Earthen ovens have been in use for centuries. Called "hornos" in Latin America, earthen ovens save energy by using stored heat to cook food. You can bake bread, roast meat or slow cook stews in them. The materials needed are easy to obtain. By using recycled newspaper and old fencing material the oven will be even less costly. Adobe, made from clay earth that has baked in the sun, holds heat and resists burning and melting. It is weather resistant when properly cured.
- Skill level:
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Things you need
- Clay type soil
- Old newspaper
- Brick, stone block or large river rocks
- Chicken wire
Decide how tall your oven needs to be for comfortable use. Taller ovens require less bending, stooping and squatting. Your oven opening should be as close to your hip height as possible, so that you can move your bread from prep table to oven and back in one, smooth motion.
Dig an area four to six feet in diameter and cover it with sand. Use a vibrating plate compactor or lawn roller to pack it.
Place a spirit level on a two-inch by six-inch by eight feet board across the sand. If it is not level, use the board to pull the sand flat and check again. Use a vibrating plate compactor to pack the sand so that it will not sink later.
Build a level base for your oven by placing bricks, pavers or stone blocks in a square or circle on the sand until you reach hip height.
Make a 15- to 20-inch-high dome using chicken wire or newspaper over wet sand, on top of your oven base. The wet sand will be removed later.
Mix clay soil with water until it clings together without breaking when made into a ball and dropped from waist height.
Smooth wads of clay over entire oven, leaving a rounded opening at least 10 inches wide and 16 inches high.
Allow clay soil to dry for several days in full sun, if possible. If the weather is not sunny, lay a loose pile of brush all around the oven to make a controlled bonfire. Keep the fire burning for 24 hours to harden the clay soil. Consult with your local fire brigade for local regulations on open burning beforehand to ensure that you do not cause a brush fire.
Tips and warnings
- According to Kurt Gardella, "...earth ovens are extremely efficient. The walls of the oven dome hold heat for long periods of time and slowly release that stored heat to the oven cavity. It is not uncommon for an earth oven to maintain baking temperatures for three to four hours on a single firing--even after the fire has been removed." According to Brian Baker of Urban Earth Solutions, "...earthen ovens bake on stored or retained heat. The concept is to build a fire in the oven until it is hot, scoop out all of the coals and close the oven door. After waiting a few minutes, you open the door and start bake your pizza or bread. As the oven temperature drops you can cook other foods that don't require high of heat, allowing you to cook an entire menu."
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