Monday, January 29, 2018

Colonial Era Brick Ovens

Jan Steen: The Bean Feast
Imagine if they had pizza!
I have on occasion been asked to look at a colonial era brick oven, most often built on the left side of a fireplace/hearth.
These were used to bake bread, beans, and food other than pizza; try to imagine Puritans wanting pizza!  Heresy.

The conversation with owners of the ovens today goes like this:  "I can't get the oven hot enough for pizza!  What's wrong with the oven?"

Puritan family waiting for the oven to get hot
Answer: Bypassing a long historical explanation on why colonials didn't make pizza, I explain that the fireplace/hearth was burning all the time.  Colonials cooked everything on it, either in a pot hung from a hook or on spits.  The oven, part of the overall masonry, was always warm, may 180F or more.  A shovelful of coals from the fireplace would bump the oven up to baking temps and the ambient heat of the fireplace would prevent it cooling down quickly.

Trying to get a cold colonial brick oven to baking temps when there is a ton of cold masonry sucking the heat from it, is like shoveling snow into the wind.

Fiber blanket insulation over dome before roof goes on
That is why I isolate my brick ovens from other masonry and insulate them well.

The advent of the cast iron stove must have been as miraculous to colonials as the smart phone once was to us.

Workshop sponsored by Castine Historical Society
Last summer, I did happen upon a workshop in Castine, Maine given by an old-timer mason whose predecessors built colonial ovens.  It was interesting to see how casually he placed the bricks.  It reminded me how both practical colonials were and how imprecise an oven can be and still work.

Oven built on a sand mound form (later removed)

I personally get a kick out of making perfect domes.  Go figure!

Elongated dome TBO 48"x60" St. Charles, MO

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