Ovens I

June 26, 2011

As I worked with the piecrusts I tried to heat up the oven, however the lack of time and perhaps proper firewood did not allow me to get it hot enough during the time of my workhours. In order to properly work the oven I need to consider three things. What fuel to use, how long time is needed and when I should be able to recognise the proper temperature.


As for the question of the proper fuel, I would imagine that it is somewhat difficult to get hold of today. Peter Brear mentions in “medieval kitchen” how bundles of small faggots, or small branches, where used to fire up the oven. However as in most other open air museums all I could get hold of was the fire wood that people today use in their ovens.


The time needed would ofcourse be dependent on the size of the oven, and to some extent the fire woods, this I need to monitor better for the future.


The ability to monitor the time needed to heat up the oven, is ofcourse dependent on my ability to determine when the oven is hot enough. At the start of this experimental session I had only a few hints on proper ways to measure the temperature through ocular means.


I would appreciate any suggestion of traditional ways of heating a dome shaped breadoven made of bricks. It would be interesting to compare these methods. I remember reading about the use of flour or dry straws.


11 Responses to “Ovens I”

  1. Kate said

    You’ve looked at _The Bread Builders_, right? Though not historical, it is an excellent resource on the use of masonry ovens, particularly when trying to understand the science behind fuel and heating times.
    As for small fuel, perhaps you could draft some of the camp children to collect sticks for you? We were blessed at one festival in Northern Indiana with a cabinet shop that would save their small scraps for us in the month up to the festival each year.
    I really enjoy reading this blog. Thanks for taking the time to write.

    • eldrimner said

      No haven’t seen that one – ought to check it out. Unfortuenatly there is a lack of camp children at this time of the year as it is in the midst of the tourist season. At the museum I was last year the tourist could try out some simple woodworking tools, leaving huge amounts of wood shavings and other bits and pieces. Still the main problems with the oven is that my rake and fork don’t even reach more than halfways int the oven.

  2. Dan said

    Hej Daniel,

    In the museums I worked at in the States, we used 2 different methods: the first was to throw a bit of meal onto the floor of the oven. If it slowly browned, rather than turning black immediately, it was ready for bread baking-which, of course, doesn’t help much for pies. The other was to simply stick your arm into the oven and count how many seconds it took to become so hot you had to , so we’d have to pull it out. The length of time it’s bearable differs for everyone,,of course so we’d have an experienced cook there to say “this is a good temp for bread, this is good for pies,” etc- maybe you could heat a modern oven to various temps and practise in that?


    • eldrimner said

      Well I guess the “feel and know” method probably was the most common among experienced bakers. as I mentioned in a later post, I did get the advice to check the colour of the wall, lookig for when it turns white. Need to practice that a bit more.

  3. Niklas Johansson said

    I think I remember hearing that the traditional way of heating the old scanian baking ovens were with old wattle fences. I’ve actually built a new oven like the one we built in Trelleborg at work. It’s almost dry. It has roughly the same dimensions, but a much larger opening to aid firing it. My first effort was vandalised the first night, but I couldn’t keep a fire going in it anyway, and it was falling apart due to the wattle weave being to loose. This one is much easier to fire, and I am going to try with dry willow sticks today, although I don’t really have any time to experiment.

    • eldrimner said

      Interesting, seems to be a tradition of having clay ovens vandalized as well. Though it seems doubtful that one would have old wattlefences to spare in the same rate as one used the oven, it does give a hint on the type of wood used. According to Peter Brears “Cooking and kitchens in medieval England” the ovens were fired using bundles of firewood (faggots) http://www.soagarch.org.uk/firewood.html. These budles were piled in the back of the oven and put on fire by holding one of the bundles over the hearth and then shoving it inonto the pile of firewood.

      • Niklas Johansson said

        I used last years willow cuttings when trying it out this week. I started a small regular fire to get it going, and then almost filled half of it with bundles. It turned into a sea of flames, and that burst you see at the opening in the medieval illustration of the wagon-oven was definately there. You had to stand beside the oven when feeding the fire – you could hardly stand in front of it because of the heat. I didn’t really have the opportunity to experiment and measure, but I would reckon that an hours worth of firing it like that would give a pretty thorough heat, in that type of oven. Half an hour was definately enough for baking small pieces chicken in bread dough, although I suspect they might have got most of the heat from the oven floor.

  4. Dan said

    Niklas, how big is your oven, how big were the bundles, and how many did it take? I had a disagreement with someone about the practicality of using scraps for firing ovens, and having some hard data about bundles would have been useful.

    • eldrimner said

      Niklas, if you mail me the picture I could post it here – perhaps we ought to have a resource similar to this in which several experimental archaeologists can post some of their work.

      Dan, some other suggestions to indicate the use of bundles of twig etc can be found in Peter Bears “Cooking and kitchens in medieval England” And in a report on the remains of firewood found in Uppåkra. Niklas do you have the reference for that one?

      • Niklas Johansson said

        I think it’s in the notes of the report from the one we made in Trelleborg. One of the Uppåkra publications I think. I will see about some pictures, although I didn’t just use one bundle, I kept feeding the fire. If I get the opportunity, I will see just how much I can get away with in one loading, although I don’t really have time for experimenting at work. The oven is oval, about 100x80cm outside measurement. I will measure the height of the dome and the opening tomorrow.

  5. Dan said

    Thanks Daniel, I’ll try to find and go through those

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