I first noticed these ovens about six years ago in various Sunday supplements and magazines. At the time, there was a company called Blistering Barbecues, who catered at festivals and big weddings, and they decided to import these wood-fired ovens from Portugal. They used extra-large ones for their catering company, then decided to bring in to the UK the smaller size, on a cast-iron, movable stand. Just the right size to have in my garden. So after meaningful and persuasive discussions with Erik (I had to try very hard), we ordered the small sized oven.
I was at home, alone, when my oven arrived, in protective packaging and on a pallet. The cast-iron stand was in bits, packaged with a cover, book and a pizza paddle. We have a slight slope upwards from the road to the garden gate, and lots of gravel, but with a lot of help from the delivery man, he and I managed to get it safely inside the garden gate. As soon as he had driven away, I couldn’t wait to undo the packaging for the stand, and then wanted to piece it together. I remember trying to find Erik’s tools, and was deep in concentration tightening a bolt with a spanner when I heard a laugh. It was Erik, watching as I sat on the gravel path, bits of cast-iron in my hand, looking perplexed.
“Typical woman. Can’t wait to play with your new toy. Better get it right or your oven will fall off.”
I either smiled or threw the spanner at him, I’m not sure which. Anyway, two hands were better than one, and with Erik’s help we finished the stand. Then we unpacked the oven carefully, and admired it’s rich, earthy terracotta skin and it’s beehive shape. I just wanted to stroke it, it looked so gently primitive and natural. Once we had ensured the stand was strong and secure, we found a flat piece of ground in the garden, not far from the kitchen. The we enlisted the help of our neighbour, Ed, and between us struggled to get the oven up and securely sitting on it’s stand.
I stood back, and marvelled. A rush of emotions washed through me – was this how stone-age woman felt when first using fire and clay to cook her bread or precious meat? Was she as apprehensive as I suddenly felt? Will I be able to use it properly? As well as stone-age woman? Then I felt shame at my apprehension – of course I could cook on it, after all, I’d worked for AGA (now, there’s a cooker) – and it’s the most basic, natural way of cooking food, and has been used for thousand’s of years. So with that encouraging thought in my head, I stroked the outer wall, and felt like ‘Earth Mother’ about to provide for her family. To this day, my terracotta oven gives me such pleasure when firing it up, knowing that I am following in the footsteps of early man or woman to create food for my family and friends.
NOTE: Blistering Barbecues are still a brilliant catering company, I believe, but I think that they no longer have a retail section selling ovens to the public.
NOW: THE OTHER IMPORTANT THING – PRICE. Price-wise, I believe we were lucky. Six years ago, we bought the oven, stand, door, paddle, book and paddle for approximately £500. Today the similar oven, with the addition of a chimney, is for sale with Forno Bravo UK at £1,595. I suppose all things have increased incredibly since we bought ours.
I have also been looking at the Jamie Oliver wood fired ovens. My dream is to one day have an outdoor kitchen, partly under-cover to cope with the vagaries of the English climate. A slightly larger oven would be fine, and if a lottery win came my way, I would be inclined to go for such as the Jamie Oliver “Valoriani Villa” wood fired oven, and build it in to my outdoor kitchen, alongside stylish but practical cupboards, topped with paving slabs as my work surface. Well, I can dream, can’t I?
Erik’s just read this blog and told me it was too full of ‘mushy female thoughts’. Men just don’t understand these things. That’s how I really felt. But now, on to the nitty-gritty – click here for learning to light the oven and manage the flames …