An off-grid cooking method you’re going to love
My friend Teri Page lives a wonderful, off-grid homestead life in Missouri. It’s pretty awesome the way her family makes their tiny house homestead work. The latest addition to her outdoor kitchen (which I’m completely envious of) is a bread and pizza oven. Wow! In her new book, The Backyard Bread and Pizza Oven, she’s sharing her best building and cooking tips for this fun cooking method.
From a preparedness perspective, the ability to have an inexpensive, off-grid way to cook in emergencies, is terrific and could be a lifesaver. We are always looking for a cost effective way to be self-reliant.
The instructions for building the oven are easy to follow and I can imagine making the oven myself. Each part could be tackled by someone with even a bit of “handyman” in them. Anyone with a love of thrift and resourcefulness will like the idea of creating with brick, clay, and straw.
“Technically, these plans are for a brick oven with a light straw-clay insulative layer and finished with an earthen plaster. Bricks replace cob as the mass of the oven walls and roof. The earthen plaster is essentially a thin layer of cob, which is simply a mixture of clay, sand, and straw.” Teri Page
I was excited to see that, in addition to making pizza, you can also cook and bake in it.
Teri’s baking day goes like this:
Fire up the oven for 3-4 hours. After several hours of firing, the black soot that coats the inside the oven will suddenly disappear, and you will see clean bricks glowing in the firelight. At this point, you are ready to cook with live fire! Simply push some of the coals to the back or side with your ash rake to make some space and insert your food. Keep the fire moderately burning as you cook, since the heat of the flames acts as a broiler to cook and brown your food.
This brings you to around noon. With the oven at the hottest temperature, around 400 degrees with an open fire, you can begin to bake bread and pizza
Then, as it begins to cool you use the residual temperature for additional baking, perhaps another 3 to 4 hours. Any recipe you can bake in your house oven, you can now bake in this oven. It will have started cooling off to around 300-350 degrees and is perfect to bake casseroles, muffins, quick bread, oven roasted potatoes, pies, quiche … the list is endless.
After a few more hours you’ll appreciate the non-electric ease of a 200-250 degree oven. It’s like using a slow cooker or crock pot. You only need to assemble your dish in a covered casserole pot and place in the oven. Six to eight hours later, you will have a steaming hot meal.
Here’s how Teri explains it – In our oven, if I fire in the morning and bake bread around noon, then I know that right after I remove the bread, I have a great 400F oven for hot roasting, and then the rest of the afternoon is in the mid to high 300s for all kinds of regular baking. By early evening we’re in the high 200s and overnight the oven will steadily fall to just around 180-200F, perfect for an overnight stew.
I wonder how much we would actually use it on our property? I’m sure that for Teri, it’s an extension of her outdoor kitchen, but do I have 3-4 hours to prepare to make pizza? I went to the source and asked few questions:
Does it really take 3 hours before you can cook pizza in it?
TP: That really depends. Has it recently been fired? Is it summer or winter? How dry is your wood? But generally, it takes at least an hour or so before the fire burns well in a cold oven, and since we generally are planning the firing around several different food cookings, it is worth the 2-3 hours of firing. Also, your wood-fired oven is not the best way to cook one small pizza for one person; it is a great way to cook a lot of pizza, like when you throw a pizza party, or when you make a large batch of pizza or bread for freezing.
Do you need to be around to add fuel and monitor it for the whole 3-4 hours while it is warming up?
TP: Yes, you do have to be around to add fuel, but you can easily be doing other things while heating the oven. Every half hour or so, you can toss another handful of wood into the fire, then leave it be. It doesn’t need to be overly tended.
How much wood does it take to get the oven up to cooking temperature? Any specifications on the type or size of wood?
TP: It’s hard to estimate the quantity of wood, especially since we mostly use thinner branches and trimmings that most people might put in their brush pile. You are merely burning the wood to heat the oven, so any kind of dry wood will do. The one time you might want a certain kind of aromatic wood might be during the time you are actually cooking pizza, or other live fire food, since the food is in there with the flames.
How do you see a backyard homesteader or suburban family using this oven?
TP: I see this oven being used in a number of ways.
- First, the oven is a fantastic place to gather and create community. The act of making food together is fun, and the results are so beautiful and so delicious that pizza parties are very memorable.
- Second, the oven can be used as a backup plan for times when the power is out, or your natural gas line is shut off.
- Third, the oven is a gorgeous and utilitarian centerpiece to an outdoor kitchen. Homemade ovens are really works of art!
- Fourth, the backyard homesteader can use the oven as we described in the book – to create a lot of food in a short amount of time! For instance, last week we fired the oven to make pizza. We then baked four loaves of sourdough bread, then two trays of oven roasted potatoes, then a batch of cookies, then I slow simmered a pot of tomatoes overnight to make tomato sauce that I canned the next day. So, one firing of the oven made it useful for 12-18 hours! I could have even taken it a step further and used the oven to dehydrate some vegetables or infuse some herbal oils.
This is a cooking technique that needs to be practiced to get it right and someone who makes the oven and then doesn’t use it, will not be prepared to use it during times of power outages. I see the Backyard Bread Pizza Oven as a viable alternative for off-grid cooking that anyone can build. If you’ve considered making something permanent for your homestead or yard, this book is for you. You’ll find all the information you need to create one of your own.
Having a gorgeous, workhorse oven in your backyard, is certainly a bonus!
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