30 March 2014

Earth Ovens


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The following excerpt comes from The Cultivator & Country Gentleman magazine of January 7, 1869


In answer to an inquiry as to whether bake ovens could be constructed of clay, you give a negative answer. I refer to the article on page 396 of the last volume, where you say: “We have never known of building ovens with wet clay.” My pioneer experience in Central Indiana  is different from yours, as I have seen dirt ovens, and helped build them too, as well as eaten of the incomparably fine bread baked in them, the memory of which puts to flight the triumphs of the latest improvements in the cook stove.

The platform or base of these ovens was generally built of clay, sufficiently thick to prevent the burning of the wooden foundation on which they were constructed. On this is built a pile of chips and bark precisely the shape of the inside of the oven. This is the framework, around which the wall of the oven is built of well worked mortar, in which the requisite amount of straw has been worked to give it additional strength, and prevent cracking in the process of drying.

The clay thus prepared is worked into “cats” or balls by hand, and placed in the wall, carefully uniting and cementing the whole firmly together. After the wall is up and the “keystone” placed, then comes the finishing, which is generally done by dipping the naked hand in a bucket of water and slicking up the job, thus putting on the finishing touches, the builder of course not omitting so good an opportunity to inscribe his own name with his finger on the plastic wall, as well as the date of erection of the oven.

After the wall is thoroughly dried, the bark and chips may be fired and burned out, and when the heat has sufficiently subsided to indicate the proper temperature, it is ready for the baking of bread, pies, or whatever else may be deemed necessary for the next “log-rolling” or “barn-raising.”

In the rapid march of refinement, the dirt oven has long since been numbered with the things that were, and though many improvements have been introduced in baking, yet nothing that I have ever yet seen produced better loaf or finer pies than that dirt oven.

A. Furnas
Danville, Indiana