Thursday, September 29, 2011

At the Common Ground Country Fair

Fifty-thousand people and a weekend of brick oven baking, broiling, and slow cooking left me well-fed and well exposed. I spoke with so many people who were interested in brick oven baking and gave a talk on building the ovens to last a lifetime.
The weather, despite dire predictions, turned out to be summery and welcoming.

I also tested a premise regarding the viability of community brick oven use.  After arriving at the fair, I walked around to the Farmer's Market corners of the fair and offered farmers an exchange of their raw product for the same products (vegetables and meats) returned baked or roasted with a loaf of bread or on pizza.  Three vendors took me up on the offer producing delicious food and all around smiles when I walked over to their farm stand with a gourmet lunch.
Thanks to Moarhill Farm for produce and to Tide Mill Farm for an organic chicken that we roasted.

Each day ended with the baking of two or three batches of hearth loaves and the handing out of warm bread before everyone went to their campsites for the night.

I'd do it again in a hearbeat, or in the case of the Common Ground Fair, next year.

The next blog post will be originating in Dordogne, France where I will be exploring regional brick oven cooking. Bon appetite!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Harvest Dinner at Grandview Farm

Each year, Dan Kary and Michelle Mazur-Kary, co-owners of Cinque-Terre and Vignola Restaurants in Portland, Maine host a five course dinner at their farm in Greene. The farm, the producer of organic vegetables for the restaurants is a beautiful place on its own, but when the third co-owner Chef Lee Skawinski and his crew pour in with their skills and energy, the place becomes a one-day country villa restaurant.

Last year, I built two brick ovens for the farm that were used to cook some dishes for the dinner and again this year, the bread, some appetizers, and the roasted veal were baked in one or the other wood-fired brick ovens.

Suffice to say, the afternoon, under calm, warm, sunny skies was foodie heaven.

Products from Stoneheart Farm, Longfellow Farm, Allagash Brewery, UFF Ciders, and Grandview Farm's own honey, vegetables, peaches, squash, kale, fennel, lettuce, beets, and more confirmed the restaurant's reputation for award-winning Farm-to-Table recognition. The honey almond tart, white chocolate semifreddo, farm peach preserve at right was beyond description.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Rectangular Brick Ovens

Although I promote and build domed brick ovens, the traditional shape of ovens since ancient times, I understand the qualities that would make a rectangular-shaped oven a logical choice.
steel lateral brace above mouth
My friend, Jessie Stevens, is currently building a rectangular brick oven for Pietree Orchard in Sweden, Maine, where he has worked, and I stopped by to see it in progress.

corner of welded arch support
These ovens require a steel structure to contain the 'sprung' arch that runs from the front of the rectangular interior space to the rear vertical wall. Sprung arches (so-called because they are set against two vertical walls) exert pressure outwards on the vertical side-walls of the oven and the steel contains that pressure.

Domed ovens do not need external support as the dome is an integrated shape that supports itself.

Rectangular ovens are especially useful if the baker is making products in rectangular bread pans or on trays.
Rectangular ovens also lend themselves to fuel sources other than wood and are often incorporated in masonry heaters as a secondary chamber above a lower firebox

Domed ovens lend themselves to pizza making, artisan or rustic 'boules', loaves that are made without bread pans, and all manner of baked or roasted meats and casseroles.

As with the roofed ovens that I build, Jessie used steel studs to frame the exterior, making all the elements within the oven structure fireproof. 

He has installed two temperature probes in this oven. This may put to rest the dispute over whether rectangular ovens heat as evenly as domed ovens.

Jessie also has a cob oven at his house that, incidentally, got him through the power outage from the Hurricane Irene.
He has applied his masonry skills to the building of his own wood-fired pottery kiln, he has worked as a professional bagel baker, and he makes a mean sourdough rye.
Needless to say, he's a fun guy to hang out with.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Brick Oven Events

I'll be bringing my portable brick oven to the Common Ground Country Fair for the weekend of September 23,24,25.
There I'll be demonstrating the skills of building, firing and cooking in a true brick oven.
I'll be joined by Elisheva Kaufman of a grower and scholar on heritage wheat and grain varieties.
Beyond just bread, the oven will be available to participants at the Fair for baking every kind of food, from potatoes, to chickens, beans, to pies.  We'll be stationed in the Ag Demo area next to the Farmer's Market and I look forward to a weekend of community and great baked foods.

Earlier in the summer I built a portable 48" oven for Ryan Carey who began making pizza at state events in July. From his facebook page, Pizza on the Fly, he seems to get around.

In early October I'll be visiting a small town in France that still has a community brick oven and later in the month building an oven for a bakery in Massachusetts.

In the meantime,, my landscape design and stonework 'division' has been hard at it building wall, terraces, and natural boulder landscapes in Maine and New Hampshire.