Saturday, September 29, 2018

Cob Ovens: Stu Silverstein at the Kneading Conference

I've known Stu Silverstein for thirty years.  In the past twenty or so, he's built and promoted cob ovens,  a construction of bake ovens that uses clay, sawdust, sand and other low cost materials that make wood-fired baking accessible to anyone with 500 bucks.  The 2018 Kneading Conference was held in Hinkley Maine at the Kennebec Valley Community College, Harold Alford Campus has one installed.
As I arrived early and love firing ovens, I started the oven off so that dinner pizzas would be served.
The next day, Stu lead a  group of participants in building small cob ovens, some of which were taken away as the participants left.
Wood-fired ovens need not be expensive.  Cob ovens are an accessible alternative to one, like I build, which are both more costly and last a lifetime.  Still in some cultures, the cob oven is maintained over the lifetime of the family OR rebuilt as needed.
They admittedly don't hold the temperature as well as true brick ovens, which keep baking temperatures for four days.

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...