Cob Oven Story

Update: July 15

So yesterday (Bastille Day!), I fired up the oven again for the pop-up farmstand, but also because I didn’t want to admit defeat. I really stoked up the fire and burned it for four hours before daring to put anything in. When I did (rhubarb tartlettes), they were charred within two minutes. It was really effing hot in there. I tossed some figs and goat cheese, and then squash blossoms stuffed with goat feta, then some gifted plums from the cutest student visitors ever. Perfect. After the farmstand, wrapped up (thanks to everyone who came, sorry it was so disorganized), I made a nest of greens and cracked a duck egg into it (yum!). Then I made pizza and it came out great. Then a mulberry strawberry pie (holy f!), then overnight an olla filed with black beans and dried chilis. This morning the olla was still hotter than hell and the beans were perfectly cooked. What I’m saying is: i love the oven.

Ok, my mom keeps asking to see it. So here we go…

I’m really tired, so I’m just going to show some pictures and tell you how we made this oven.

First, I scrounged a bunch of urbanite (rip-rap, busted pieces of concrete) and piled them into a pile. Then threw some gravel in between the cracks. This was all free and took about a day.

Then Sadie and Emma came over and we made the oven. S and E have made ovens before and are really hilarious and fun people.First we made a cob layer over the urbanite to even it out. Cob is made by digging up some clay soil, adding sand, then water and mixing it with our feet on a tarp. After we slapped the cob on, we poured some beach sand on top of that. Remember that during this entire process we always felt a little insane.

Then the void was built out of sand plus water.We were using that Kiko Cob Oven Book.Sadie also watched some youtube videos.

Oh wait, I forgot, before that, we laid down the firebricks. Kissing the bricks. We did the layout about five times before it worked. And you’re probably wondering: how is it that void is so damn circular….

Sadie’s some kind of math whiz, and she made one of those compass things out of chalk. Note that the fire bricks are nicely laid out and smooth.

Then the void was mounded, wrapped in wet newspaper.

Things got messy and I stopped taking photos, but basically, we mixed mud/cob and formed it around the void. Like three inches think. Then we stopped and were tired. It’s actually a lot of work. A few days later, we met up again and added another furry layer of mud mixed with straw. We punched door out of the now hardened dome and all the sand poured out. We shoveled the rest out with our hands. Who needs some sand? I have three buckets of it. Just let me know.

Then the oven dried for 10 days. The big day was upon us on Monday. S and E came over and we started burning wood in the oven. Scraps from Wooden Window (clean, i swear). We burned for two hours. That’s supposed to be enough. It was really hot in the belly of the beast, and the whole oven got warm. We were so excited for this pizza.

Note that that pizza “peel” was made while we burned shit, out of an old table, cut with a sawzall. Very rustic.

This is when I had to admit that the door was going to be a major stumbling block. That is, there wasn’t a very good one, so the heat escaped too quickly. And I had to perform a pizza partial abortion (squeamish, don’t look).

Of course we were delirious with hunger by this point, soaked in smoke, and so we ate the raw pizza abortion. Not bad.

We learned a couple things;

1. need a door

2. need to burn with the fire for longer before scrapping out the coals

3. need a table and workspace. as usual, it was like a terrible novella camp set-up out there in the garden…

4. pizza is advanced topics, especially when thrown right onto the bricks. emma’s rhubarb crisp turned out great.

Okay, going to sleep. But remember: we will be burning that bitch again and hopefully pulling out some goodness. I have plans to make little rhubarb tartlettes and maybe figs seared with goat feta and gt honey….Come by tomorrow (wednesday) 5pm-7pm for the farmstand and cob oven crisis 2. I’ll be selling t-shirts, honey, preserved lemons, salad mix, and turnip greens.

15 responses to “Cob Oven Story

  1. ghosttownfarm

    I would like to say that this oven is probably going to burn down oakland, and those 80 cops who got laidoff will not be around to save us. I like pizza though.
    Mr Couzin

  2. A cob oven is hopefully in our near future. It’s one of the many plans I have swirling in my head right now. My husband’s priority right now is an outdoor kitchen with it’s own slaughter station. LOL

  3. this is awesome….makes me want to catch a plane south and be there for cob oven crisis tonight!

  4. ‘partial pizza abortion’…..LOL!! and you’re right; it wasn’t pretty. A very apt description, I thought. Can you fashion a door out of wood and wrap it with maybe some aluminum roof flashing, which you can get at HD? You know any metal workers who can make you a door? has a cast iron oven door for $125, but I think it’s too late for that. An internet search reveals that cast iron outdoor oven doors is a niche that needs filling!

    Well good luck with the rest of the oven and happy pizzas!

  5. We are on the same oven wavelength! I just posted about our first 2 cooking trials in my new earth oven and we didn’t get ours hot enough the first time either. The second time though, that thing was super-hot and we made some pizza! I definitely need a counter too, I used a rickety patio table as a work station- not good. I look forward to seeing what door you come up with, I’m just using stacked up bricks and rags right now, not super-effiecient.

  6. I remember in grade school watching old movies about life on the reservation in the American S.W. and the Native American lady was saying the same thing about the crazy part you do with your feet, I think that’s a normal part of the process, you should mark yourselves successful! The door…I’d try Urban Ore, and there’s some cool art warehouse places up the street from there, they might have something or an idea or something. It seems like you need to bang out an old car hood. I suppose aluminum wouldn’t work, and that you’d need iron. Iron might be too heavy, so that all just confuses me all the more. Maybe someone makes Jamaican steel drums and has some scrap!

    Good Luck and have fun with your new oven!

  7. I’ve always wanted to build a brick/mud oven! I am so jealous! Closest I have gotten is a cast iron pot belly stove I found on a lawn for $25. We use it as an outdoor fireplace and I do cook on it/in it.
    I can’t believe I never found this blog. I bought you book from Jessica’s Biscuit a couple of weeks ago and have found true inspiration. Not to mention I feel a little less touched in the head after reaaing some of your exploits!

  8. You might try leaving some coals/mostly-burned wood in a pile at the back of the oven to maintain high temps. The Man and I helped build this oven:

    You can see the fire burning in the second pic. Worked wonderfully, and could be periodically built up with just a stick or two of wood.

  9. ghosttownfarm

    brina; those baguette look amazing. nice oven!

  10. I came to this story a bit late – I’m a loyal blog-follower, but I’m not always up to date. I definitely could use some sand for my chicken run – do you still have a bucket or two?

  11. wendy: yeah, come on by to the next pop up farmstand: wednesday july 28 to pick em up!

  12. Dang, I’ll be out of town the 28th, but I’ll see if my husband Gordon will be able to come by. He’s getting used to running errands for the chickens… Thanks!

  13. Hmmm. I just got Kiko’s book. We are determined to build a cob oven and an outdoor kitchen, too.
    I have watched Jamie Oliver cook in his outdoor oven on his show on TV. I don’t recall that his oven has a door, or if it’s made of cob. I have seen old ladies cook bread in “hornos” at Rancho de Las Golondrinas in New Mexico. I don’t remember them having doors, either.
    Anyway, thanks for the info and you had me laughing out loud. It’s good for us to have a fiasco once in a while and come through it having learned something.

  14. Pingback: Excessive Summer Heat and Cooking Outside « Autonomy Acres


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