In April and May 2018 we built a clay oven at The Edible Flower. We couldn’t have done it without a our intrepid team of helpers who came to ours every Tuesday evening for 6 weeks to dig, mix, squelch, scoop and build. Thank you all so much.
(We also couldn’t have done it without the cakes, biscuits and treats that Erin baked us each week. Thanks Erin).
This is a brief record of what we did each week. I hope that if you’re thinking of building an oven you might think about opening up the process to friends, family or total strangers so everyone can help and learn together. Spread the clay oven love!
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Before the Workshops….
Before the workshops started there was plenty of prep to do. I sourced the materials for the oven (clay-heavy subsoil, extra clay from Helen’s Bay, lots of sand, straw and woodshavings). I built the base for the oven (using bricks, mortar, scaffold planks and a deconstructed wardrobe) and had a chimney and flue installed in exactly the right spot!
Week 1 – The Oven Floor
At our first workshop we created the base of the oven. This involved mixing lots of clayey soil with water, sand and wood shavings and chopped straw to create our “insulation mix” (a kind of lightweight clay mix with slightly better insulative properties that our standard clay mix). We used this insulation mix to surround a layer of empty wine bottles beneath the oven floor. On top of this we put a bit of sand to create a really flat horizontal layer as a bed for our “fire bricks”. (I’d already planned out the arrangement of fire bricks for the oven floor before the workshop.)
And very importantly, we had yummy St Clement’s cake and lavender shortbread…
Week 2 – The Dome
I was amazed at how much we got done at our second evening all together. The plan was to create a dome of damp sand (this sand would eventually be scooped out and form the inside of the oven), cover it in wet newspaper and then cover that with our first layer of clay. And we did it all!
Firstly, we had to agree on our all important mix for the clay layer in the oven. We’d made some sample bricks in week 1 and we had a good and feel of them before deciding on the best mix. It was 1 part subsoil (from our field), 1 part pure clay (the subsoil from Helen’s Bay Organics) and 4 parts sand.
Making the sand dome…
Mixing the clay mix, forming into “bricks” then building up the clay layer using these bricks…
And don’t forget – this week we had Erin’s granny’s German biscuits and some delicious cinnamon buns with our tea and beer. A well deserved treat.
Week 3 – The Entrance
Best week yet. The dome of clay hardened up nicely during the week and by Tuesday we were ready to get out the knife, cut an entrance and scoop out all the sand from inside. And it worked! There were a few gasps and yelps whenever there was a mini avalanche of sand – but it was only the sand falling in on itself – the clay dome stood firm.
And then we build the brick arch entrance….
And then we ate cake. Carrot cake or cheese & leek scones. Both supper tasty. Thanks Erin.
After everyone had left, I had the very enjoyable job of finishing the connecting piece between the clay dome, brick arch and flue. It was simply a matter of sculpting the clay mix into a pleasing shape to connect all the elements and form a nice smooth entrance to the flue. And then it really did start to look like a pizza oven!
Week 4 – The Insulation Layer
Week 4 was all about the Insulation Layer!
We made a mix of clay and wood shavings and covered the whole oven. Gilbert the cat decided to explore the inside of the oven.
And then we ate giant chocolate cookies (no photo I’m afraid) and some lovely lemon drizzle cake.
Week 5 – The Final Layer
Almost finished now. This week we added another layer over the insulation layer. This time it the mix was 1 part wood shavings, 2 parts sand, 1 part clayey soil and half of pure clay.
We also lit the fire for the first time. It lit pretty well and the chimney draws out the smoke really nicely.
And then we ate cake. Shockingly no photos of the cake! We had Tunisian orange cake and Erin’s lovely bara brith.
Week 6 – Pizza Time!
For our final workshop we attempted to make our first ever pizzas. It was awesome.
And if you like the look of that, keep an eye out here for one of our pizza making workshops this summer.