There’s something about a bank holiday weekend that calls for a project, so far I’ve spent the afternoon reading about building a wood-fired oven. I don’t have a garden so an oven of my own isn’t really on the cards; tentative suggestions to the Scottish one regarding his garden haven’t been met with any real enthusiasm which is fair enough given we wouldn’t actually be around to use it much. I do however plan to send this book to my father – this is exactly the sort of thing he does so I may not be entirely deprived of proper pizza and bread of the like I’ve never had the chance to taste yet. (The timing is propitious as well - father and stepmother are off to Italy in a few weeks where the food ought to inspire, and we’re all already a bit envious of the oven my cousin built a month ago...)
But back to the book which Tom Jaine very kindly sent me a little while back. Tom runs Prospect books which made me particularly curious to see what his contribution to the English Kitchen series would be like – it’s a more than worthy addition. (I have vague intentions of doing a Prospect week which whether it happens or not is a testament to my love of this publisher.) Because wooden floored flats aren’t ideal homes for wood fired ovens I always intended to pass this book on, but having spent a happy few hours absorbing information I’m ridiculously unwilling to part with it (the chance that dad will deliver is reconciling me to the idea, but still).
The instructions for building mercifully leave nothing to the imagination and are pitched at the amateur which made me feel like I could genuinely have a go at doing this myself (I think it would be fun which is not a feeling I’ve ever associated with the prospect of brick laying before). What really excites me though is the history and culture of these ovens, that and getting a thorough understanding of how they work. It’s not so much that the doings are complicated although every individual oven will have its idiosyncrasies which would take time to learn and master, and I suspect that the bit where you transfer stuff into the oven and in turn extract it would take quite a bit of practice, but that they are so old.
Bread – when it comes to food it doesn’t get much more fundamental than that, there are few things I find it more satisfactory to make, and few things that taste or smell better than bread fresh out the oven. When I knead dough I think of my mother doing the same thing in the kitchen of my childhood and all the generations before us over thousands of years – and until really very recently in all that history it would have been baked like this, often in community ovens. Bread feels like something almost magical again – it will be a while before I can raise any enthusiasm for a ready sliced loaf of supermarket white.