Man versus Food and Fire……

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Last week, Bob the Builder finished Big Bertha Mark 3, a large wood fired pizza and bread oven, so we decided that Saturday evening would be the practice inaugural opening event, inviting a few friends round to christen the oven. I prepared for the event by asking friends over for the weekend, and leaving them with a list of jobs…. make tasty tomato sauce, salad, roast a pan of vegetables etc. whilst I swanned off to the shops to top up on essential beer (dry January has now turned into damp January…). Bob and his gang of fire men (men who stand around fires and talk about them) lit a mahusive fire using at least 24 broken wooden pallets – an absolute in ovens because of the resins in the treated wood – and watched whilst the oven (according to my new laser thermometer) heated up to 450oC all too quickly……… The first cracking noise we put down to wet wood spitting. The second, louder crack was all too obviously the chimney pot saying “Come on boys, there is no way you can put me on the roof and 2 days later light the equivalent of Mount Etna underneath me and expect me to survive the fall out…” As she exploded gently, her surface now a series of zig zag lines. We, however, were not so easily defeated. The fire was roaring prettily and the thermal mass in the fire bricked oven were gradually heating up to a healthy 200oC, perfect for our first ever pizzas. We had prepared some basic pizza dough and it was proving nicely indoors, we pulled a lump off and rolled it out, topping it (not over generously) with tomato sauce, sliced mozzarella and pesto – onto the pizza peel, gently into the oven near the roaring fire, and hey presto, 90 seconds later our first perfect pizza, so exciting! Barbara had made some sour dough bread which we foolishly put straight into the still flaming oven. This was the second mistake, her beautiful loaves, charblackened on the outside, raw in the middle. We managed to retrieve most of the loaves by putting them in a cooler spot ant the edge of the oven and finishing them off so they didnt burn any more but the dough cooked. They had a lovely flavour, and the third loaf that we cooked after the pizzas were done and the oven was cooling, was absolutely perfect, Paul Hollywood would have been proud! Next Bob took over with his sirloin steaks which had been marinating in olive oil, garlic and seasoning…… he piled up some glowing coals, put the steak on the rack over the embers and BOOM, 3 minutes later we had the most delicious, tender, rare,  tasty steak I had ever eaten. Bob has the job!!! The oven ticked away for the whole evening with people coming over and cooking more pizza, calzone, steaks – we even cooked the Sunday Roast in the cooling oven – a plump Chicken rubbed in oil thyme and lemon juice, salt and pepper and popped into a cast iron casserole – cooked to perfection in 1 hour 30 minutes. I was so impressed by this primitive means of cooking. It will take a lot of practice to get everything right, but what fun we had trying, and I am looking forward to making a lot of dishes together and using the oven to its full potential. Better still, all the men love it, and are happy to stand there, beer in one hand, peel in the other, while the women sit inside by the fire, wine in hand, plate of cooked food in the other. Perfection! Look forward to some fabulous dishes from Big Bertha, watch this space!

Author: Celia

The Rambler, AKA Celia Dulieu
Celia has been sharing food, wine, recipes and friendship with Simon and Sue Gale for more than 15 years.
In a former life she was a mass caterer, working for large companies such as Selfridges, London; but after moving to the countryside with husband, 2 kids and dog, she resurrected her love of food, - particularly by entertaining her large extended family to lunches ,sharing informal get togethers with friends, and developing her small but productive kitchen garden. She is passionate about all things to do with food and wine; from where it is produced to how it arrived on her doorstep.
Celia’s love of meeting people, visiting places and trying different things has culminated in being invited to get involve with writing up the experiences of the Heart Kitchen and sharing her love of food with you through her ramblings.