The Fresh Loaf

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Hello & how can I use an Elizabethan oven?

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Apiarius's picture
Apiarius

Hello & how can I use an Elizabethan oven?

Hello from England

I've just found 'The Fresh Loaf'. Most of you seem to be from way over on the left hand side of the map from me (at least the way we print them here), but I love the site and it's good to know that you are all out there baking

I used to bake an occasional loaf twenty-er-something years ago as a student needing cheap, good bread. I've just started again because I rarely can buy anything around here good enough to go with all the different flavours of honey my bees produce for me. I don't know why I ever stopped. I've turned out some good, basic stuff, mainly from memory and a little experimenting. I have a problem with uneven rising, but I'll have a look through the other strands before I ask, as I'm sure I'm not the first.

Here's what might interest some of you though. My electric oven is not nearly hot enough for baking bread really, but ... I live in a late 16th century Elizabethan farmhouse (not my own, I'm sorry to say) with an original bread oven. The style is fairly typical - the house is a timber frame and brick in-fill structure built around a central chimney with a large inglenook fireplace in each of the two downstairs rooms. The oven is at the side of one fireplace with an arched entrance through which the smoke exits into the same chimney as the main fire. This entrance has no door, but there is a lip at the bottom and sides, and I suppose a stone or board was placed over the hole during baking. There is a second, smaller, square entrance with an iron door in it at the back of the oven in the other fireplace. I assume this was used to help in stoking the back of the fire. The oven is a little irregular in shape, but about three feet across and about 15 1/2 inches high in the centre, with hardly any 'doming' of the roof.

The fire is lit often, but I doubt if the oven has been used since at least the 1920s when a small kitchen was built at the back of the house. I'm trying to persuade my landlady that it's a good idea to fire it up and have a go at real baking. Have any of you tried this with a 430 year old oven? Will the bricks be up to it after all this time? I'd rather the house didn't fall around my ears - it would make an expensive batch of bread! Any tips or links to online information gratefully received.

I've gone on a bit, so I'll stop here and see if I can attach some photos for you.

Fireplace

Entrance

Inside

Roof

 

 

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

Interesting, it almost sounds like a fire is made in the oven and when it is good and hot, the ashes are shoved through the door at the back into the other fireplace. Then the door would be closed, coals shoved against it and bread put in from the front. Does that sound logical? How big is the space for baking?  (photos are not working for me)

Mini O

raisdbywolvz's picture
raisdbywolvz

Hi Apiarius, welcome to TFL!

How interesting that you live in such an old place! Where I live (Texas), we don't have any buildings anywhere near that old. We really want to see your photos. I believe you'll need to upload the photos to your space here on TheFreshLoaf and then link to them before they'll show up.

Here's the photo FAQ if you need some help:

http://www.thefreshloaf.com/node/2960/posting-photos-faq

 

Apiarius's picture
Apiarius

Hello again

Thanks for the photo tips raisdbywolvz - maybe there's a reason why I'm looking to return to four century old technology! I'll have another go. I worked in New Zealand for a while, and I found it really strange not to have old buildings round me. The watermill where I buy my flour was built in the 15th century, and a mill was mentioned on the same site in the Domesday book. There is a track nearby here which has been in constant use for over 4000 years.

Mini O, I think that the first part of what you suggest is right, but the floor of the oven is 2" 4" above ground level, so you can't push a fire against the door. I think that it must just be the residual heat in the bricks that does the baking, after the fire is raked out or pushed out of the back door. My Dad reckons that they used brush wood to fire it - he remembers seeing an aunt use something similar before the last war, but he was very young and can't recall the details.

I calculate the floor area to be about 7 square feet. The door is 17" wide, to give you an idea of scale. OK here we go again with the photos.

