During my recent trip to Asheville, for which you'll get an overview and a disclaimer soon enough, we took a quick trip to Wake Robin Farm to visit the bread makers and their oven. There is a lot to be said about both, but right now I want to focus on one small part. A brick oven is a relatively ancient technique for making bread. Not the original method, of course, because ovens are a pretty recent invention as far as cooking is concerned. If it wasn't done on an open fire, it's probably not one of the first cooking techniques. Still, centuries ago, a single town or village might have a single wood fire oven that is shared across the community. Generally, the ovens I've seen haven't deviated much from what you might have seen back then, except most of the ovens I've seen are smaller and may have some design differences for aesthetics or because of the skill of the builder. It wasn't until last week that I saw something that is truly modern and, to my mind, vital for anyone building a new wood fire oven. What's shown in the picture above, embedded into the side of the oven, is a series of thermocouple interfaces. Thermocouples are effectively thermometers that can handle a wide range of temperatures, especially at the extreme range of what the typical cook would have to deal with (as opposed to what the typical physicist might have to deal with, which would go significantly higher or lower). These thermocouples are set in the oven so that Steve Bardwell, co-owner of Wake Robin Farm Breads, can plug in a compatible meter and see what the temperature of not only various parts of the interior surface of the oven, but also a few points between the interior surface and the exterior surface. This gives him a tremendous amount of information about how fully the oven is heated and should allow him to predict how long the oven will retain its heat. Were I to build a brick oven, I would steal this idea. Without a doubt. I would then connect the sensors to a computer to allow me to graph the temperatures and keep a record of historical heating curves. Because there's no geeky idea that can't be made just a little better by recording and graphing the results.
Over at Instructables, you can find out how to make just about anything. I've been collecting a list of interesting food-related projects. This one is: Make pizza with a plasma cutter, a backhoe and a pile of mud! One of the great things about this particular Instructable is how the author, Fritz Bogott, talks about many of the inspirations and deviations that he took while on the path. There is some good use of reclaimed materials, some techniques sustainable and not, and a whole bunch of pictures. To view the detail shots of the photos, you'll need to make an account and sign in. I don't know that I can convince Melanie to let me go ahead and try to make this one, but it seems like a great way to enhance the back yard.