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When we moved to our homestead, the first thing we did was build a wood-fired oven. Before we installed our garden, planted our fruit trees, or installed our wood stove, we were out there stomping mud and laying foundation for our pizza oven.
Why? Well, the easy answer is that we had a wood-fired oven at our previous home that my husband had painstakingly built not two years prior. Part of the negotiation to move to this place was that we’d have one here too 😊. For this one, we hired help to make the project go faster.
But the bigger question is, why have a wood-fired oven in your yard in the first place?
The decision to build our original oven came from a random posting on a website for a weekend class – you could learn how to build a clay oven by participating in a group build in a nearby neighborhood. I sent the post to my husband, he signed up for the class, and his experience convinced him that we needed one too.
Note: We used the process described in the book
Build your Own Earth Oven by Kido Denzer with Hannah Field
to design and build our oven.
Why do I think you might love a wood-fired oven?
Reason # 1: A Sense of Place
As part-time homesteaders, our lives are very place-based. Our land is central to our daily lives – from the food it provides to the wood we cut down for our heat to the bees we raise at the bottom of our field. It is not only where we live physically, it is where a huge proportion of our lives play out.
Creating a wood-fired oven gives us one more way to live on our land, to enjoy our outdoor environment, and be “in it” on a more regular basis. When we are cooking, we look out on the mountains, down into the woods, and over into the garden. We don’t have a wall or a window between us and our homestead. It is a truly beautiful way to cook food for our family.
Nothing says community building like making pizza in the wood-fired oven
with visiting soccer coaches from England and Jamaica.
Reason #2: A Gathering Place
We are not the only ones who enjoy our homestead on a regular basis. When friends come for dinner and the weather is cooperating, you will more than likely find us preparing the feast in the outdoor oven. And when I say “we” I mean everyone who will be eating – friends help roll out pizza dough, chop tomatoes, and pick herbs from the nearby herb garden. They keep themselves warm by standing in front of the fire. It is truly a participatory event.
I have written about how homesteading is about more than self-sufficiency and about how our homestead helps us to create community. The wood-fired oven in a central fixture in those community-building moments. It is comparable to a community oven in more communal cultures, where families from multiple households come together to cook.
Two of our favorite cookbooks for the wood fired oven include The Art of Wood Fired Cooking by Andrea Mugnaini and From the Wood Fired Oven by Richard Miscovich.
Reason #3: Totally Unique Flavors
Cooking in the outdoor oven is not only a different experience for us and our friends, it is literally a different cooking process. Temperatures can be quite high, which means you can cook a pizza in two minutes or create a deep roast on tomatoes in five. But you can also achieve lower baking temperatures by letting the fire die down a bit.
In a wood-fired clay oven, fire surrounds your food, imparting a rich “fire-roasted” flavor that can’t be accomplished in a typical oven. Bread comes out with a crispy crust. Eggplant is roasted evenly and deeply.
As Denzer describes in his book, a clay wood-fired oven creates almost the ideal cooking atmosphere for bread – providing heat in three ways (convection, radiation, and conduction). He argues that this environment is far superior to a typical electric or gas range.
Check out my article on Mother Earth News for an example of a
day-long cooking session and what we were able to make.
The heat source surrounds the eggplant to nicely brown it,
while the bottom floor of the oven retains heat from the original burn.
Reason #4: A Sustainable Heat Source
Our oven works even if the electricity goes out. More than that, our oven allows us to use the wood that we strategically harvest from our land to cook instead of using electricity at all. If we plan our process well, one day spent in front of the wood-fired oven can produce enough food to eat for a week.
Instead of using our electric or gas oven for up to 8 hours of cooking, we burn about a half-wheelbarrow full of chopped wood. We save on natural resources and give our wallet a break by cutting our utility bill just a bit.
Reason #5: Building a Clay Oven is an Experience in and of Itself
If you’re looking for a unique and engaging project for your homestead, building a wood-fired oven is one you will never forget. Materials can be locally-sourced, you can design your own look, and you can engage family and friends in completing the project with you.
We highly recommend Kiko Denzer’s book, Build your Own Earth Oven, for an extensive tutorial in building a clay oven, as well as great historical perspective on this type of oven and philosophical reflection on what it means to his family. Likewise, the book offers a great section on using the oven to cook bread.