By Renata Finch
Sitting in front of a fireplace is a wondrous thing. Enjoying the mesmerising warmth that seems to draw everyone, sipping hot chocolate, and cuddling under homemade blankets is what dreams are made of. It is the place where we congregate on winter evenings, where memories are made and where many discussions take place long past the time we should all be retiring to bed—the warmth inviting us to linger just a little while longer.
During our last winter we were blessed with a fireplace that not only heats our old farmhouse, but also contains an oven to cook our food. This exciting new “gadget” has given me the opportunity to explore an interest I have long held—wood-fired oven cooking.
Cooking in a wood-fired oven has always intrigued me. One of my favourite memories is of watching my grandmother cook our meals on her wood-fired oven. The aromas that came from that old oven soothed me and the tastes still linger in my mind. Now I am enjoying cooking on my own. As a novice I have made many mistakes, however, with time and practice, I am slowly learning that there are a few tricks to wood-fired cooking and that when it works, oh my, the food holds just the most delicious flavor and texture imaginable.
The main thing I have learned is that when preparing a meal or baking, it is important to spend the extra time getting the oven to the correct temperature range. I plan ahead by using my axe to cut the firewood in easily manageable pieces at the right length. When using my wood-fired oven I have found that it is best to lean on the side of caution and have the oven cooler rather than warmer. This is because we burn ironbark wood as it is prolific here on our homestead. This particular wood burns at a very hot temperature, so I need to be acutely aware of cooling down the oven sufficiently before I place anything into it. If I am too impatient I will end up with a beautiful black “crust” decorating the food.
One way I lower the temperature is by closing down the air supply which reduces the oxygen to the fire, allowing the fire to naturally die down. I also open the damper in the flue which allows hot air to escape straight from the firebox rather than being circulated around the oven. It is important to note that every oven, though, is different depending upon its design and what is being used for fuel. You may not need to do both of these to reduce the temperature in your own oven.
I’ve also found is that it’s best to utilize the first fire of the morning by cooking as the oven is heating up. I often bake our morning breakfast muffins during this time. This means I have the flexibility of keeping them in a little longer if need be, but means I don’t have to wait for the oven to cool down before cooking them as I would during the daytime. Of course, if your recipe is very specific about temperatures, this is not the time to make that particular food.
What a blessing it is to be able to utilize both the warmth and the heating capabilities of this wonderful appliance. Wood-fired oven cooking is a lot of fun and I’m sure there are many more things I will learn over the years.
Renata is a happy wife and homeschooling mama to four precious children (including identical twins). She spends her days surrounded by beauty on their small farm in Australia. She journals her homesteading, homeschooling and homemaking adventures at Sunnyside Farm Fun.