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**Build Your Own Earth Oven. Kiko Denzer. Hand Print Press. (2001)** available from Hand Print Press.
Any book which combines two of my favourite things in life, cob building and freshly baked bread, is immediately worthy of closer attention. My first impression of this book (not strictly speaking a new book, it was published in 2000) was how clearly laid out it is – lots of good clear line drawings, easy-to-follow instructions and delightful photographs of stoves the author has already built. The process of making your earth oven , according to Denzer, is simplicity itself.
First you make a foundation of drystone walling. Then you top that with sand, into which you settle a base of bricks. On top of this you form a dome of wet sand to the desired dimensions of the inside of the stove. This is then covered firstly with a straw-free cob mix, and then one with a good amount of straw mixed in. You cut the doorway shape through the cob, take out the sand and then sculpt a doorway. That’s about it. It can be done in a day, and then as he goes on to explain with great clarity, you light a fire inside, wait until you have a good bed of embers and the required temperature is reached, rake out the embers and pop your bread in. He includes recipes for sour dough bread, which make something I’d always thought of as fairly complicated seem pretty straightforward. There are also sections on plasters, other ’embellishments’ to your stove, a troubleshooting section and more.
The main thing that comes across as you read this is the author’s passion for his materials and their possibilities. Like Becky Bee’s ‘Cob Builders Handbook’ and Evans, Smith and Smiley’s ‘Hand Sculpted House’ (Walnut Books’ favourite book of 2002), this book demystifies cob and makes it accessible to anyone. He describes the desired cob mix as “not so wet that it won’t hold it’s shape but drier than peanut butter, stiff, but still smushy”. Having done a fair bit of cob mixing myself, this is as good a definition of the texture you want as you’ll read anywhere. When he talks of clay plasters, he uses the word ‘schmear’ to describe the technique of applying them to a wall, not a word you’ll read in any dictionary, but one which perfectly describes the feeling of applying clay plaster to cob.
This book mines a rich vein of inspired creativity combined with traditional wisdom. Something about combining mud, straw, rocks and fire, basic elements of life, to produce something which gives birth to bread, that most staple of foods, appeals to our deepest nature. Get a copy and build yourself an earth bread oven. It’s that simple.