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Wood fires in the rain

It’s time to rewild the child
14th April 2015
Last years escape
8th May 2016

WR_Wood-fires-in-the-rain_ovenWe did get some Welsh rain, spilling out across the border into Cheshire and the Sandstone Ridge. So although we had masses of kindling and wood for burning, we failed the standard we set of one match to supply fire for the entire weekend. It took a long time and a lot of huffing and puffing to get a campfire burning.

There were two half-barrel barbecues at the site, so one held the cooking fire and one acted as the roof of the oven. We transferred burning stick and logs from the campfire to the barbecue barrel to build up some glowing embers to cook with. All good in principle!

A proper pizza oven has a highly insulated top to get and even heat throughout the oven. Our roof of course did not work as well as that so pizzas and bread cooked faster from the bottom than the top. On the first day the undersides of the pizzas were more than a little singed. The technology we came up with was a metal tray filled with sand to mimic a pizza stone in the oven. It worked tolerably well and the pizzas improved no end.

I brought some sourdough starter, some bread flour and some type “OO” pasta flour for the pizzas. The pizza dough rises overnight and then the balls of dough live in the fridge until needed. That makes them easy to handle. We had two enormous steel frying pans, catering size to put the pizzas in. My next mistake was to think that the pizza should fill the base of the pan: they worked much better if I relaxed on that front and went with the size the pizza wanted to be.

WR_Wood-fires-in-the-rain_breadEven with the number of people eating, half what we planned, we could keep a stream of pizzas to various requirements coming as fast as they would cook on a fire that was too hot. It gets a bit fraught and a bit boring after a while: the thrill was in getting the technology to work. A better oven with room for two pizzas would make quite a difference.

The bread was edible but needs a rethink. I was going for a large “boule”, but the combination of too low oven temperature and the dough relaxing too quickly meant it spread and didn’t get a crust able to contain the steam. A batter oven and some practice at home I think.

We did succeed in keeping the campfire in for three nights. We did use an enormous amount of wood to that. We had one silver birch tree trunk that we just edged into the fire all weekend. The smoke drifting up between the trees that overhung the fireplace was certainly picturesque. We did baked potatoes wrapped in foil, and on the last night for singing around the fire in the growing dark some bananas stuffed with chocolate.

Inside the hut on the conventional stove we made a gigantic panful of minestrone soup, full of vegetables brought from the allotment at home. Appreciated all round and a good balance to the pizzas.

Aidan Ward
Aidan Ward
Aidan Ward is a freelance consultant, social entrepreneur and educator. He is a great cook and baker, a kitchen gardener and enthusiast for wild food. His key interest is in how childhood development happens when it is nurtured in the right environment.

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