Our wood-fired oven

It is no luxury eye-level wood-fired oven, the oven we have built in the orchard. It is a repurposed, get down on your knees wood-fired oven. Here’s the story of how we built it, starting in the summer of 2020.

The starting point was the leftover walling from what was previously a BBQ, now having reached the end of its BBQ days. First step: build the oven floor, resting on a bed of sand.
The brickie precision-placing the bricks in the sand.
The laid bricks were then covered with a layer of clay, mixed together with a small proportion of sand. The clay was “mined” from a deep hole dug by Mini Kraut in his hole-digging days :).
The front end bricks were then cemented in place with high temperature mortar.
The finished floor space measures 68 cm in width and 40 cm in depth. This was then September 2020, and that is as far as we got before the winter, which the floor spent covered with a provisional roof.
Work continued in the spring of 2021, with the new inner wall for the oven space being pieced together in April 2021.
The wall was then cemented together, with heat resistant mortar, using the same cement-in-a-bag squirt technique we use for making gingerbread houses 🙂
End of April and the five special bricks making up the front wall are in place. The special bricks were made at the brickmaking museum in Lippe, the ancestral homeland of Herman the German, and brought back by us specially for use in our oven in Franconia.
The merry month of May saw us dragging bags of sand to the oven site, sand which happened to be stored on site, fortunately.
1st of May, the oven space is filled with sand to create the domed oven roof.
The completed sand mould, with fired clay chimney pipe in place.
Mid-May 2021: wet newspaper is laid over the sand dome in preparation for applying the first layer of heat resistant mortar for the oven roof.
The cement roof was then left to dry for two weeks (covered with a provisional roof).
End of May 2021 and the now dry cement layer is ready for the insulation layer.
Our remaining self-mined clay reserves ….
were freed of leaves and debris…
and left to soak in specially ordered rain water for about a week prior to the start of work on the oven roof insulation.
The softened up clay was then mixed with straw,
and then combined with a portion of sand in a bucket,
before being applied to the oven roof.
Careful attention was paid to leaving a clear space around the chimney, ensuring that no straw-clay insulation material came into contact with the chimney.
During all of this time the oven remains filled with sand, supporting the cement roof until completion.
The freshly-applied straw-clay insulation layer then received a smoothing over with splashes of water and wet hands…
making sure that the chimney remained clear of any insulation material.
Protected by the provisional roof, the now insulated oven roof was left to dry for a week.
A week later, now the beginning of June 2021, the insulation layer is somewhat dryer, but not dried through, on account of the oven cavity still being filled with sand.
The buffer space around the chimney is filled with heat resistant mortar, making sure that the mortar is applied firmly to the chimney walls to provide support for the weight of the chimney within the oven roof.
The first moment of truth: to facilitate the drying out of the oven roof, the sand is now removed from the oven cavity.
All the sand is out and the oven roof is still intact 🙂 !
The inside of the oven space following the removal of the sand.
The sand-free oven is now left to continue to drying out for two weeks.
Mid-June 2021 and the oven roof is now well and truly dry.
The next moment of truth approaches:the oven is to be fired up for the first time, to gently heat the roof before applying the next layer…
While the oven was warming up,
we mixed up our last reserves of clay together with sand and heat resistant mortar to form the final layer of the roof.
This mix was then applied to the warm oven roof, the warming being intended to reduce cracking during drying.
The cracks appeared anway, though,
and it took several rounds of wet-hand smearing
to produce something resembling a closed finish.
The beginning of July 2021 and, after a week of drying, some of the cracks were back, but at a level we can live with…
Blackened with use by September …
we decided to get ready for the damp of winter by adding a very final layer of very thin plaster (“borrowed” from another project) to the oven roof.
This was then left to dry for about a month, due to the fact that apples had to be picked in the mean time!
Golden October and the oven was back in business with its plastered roof.
Cracks in the plaster, too, but they have stayed constant and we can live with them too. After bouncing off the walls between soggy and burnt we now have the temperature thing trimmed to brown and crispy 🙂
Ingredients for our favourite autumn focaccia bread.
Red onion, apple and wild thyme focaccia bread for the happy harvesters 🙂

Midsummer in the Orchard

 

Sour cherries, many, many sour cherries…,

stoned on site and bottled by evening:

# Red Wine Syrup for Preserving

# Cherry Liqueur

# Country Tart with Cherries

# Creme Fraiche Waffles with Red Wine Cherries

# Superstreuselkuchen

Red Wine Preserving Syrup

Requiem for a Kaiser

Just days after our “Ode to Summer” came the first of the autumn storms, and the Kaiser was down:

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Of the variety “Kaiser Wilhelm”, a chance discovery on an estate in Germany in 1864 and named after the German Kaiser Wilhelm 1, this was one of our three “Kaiser Wilhems” and one of the most prominent trees in our orchard.

