge of the construction and design of brick ovens.

The foods I enjoyed in Italy, whether made in brick ovens or other ways, also inspired me to build my ovens so that cooks, bakers, and chefs got the most out of the ovens, both performance and longevity.

For a few days in late July, I will be at a premier brick oven baking event, The Kneading Conference, speaking and demonstrating with my portable brick oven (seen above being used by Kerry Altiero of Cafe Miranda).

I post this with the hope that some of the visitors to my blog might send photos of ovens they know, have seen, or are using.  The talk I'll give at the conference is: The Evolution Of Wood-Fired Ovens.
Your contributions would be appreciated and recognized.

True Brick Ovens

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Brick Oven Improvements

Improvements to the brick ovens I build often are the result of a new or different location challenge.

Wood set for the test firing
This most recent build required that I build the oven core outside before opening the wall between the  oven mouth and the room in which the bakers would work.

The result, which I may carry forward in future projects, was a three arch design.  It also resulted in a keystone design that is new to me (few masonry designs are new to history).

Inspecting the interior PRIOR to lighting

Perfect draft as evidenced by blackened area around flue

Oven dome at full temp.  Wood box stuccoed.  Double doors.
Note air channels at sides of mouth.
Carpenters will finish drywall around oven.

Exterior enclosure