farmersdotter’s bakery oven was built by Alan Scott. As the story goes, around the turn of the century there was a proposal that a communal wood fired oven be erected at the Grist Mill.
The idea struck a chord with some locals and a plan was rolled out to secure native Australian Alan Scott, the leading authority of his time on wood fired oven design and construction, and have him travel to the Grist Mill site and lead a workshop on how to build a wood fired oven. The Grist Mill in turn would presumably benefit from the oven and all that it entails.
For reasons unknown the Grist Mill site fell through, most likely due to conflicts with Mill’s heritage status but that is only this writer’s humble opinion. The search was on for an alternate venue. It was then fellow Australian and previous owner agreed to host the workshop on what was to become our farm. The oven was built. It then lay dormant and cold up until last year. This year farmersdotter is regularly baking traditional naturally leavened bread in this fabulous oven.
With a baking hearth of 72″ X 96″ the oven is one of the largest Alan Scott designs capable of baking over sixty loaves a time. We routinely bake up to three batches per firing. We haven’t tried for four batches but feel confident we could. Alan Scott oven plans, books, and information on workshops are available from Oven Crafters.
One question we are often asked is where we build the fire to heat the oven. The answer is on the floor of the baking hearth. For pizza and bagels one could bake with a live fire on the hearth but for our sour dough recipes we remove the fire from the oven. When the oven reaches 600 to 700 Fahrenheit and only embers remain we close the oven with a home made plug…
Home Made Plug
…to allow the temperature to moderate throughout the baking chamber.
After a few hours we unplug the oven and scrape forward ash and coals employing our Ten Foot Pole Scraper…
Ten Foot Poles: Peel and Scraper
…and let them drop into the ash pit located at the front of the hearth. The oven hearth is then cleaned or ‘scuffled’ with a water soaked towel attached to the end of yet another Ten Foot Pole.
I have always wanted to justify using the term ‘Ten Foot Pole’ and now I have. I can rest happy. Cheers!
Because we tend to burn through a lot of fire wood at farmersdotter Artisan Bread Bakery we are sometimes asked about the sustainability of using a wood fired oven. Yes, it takes a lot of wood but in the orchard rich Similkamen Valley we are blessed to have a supply of firewood as orchardists routinely replace aging blocks of fruit trees with popular high density varieties.
Cherry Branch Pile
This can be a challenge because once an orchard block is removed the grower must immediately clear away the spent trees so replanting can begin. It can take up to five years for a new orchard to produce at capacity and a grower will not wait long to clear a remediated block.
Arguably it may be quicker to burn a pile of pulled up trees on site to get the land cleared but we work with a local, and all too chipper, contractor who works with growers to remove their old orchard blocks. He is good at it. He is quick which keeps the orchardist happy then processes the wood for farmersdotter which keeps us happy and him in business.
This is one our favourite trees at farmersdotter. It is a mountain ash full of rich berries for the birds. It will not see the inside of an oven anytime soon.
In preparation for todays opening of the Penticton Farmers Market, we had a very busy go of it yesterday on our first bake. farmersdotter has nurtured her starter for about a month now and it turned out very well. Very active, full of good boozy smells and bubbles. It will bake a very respectable sour dough. At 2:00pm we were ready to move the dough from the mixer for the first rise.
Throughout the day we had been keeping a close eye on the oven. Trying to gauge the best time to remove the fire and let the oven temperature even out in time for the doughs second rise in the beautiful bannetons, the hand made wood baskets used as bread molds.
We added an Olive/Rosemary bread to the bake for grins and giggles.
Olive & Rosemary
By 11:00pm the oven temperature was averaging 450f throughout and the bread was performing well in their little wooden nests. It was time to wash the oven floor of ash residue, pack it full of fresh bread and see if the work of the past few weeks would pay off in the first bake. It did. The bread at rest smelled wonderful and was ‘singing’ for quite a while.
It turned out we were able to sell all the bread that was baked. We received wonderful comments and encouragement.
For a number of weeks farmersdotter has been working diligently on the bread starter for this years bake. She began with a dormant starter from last year which responded very well and will yield a wonderful sour dough. She also developed another starter from pineapple and red grapes.
The fruit provides the sugar on which the yeast feeds allowing a preferment and a longer fermentation time for the yeast enzyme and bacterial actions on the starch and proteins in the dough. This in turn improves the keeping time of the baked bread, and it creates greater complexities of flavour.
Halving the starter everyday to feed it means there is an abundance of starter dough left over so one problem is what to do with the left over starter. No doubt farmersdotter will come up with a solution but in the mean time we are developing a great store of frozen waffles!
Yesterday we started firing the wood oven in the Bakery. It will take a few burns to get the oven well primed for the first bake for the Penticton Farmers Market May 5.