Monday, July 14, 2014

Brick Oven Testimonial #1

Alanna Doughty
Head baker at Pietree Orchard, Sweden, Maine
See posts on Pietree Oven built by True Brick Ovens

Just before opening for our 2013 season, Pietree's new oven was fired, and we pulled out our first, albeit a bit crispy, pizza.  Through the coming months we learned her temperaments, and began a wonderful bond.  For me, walking outside to the wood pile and spending time splitting and hauling wood, looking up every few swings at the windmill, surrounding orchard and far off mountains, this is where my relationship with the oven began.  I would pull off the outer and inner doors and rake the coals from the night before.  Yes, after nearly 18 hours of no fire, the oven was still at 400 degrees, and I could begin my fire for the next day.  This year I hope to use that morning heat to bake bread and fruit galettes, and the overnight heat for baked beans.  After a perimeter burn, I would bank the fire, and bank again to prepare for the days pizzas. Afternoons were spent baking off rosemary focaccia- not quite as hot as the pizza needed, and yet could take the heat from an open flame.  
I learned to when to stir the coals, when to add small pieces and when to set up my door draft. I learned how fire burns, and what wood burned well and how high to get the flame to lick the top of the pizza's cheese.  The very act of learning and sharing with customers became something sacred for me.

My favorite story is from our last week open in December.  I shut down the oven for the last time of 2013 around 3 on Christmas Eve and asked the crew in the farmstand if they thought the oven would still be warm when we returned on the 27th, 3 full days later.  "No way! It is supposed to be in the single digits the next few days!" Tom exclaimed.  But I believed.  Friday I skipped over to the oven, opened the doors and pulled the trigger on the laser thermometer.  200 degrees.  Amazing.  
Everyone who comes to the farmstand is drawn to the magnificence of the oven, the sheer size alone pulls us in.  Folks walk right past the "employees only" sign to ask questions and watch the fire, or run their hands over the stones on the outside before they are gently reminded to go back inside.  I love that David is a local builder, and I love that some of the rocks came from the fields right here at Pietree.  I love knowing that I can make pizza with fire, with the work from my hands and back.  I love knowing that I have to wait- no instant gratification here.  It makes things that much more delicious.  I hope to have a long, loving relationship with this oven.  I know that if I take care of her, she will take care of me, and produce some amazing food.  

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Brick Oven Doctor

Occasionally, I get emails or calls from people who have a sick brick oven.
"My oven won't get up (to temperature)!"
"Something's really wrong here! The oven smokes a lot and I'm suffering from second-hand smoke (whining)."
mouth too big
"I'm the victim of UNintelligent design!"

I diagnose the problems, which usually trace their cause to the first-time builder/mason or to a design found on the internet.

Brickwoodovens' design doesn't work
Brick ovens are different from nearly every other wood-burning device.  The place where the fire goes is meant to be entirely isolated from the flue and it is intended to hold heat for a long time.
Because of these two factors, improper placement or sizing of the flue will result in ovens that won't heat or that smoke OR ovens that quickly cool down.

perfect draft
plenty of insulation
Dozens of posts on this blog explain the dynamics of mouth/dome proportions, creating good draft, and conserving heat.  The operation manual on my website: gives a step-by-step on firing a wood-fired brick oven.

Still, and sadly, there are masons and home builders who want to reinvent the oven.  Then I get a call.
Once an oven is built and all the masonry constructed around it, it is difficult and expensive to fix.

In a recent situation, I likened the oven the person had built by a mason to a car which had a body, wheels, and tailpipe but no engine, transmission, or steering wheel; fairly expensive to repair.

Pompeii, Italy
Pietree oven before stone face

I think that the domed ovens found in Pompeii, Italy and used throughout the world for centuries were and are the perfect design for pizza and bread ovens.  With some modern insulating materials, they retain heat in our time without the need for constant firing.

So, call the doctor if you need to, but better still, build it right the first time.