Lewes Organic Allotment Project is on the Highdown allotments, Nevill on the Western edge of Lewes:
Owen Postgate and Chippy Mobbs led a two day workshop, teaching us how to make a clay bread oven. The materials used were either recycled, freely available or very cheap to obtain. Before the workshop began they built a plinth upon which the oven was to rest. That made the oven easier to work, with less smoke getting to your eyes, with no ash getting swept onto the doorway that the food had to go in and out of and with much less back ache for the cook!
After explaining the technicalities of plinth construction, we made a sand forma around which to build the inner layer of the oven. The clay for the inner layer had been dug out of the banks of the local river; it was full of organic debris and had to be filtered by hand. We fashioned the filtered clay into bricks and squeezed them around the clay forma. Next a doorway was cut into it (that’s where the video begins). The tricky stage was removing the sand forma and successfully completing the oven’s first firing to bake the clay. That was the stage when it might have collapsed before completion. However our building skills were up to the test and the inner layer survived. The first firing was kept gentle at first. The temperature was increased after the inner part of the inner layer had baked hard.
In between the two days of the workshop Owen and Chippy made a second layer, consisting of clay and sawdust. The second layer was designed to provide extra insulation for the oven.
The following weekend the weather was foul so the second day of the workshop was delayed by a few weeks for better weather. When part two came around, we returned to the process of making bricks. This time we used clay donated by Lewes potter Mohamed Hamid (Star Gallery Pottery). The high quality terracotta had been a huge collection of hardened offcuts, which had been hammered and soaked. It was mixed with sand and, when too wet to make bricks out of, sawdust. We made more bricks out of this and built a third layer of the oven, with a fire burning inside all the while. Finally we pressed broken ceramics and other materials onto the outside of the oven to decorate it.
With a finished oven, we set about cooking pizzas and garlic & mozerella bread balls. The fire was moved around inside the oven to suit whatever was being cooked. There’s not much video of this – I was too busy eating!
You can see this video in better quality on my cooking channel – Cooking in the Cave: Episode 10 (when it has uploaded).