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Jun. 1st, 2010

I told you I’d get back to the schola eventually. So now *two* weekends ago the canton held a “Daily Life Schola” at Holcomb Farm in West Granby, CT. The Thursday night prior was my chimney debacle, so not much got done. That meant that Friday night was frantic car loading. I was crabby about the whole thing, and Charlotte was being clingy. The end result of those two things was that I got my car loaded while Bob watched Charlotte, and he didn’t get his car loaded. I could point out that he could have gotten stuff together during the day while I was at the office, but I feel kind of bad about it nonetheless. I was done by the time isabeau_lark arrived, and her brother and family rolled in about an hour later. We served adult beverages and told the story of the chimney with only moderate levels of swearing and lots of arm waving.

It’s a much better story with the gesticulations.

I rolled out of the house a little after 7:00 – I was hoping to get to the farm between 7:30 and 8:00, and did a pretty good job of timing it. Of course, I also forgot the welding gloves, but luckily I caught Bob before he left and asked him to grab them. I got the things I brought for the hall unloaded and Aelfgifa showed me where the beehive oven was. Vynehorn and I got our stuff unloaded and set up, and started talking over when to fire the oven. It was still warm from the previous day’s baking – over 200 degrees according to the infrared thermometer. We’d been told that it shouldn’t take long to get it up to temperature, but I didn’t have that much faith in my fire building skills. And let me tell you – it’s VERY intimidating to be there with people who are *teaching classes* on managing fires and know that you’re just kind of blundering along. It’s embarrassing, it is. See, I spend a lot of intimate time with a fire-based appliance every winter because we augment our oil heat with the wood stove. However, building and maintaining a fire in an insulated metal box where you have control over the fuel’s proximity to its enclosure, the input of fresh air and the output of smoke is a very different experience compared to building and maintaining a fire just sitting there. Vynehorn had unflagging faith in me, which was good, because I was flagging enough for both of us. To make the short story long, we decided to fire the oven at 9:00. I managed to get it started and established, and only put it out once. At about the point where I was no longer embarrassed for anyone with a clue to see what I had done, I had a HUGE stroke of luck. Jake stopped by. He’s the staff member who does the bread baking for the farm. He told me that the fire looked just right, which was a huge relief. But more importantly, he was able to answer the question “how do we know when we’re done?”  The way *he* tells is with an infrared thermometer – and I had one. However, mine only goes to 600 degrees, and the oven is fired until it hits 1,000. The “old school” way to tell is to look at the bricks on the ceiling. At about 1,000 degrees the soot starts to burn off and they turn white. It was perfect timing for him to stop by.

I learned a couple of practical things about building a fire in an oven. The first one is that as you manage the fire, you tend to unconsciously push it to the back by bits and pieces. Next time I’ll keep an eye on that so that I don’t have to stick my entire arm in the oven to pull it forward. The other thing is a functional difference between a baking oven and a woodstove for heating that didn’t even occur to me until it tripped me up. Fuel size. Once I have a fire established in the woodstove, I don’t want to put small pieces on. I want to put large pieces on that will last. It’s the opposite for what we were trying to accomplish in the beehive oven, and some of the pieces of wood I added were too large to burn completely away before we were up to temperature. What I should have done instead was continue to add smaller pieces that would burn hot and burn away. It’s a much higher maintenance system than I’m accustomed to. But now I know better.

Once we declared the oven to be up to temperature (the ceiling had gone white and it was beastly in there), we pushed some of the remaining logs to the side, scraped out the coal and ashes (I was very, very glad that I had brought my charcoal scoop and my ash shovel), put the door in place and waited for the oven to “rest.” I was also very, very glad that I had called Bob for the welding gloves. The leather fireplace gloves were okay, but the welding gloves are a much superior protection – even if they aren’t authentic. Immolation is authentic. I’ll take the welding gloves. We had originally planned to let the oven rest for the called-for hour, but vynehorn and John… Marshall?... I call him John the bread-meister... decided to try some flatbread with remnants of some dough that she had mixed up on site. That occasioned numerous openings and closings of the door that helped bring the temperature down faster than we had originally hoped for.