Apiarius

FireplaceFireplace

EntranceEntrance

Inside & back entranceInside & back entrance

HouseHouse

MaryinHammondsport's picture
MaryinHammondsport

Here is a url for a feature about wood-fired ovens near Gap, in Provence.

http://www.williamrubel.com/breadovens/examples/ovens-in-france

If you do a search on the Web for wood-fired ovens, you'll find quite a bit about both old and new construction and use. Good pictures of how they were/are used on some of these.

proth5's picture
proth5

If the fireplace is in useable condition, there probably is no reason why you could not use this oven.  I am sure there is some kind of local authority that could give the fireplace an official inspection and a clean bill of health as I am sure you want to take no chances with the house.

You might be interested in the book "The Bread Builders: Hearth Loaves and Masonary Ovens" by Scott and Wing.  This book contains great and detailed information on how to bake in wood fired ovens.

Happy baking!

Apiarius's picture
Apiarius

Thanks for the advice - that book looks like a good read, and Mr Rubel's website is very useful.  If I manage to get the oven going I'll let you all know.

Apiarius 

andrew_l's picture
andrew_l

is the name, I believe! They were fired with bundles of faggots until really hot, then the embers were raked out, bread put in to cook, and as it cooled smaller things ending with a small chicken or suchlike which would slow roast. Never used one, but they were the typical domestic oven for years. Lucky you is all I can say - I've wanted one of those for almost all my adult life!

Lovely house too - Sussex? Suffolk? Kent?!!

 

Andrew 

andrew_l's picture
andrew_l

Sally Lunn was a famous baker and maker of the eponymous Sally Lunn Bun in Bath, Somerset. Here is a link to her faggot oven in the shop she baked in

 

http://english_studio.blogspot.com/2005/06/sally-lunns-tea-house-in-bath-england.html

 

and here is a link to using a faggot oven

 

http://www.williamrubel.com/breadovens/bread-oven-basics 

 

Andrew 

edh's picture
edh

Welcome Apiarius, from another beekeeper/amateur bread baker.

This sounds like a great project; here in New England, on the other side of The Pond, we fancy ourselves to have all kinds of historical buildings, till we remember what you all have over there!

Really looking forward to hearing about your Elizabethan cooking adventures; those are very intriguing photos.

Best of luck!

edh

ehanner's picture
ehanner

I must say the old home and the oven are quite extraordinary. It's these kinds of places, so common in Europe that we in America miss out on. The oven loos like it may have had some work done to restore the tuck pointing on the right side of the entrance. I don't see any damage on the inside and the stones are massive. That's rather a large oven I would think for small baking needs. It would be fun to get it working.

Thank you for showing us this bit of history. Looking forward to seeing it in action.

Cheers,
Eric

pjkobulnicky's picture
pjkobulnicky

Aside from the advice you received above and reiterating the advice about reading a good book, my only advice based on my experience with a primative wood-fired oven is that you will need to fashon a door to keep the heat in while baking.  I used to make them out of raw oak, about 1 1/2 inches thick. I usually soaked the door in water while the oven was firing so that it would both add steam to the oven but also keep the door from combusting. The door will eventually char and you will have to build a new one but you can just go down to your local 600 year old saw mill and have them knock up a new one for you from time to time. 

Oh, by the way, the door in the back is to let the smoke go up the chimney while the oven is firing (door open) and to keep the heat from going up the chimney when the oven is baking (door closed).  You will probably get some smoke in the house when you first fire the oven UNLESS you have just had a fire in the fireplace and have the chimney preheated so there is a good strong draw up the chimney. Have a care here ... a smoky house is not a happy house.

 

Paul Kobulnicky

Baking in Ohio

Apiarius's picture
Apiarius

I sure I don't have much to contribute to you all in the breadmaking area, but I'm pleased I could show you something of interest.

The house is in South Oxfordshire, Andrew. I can see why you might think it was further to the South East, but the colour is just my landlady's whim. It wouldn't be my choice, but who can complain living somewhere like this, even temporarily. Thanks for the links.

Since you all like the history, would you like to see the old watermill where I buy some of my flour, just a couple of miles away? It is the last working mill on the Thames, and they sell quite a bit, even in the winter when it is closed to visitors. As I said previously, the oldest bit is 15th century, although as with all these buildings, it has been continuously tinkered with. The barn is quite new - only late 18th century.

