When we moved to France we were fortunate enough to have a Woodfired Bread Oven already in its own stone building. All this was built in the 1800s and it is forgivable that the oven needed some restoration.
Our Wood Fired Bread Oven
In France, it is not uncommon for every village to have one large bread oven to feed the families. It is the responsibility of the village to designate a chief baker but he would not necessarily bake bread on every day. The Cheif would delegate to other members in the village. It is possible that a different villager would bake bread each day.
We didn’t know too much about wood ovens as this was a first for us. We soon delved into the adventure of fixing our bread oven. Faults included
- Roof tiles were loose
- Rats living in the roof
- Fire slabs not flat
- Flue collapsed
In 2011 we started the learning curve.
Roof tiles and Rats
I didn’t want to rebuild the roof as it was an elegant structure so I wracked my brain to come with a solution that was cheap but effective. So we first cleared of all the loose clay and sand along with the self-seeded vegetation. Exposing the clay fire bricks and the fact they were very loose. Luckily the oven did not collapse! We were awarded a lovely selection of mummified vermin like the life was sucked out of them by aliens!
Looking at the situation of the lack of stability I came up with the idea of pouring a very wet slurry mix of clay and some Bostik fire cement powder. It was quite fun but first I wetted the fire bricks as they were too dry. The next course of action was to flood the roof with the slurry mix. The slurry flowed through into all the nooks and crannies and one set stabilised the fire bricks.
Fire slab floor uneven
With any pizza oven, the floor must be flat and our was not. So we removed all the slabs levelled with sand the laid the slabs on wet clay. We allowed the clay to ooze between the joints and once laid we only scraped away the excess and pressing into any voids.
The flue on our oven was partially collapsed so we rebuilt it out of the roof. I must admit we made a mistake. We tapered the flue which made it too small for the size of the oven. The problem was made apparent when we lit the oven for the first time and the draw was poor. The little attached room just filled with smoke. So that was that and we had to knock it down and try again! Second time lucky it worked a treat.
Our ‘Bread Oven was Huge’
Yes, it is immense and just way too big. We still used it though but it is not economical as it took hours to fully heat. But there must be a solution?
After succumbing to the idea of building a new pizza oven in clay cob I had an epiphany. Why not make a smaller oven inside the existing oven? This seemed to be a possible compromise but I didn’t want o to spoil the old oven. I went ahead and started building it using dry-laid fired clay bricks. We reduced the oven to ¼ of its original size. Now we have a practical and fast to heat wood-fired bread oven.
History of the Oven
The concept of an oven heated by wood is not new but these ovens have been feeding civilisations for thousands of years. It is thought that the ancient Egyptians cooked in Earthen ovens and some were clay. We all know Roman Pompeii history and how it was buried in volcanic ash well old bread oven may from clay were found and guess what they still worked.
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About the Author
Well, that’s me, Marcus. We moved to France in 2009 and since then we have been exploring living without the hindrance of the official and non-official amenities. We came here with the view to escape the mundane and to venture out on our own.
Originally from England and a company director, I felt I was being consumed by what other people considered normal. On the verge of depression and a non-positive attitude was on the horizon. Before I started to take it out on my family it was time to embrace a life change, so here we are.