After that, it was a matter of baking things. We had some loaves of bread that Ana Ilevna had mixed at home and risen in the sun, and the loaf that vynehorn had mixed on site. When those came out we put in a cheese tart that Gwen and Katherine made, an egg and cheese tart that vynehorn made, and a modification of a tart in ember day that isabeau made. Somewhere in there I cooked up the filling for the meat pie over Master Friedrich’s fire, put the pie together, and put my usual pork pie in the oven. Everyone is going to get sick of that recipe pretty soon… Somehow we rolled snake eyes – everything was delicious. Once the oven cooled down a little further, we baked some Fine Cakes, which for all intents and purposes is a 1580s butter cookie recipe. Those were horrifyingly good.

By the way ladies – I still want the recipes for the egg and cheese tart and the modified tart in ember day. Those were incredibly tasty.

There was fresh churned butter to go with the bread, because there were two groups who made butter on site. I tried a sweet cream butter and a sour cream butter. I’m not a huge fan of sour cream, but they were both really good.

I didn’t get to any other classes. Bob had some issues with the stove for the brewing class that he was teaching, and the things that I might have gone to weren’t things I could do with Charlotte glued to me – she was being barnacle baby. I’m a little disappointed, but most of the people teaching are reasonably local, so it’s not like it was a one time opportunity. I *did* get to meet Safiya, and Sophia who inherited a number of Charlotte’s things. She’s incredibly cute, and her parents are lovely people. Isn’t it nice when it works out like that?

Toward the end of the afternoon I was just kicked back and winding down. It’s tiring having your head in a fire filled box all morning! We cleaned out the oven by bits and pieces here and there as we had energy – I wanted to leave it all squeaky clean, and I think we did. With help from a few people I got the stuff by the oven broken down and loaded in the car, and I got that done just as we had to put on a push to get out of the hall – I had complete forgotten (if I had ever known) that there was an evening happening at the farm. Again – with a bunch of help from people I reclaimed all of my gear and got it stuffed into the car. We headed home instead of out to dinner for a couple of reasons. The first one was that there just isn’t much to go to in that part of the state. The second was that after spending a day in the sun and in a wood fired oven, I reeked of smoke. I wasn’t going *anywhere* without a change of clothes and a shower. When we got home, the dirtiest people washed up and we ordered pizza.

Sunday, Jan and I discussed our respective lantern projects. I’d been flagging lanterns in various illuminated sources all week, and we had looked at those Friday evening. Sunday we spent poring over the detail drawings of the lanterns they found on the Mary Rose, and comparing those to the dimensions of the horn panes that are actually available to us. After lunch they hit the road, and as I recall I accomplished nothing further for the rest of the afternoon. All in all a good weekend.

Coming soon: the Memorial Day weekend excitement! Falls! Bruises! Construction! Picnics! More falls! Flowers! Stay tuned…


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Comments

( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
anarra
Jun. 1st, 2010 10:08 pm (UTC)
I know how you feel. I hadn't done a soap class in YEARS and got flustered because it didn't set as fast as I wanted it to. Now it is as hard as I could want it to be, but it was quite squishy when I was giving it out to the students after class.

Not to mention my inadvertant goat cheese motzerella. Sigh. At least if I re-teach the classes next year they will go much more smoothly!

I wonder how one does make butter out of soured cream? The stuff Ana Ilevna's class made never really got past the clotted cream stage. The sweet cream went straight to yellow butter.

I think the whole idea of baking in the beehive oven is soo cool (or hot, I suppose!) It sounds like, after the fire was removed, it was just like baking in any other kind of oven? Or were there things you had to tweak?

Also, did you try calibrating the temperature without the laser thermometer? One Rhinoceros , two Rhinoceros, three Rhinoceros ...? Buring hair off your arm? ;-)
kls_eloise
Jun. 2nd, 2010 12:32 am (UTC)
I just ate what they handed me, so I didn't really note the consistency. I seem to recall that the sour cream butter was fairly squishy.

The beehive oven was pretty much like a regular one once it was fired. The biggest difference is not knowing the temperature, and dealing with the fact that the temp is always dropping and can't be raised. Elizabeth handled most of that - I was just the tame pyro.

I completely forgot to calibrate "old school," although I was very impressed by Eleanor from Bergental. She took an "arm reading" and guessed 300 degrees. The infrared showed 314.

Elizabeth *did* manage to scorch her hair though.
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )