As fall starts to poke its way through the humidity I can’t help but dream of one of my favorite cool weather pastimes…burning things. When we moved into our house 6 years ago I was quick to take advantage of the county’s policy on open burns (a permit takes less than a minute, get one) and it wasn’t too many years later that the fire pit was built. We’ve never looked back. There are few things more enjoyable than an evening sitting around the flames, digging into a meal cooked on the grill, sipping on some adult beverages and roasting marshmallows. I’m ready to up the ante though and that is to start using fire to cook.
Oyster roasts are high on the list, cast iron pots full of chicken chili aren’t far behind but the holy grail for me is the masonry/wood-fired oven. Masonry ovens are millennia-old technology and can be made out of a wide range of materials. The key to the masonry oven is the thickness of its walls, the thermal mass, which absorbs the heat from the fire and then releases it back in a controlled, even manner. This mass can be achieved with stones, concrete, adobe, firebrick and as the fire inside blazes they absorb every bit of the heat given off. It generally takes about 4 hours to get the average oven up to temperature but when heated to a blazing 800 degrees, you can cook a perfect pizza in less than two minutes!
As the oven slowly cools less heat demanding foods can be inserted such as casseroles, vegetables, meat and, of course, breads. In fact, throughout history many people would spend the entire day cooking with their oven because the heat, once captured in the thermal mass, could be efficiently used to cook large volumes of food for many families. For this reason community ovens were common throughout Europe in the 17th and 18th century and remain so in some areas today. I like the idea that little energy goes to waste and resources being carefully conserved. I also like the idea of fresh warm bread cooked on a cold evening by my own hands, accompanying a meal made from the freshest ingredients our wonderful market has to offer.
Bring on fall!
Image sourced from Wikipedia