Actually, you've all seen it before, I'm sure. It featured in the film 'The Eagle Has Landed' (and on the cover of the first Black Sabbath album, for any aging metal fans out there). For more info see the link http://www.mapledurhamwatermill.co.uk/. The flour is a little expensive, but I like the idea of it.

I took this this morning when I went down to re-stock - they told me that prices are going to rise a lot with the next batch due to the increasing cost of wheat.

Mapledurham WatermillMapledurham Watermill

 

Apiarius's picture
Apiarius

Thanks Paul

raisdbywolvz's picture
raisdbywolvz

Note to self... Move to England.

How beautiful everything is there, Apiarius! Thanks for posting all those pictures. I hope you get the oven fired up. Of course, you'll have to tell us all about it! :)

 

Rosalie's picture
Rosalie

I'm not deluded that what you have is automatically better than what we have.  But the insights are appreciated.

BTW, your photos are great.  The people at the mill should have had you to photograph it for the web site.  You really know how to frame.

I hope you'll share with us your baking experiences.  Let us know what you do with the oven and how it works.

And grain prices are going up all over.

Rosalie

KipperCat's picture
KipperCat

What a lovely house and mill.  It's nice to hear that there is still an operating mill on the Thames, though I can't help but ask if there is still a Mill on the Floss?

Somewhere on this site, there is a post by a women familiar with baking in that type of oven - though not quite as old, it's in New England.  She does historical re-enactments. Most of her discussion is on baking in a dutch oven, but she did mention the bread oven as well.  I couldn't find it with a quick look; maybe someone else will remember it.

Paddyscake's picture
Paddyscake

except to say that I love the pictures, history and your home. Thanks for sharing.

LindyD's picture
LindyD

What a lovely setting. Especially enjoyed the soft spring green of the grass and willow leaves, and I can almost smell the wonderful fragrance of the earth as it reawakens. Your digs aren't bad, either. ;-)

Apiarius's picture
Apiarius

Thanks for all the comments.  Rosalie, you are absolutely right - my brother always comes back from the US raving about how beautiful it is over there, and the times I spent in New Zealand and British Columbia I was overwhelmed by the space and stunning landscapes.  The grass is always greener, etc ...  I have also lived in some concrete monstrosities here, and I'm just lucky to be in what remains of our countryside for a while.

Sorry if this has moved a bit off topic a bit.  My landlady is 'thinking about' the oven, so don't hold your breath, but I'll let you all know when/if she gives me the go-ahead.

Regards from poor over-crowded, over-priced and over-governed England. 

andrew_l's picture
andrew_l

How succinctly you put it! But beautiful still in places!

 

Andrew

 

(It's the overgoverned I object to most!!) 

Apiarius's picture
Apiarius

KipperCat, although The Floss is fictional, Eliot based it on the River Trent in Lincolnshire. The Trent's tributary, the Idle became the Ripple. St. Oggs was 1820s Gainsborough, a small market town in those days, but with four important mills processing corn and linseed. 'The Mill on the Floss' was probably Mercer's Mill (below). Unfortunately it no longer exists, and I don't think that there are any mills working on the Trent now.

Mercer's MillMercer's Mill

KipperCat's picture
KipperCat

Apiarus, thanks for the bit of historical connection and photo. 

It occurs to me that there have to be other folks in the UK using their bake ovens, especially with the renewed popularity of bread baking there.  Perhaps an email or forum post to Daniel Leader or Richard Bertinet would help you locate them. There also have to be masons (or some building professional) somewhere who could tell if the oven was safe to use.

Anyway, I hope your landlord gives the OK. 

andrew_l's picture
andrew_l

Apiarius,

 

here's a link to a new oven, showing it fired up and some things baked in it. Just to whet your appetite!! 

 

http://www.danlepard.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=1806

 

Andrew