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A prevailing feature in our orchard landscape whatever the season:

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He was also one of our high performance trees – 360 kg of apples in any given year was the norm, as was the case this year in what was to be his last harvest, and despite his age:

A variety known for its longevity, we estimate that our fallen Kaiser was heading for a hundred years old when the Beaufort 10, 11 and 12 gales on the evening of 23 September 2018 proved too much, and down he went:

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The changed view with the fallen Kaiser will take some getting used to and for now he lies in peace where he fell, letting himself be explored by young hands and feet clambering over his now fallen heights: the future running its young hands over his otherwise lofty leaves and lichens.

A part of the circle of life he will remain, as his wood goes on to house and feed the myriad of other little beings that lived alongside him in the orchard.

And yes, you can get very attached to a tree 🙂

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A Summer of Superlatives

That’s what we got this year in answer to our springtime ponderings:

April warm, Mai kühl, Juni nass, füllt dem Bauer Scheuer und Fass

April warm, May cool, June wet, fills the farmer’s barn and barrel.

https://anediblelandscape.wordpress.com/2018/04/30/blossoms-bees-barns-barrels/

April was warm and frost free, May was not particularly cool and June was certainly not wet, neither was July, or August, or September… it was just hot, very hot, and very dry, for very long…

Yet the fruit harvest in Franconia’s orchards is a recordbreaker this year (and about three weeks ahead of “normal” ripening times).

But what does that actually mean in these times of far removed mass plastic food production? Who can picture what a “record harvest” might look like?

Let’s have a go.

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Here in Bavaria’s main plum growing area it means : 400 tonnes more plums than usual.

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Here in our district the fruit presses have stopped taking apple deliveries because they are overloaded…

Narrowing it down to facts and figures based on our 2 hectare traditional (i.e. non-plantation) orchard:

8kg redcurrants, 10 kg sour cherries, 10kg nectarines, 11kg mirabelle plums, 26kg blackberries, 57 kg cherry plums, 70 kg grapes, 85 kg Switzen plums…

All of which is in fact the upper end of normal,

and then we get to the apples:

3200 kg to date with about another 1000 kg still to come off the trees. The previous record over a period of six years was 1500 kg.

Still to come are the pears and the quinces, both looking like weighing in at the upper end of normal too.

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So its the apples that have done it: more or less three times their previous record harvest!

We invested in our own stand alone fruit press this year – and not a minute too soon!

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18_08_2018 sacks filling up 18_08_18

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18_08_ waiting for the apple express

Hand-picked, processed and pasteurised by ourselves:

that takes us right back to the origins of where food – and drink – come from!

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Dandelion Sugar and Meadow Herb Salt

Even in the depths of winter I find ingredients for whizzing up salts of my own creation, and come the magical month of May it becomes a must: Mother Nature has just so much on offer from meadow to hedgerow:

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Dandelion Sugar:

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What you do:

Pick your dandelions on a dry day and leave them for an hour or so

a) for the bugs to crawl off and out and

b) so that the flowers close up again and become tassel-shapped for you to then cut of the petals just above the green bits (that way you leave out the fluffy bits where the seeds start).

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Place your petals in a food processor or blender.

Add the same quantity of fine sugar as you have petals (50% sugar, 50% petals). Whizz everything up together until you have a fine, even mix. Spread your sugar mixture out thinly on a large baking tray or similar and either leave to dry in the sun or in the oven at 50°C, with a wooden spoon holding the oven door ajar, for 2-3 hours.

Once the sugar is completely dry, whizz it again in the food processor to break up any lumps and store in airtight glass jars.

Use for summery things… like Summer Butter Biscuits with Dandelion Glace Icing 🙂

Meadow Herb Salt

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Using:

Ribwort plantain in May

Ribwort Plantain

Yarrow in May

Yarrow

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Ground Ivy

What you do:

Gather your herbs on a dry day: leaves only.

Add the same quantity of relatively fine pure (no additives!) salt* as you have of the herbs (50% salt, 50% herbs). Whizz everything up together until you have a fine, even mix. Spread your salt mixture out thinly on a large baking tray or similar and either leave to dry in the sun or in the oven at 50°C, with a wooden spoon holding the oven door ajar, for 2-3 hours.

Once the salt is completely dry, whizz it again in the food processor to break up any dried lumps and store in airtight glass jars. And yes: this salt really does have nuances of hay and herbs and meadows on warm summer days 🙂

Use for summery things… like savoury cheese scones with labneh (or cream cheese), meadow herbs salt and fresh meadow herbs – here Garlic Mustard aka Jack by the Hedge:

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Sugar and salt act as preservatives in the same way: both bind with water molecules, increasing osmotic pressue which subequently draws water out of bacteria, thus inhibiting growth. And so helping us to preserve just some of the ephemeral magic of May!