Once the door to an idea opens, information often miraculously seems to appear. There’s some sort of attunement that seems to happen when you hold a question in mind and start trying to figure it out; perhaps it’s simply a shift in awareness that makes us see the answers around us.
Right after I wrote about d-i-y pizza-ovens, I started to stumble upon books and websites with in-depth instructions and resources for building and using wood-fired ovens, a change in name that expands the content considerably (beyond pizza – just about any food benefits from being cooked in a wood-fired oven). Even if you don’t actually have a space to build a wood-fired oven right now, these resources can help you formulate ideas for when you do, or for when you’re out camping and want to apply some of its principles to a make-shift oven. Some books, like the definitive The Bread Builders: Hearth Loaves and Masonry Ovens, will even guide you to achieving some of the effects of a masonry oven, using an ordinary gas or electric oven. Build Your Own Earth Oven, 3rd Edition: A Low-Cost Wood-Fired Mud Oven; Simple Sourdough Bread; Perfect Loaves simplifies the process, by focusing on an age-old technique that uses clay, sand, hay and water. (One reader said it took about “30 man hours” to get his oven up-and-running…)
woodfiredpizzaoven.org has terrific step-by-step info about the oven-building process, including some useful 3-D images. He also has a good list of bread-baking books plus links to related resources, such as the Maine Wood Heat Co, which deals in modular ovens, cookstoves, heaters and fireplaces.
A simpler way to go than building your own, is to buy a beehive oven, a more portable, terracotta version of the dome-shaped wood-fired oven’s used in Argentine’s wine country, where every house has one in its yard (they fuel the ovens with grapevine, a truly delicious wood). There’ll still be plenty of figuring out and improvising to do once you start cooking in it…
A Google search of “wood-fired oven classes” will mostly yield classes in California (Hey, what about the folks on the East Coast??!!) My first tack would be to send my friend Peggy Markel an email through her website to see if she’s planning any classes in Tuscany; her students learn true Tuscan wood-fired technique on three locally made state-of-the-art Valoriani wood-fired ovens. Peggy also teaches around the U.S. and privately. (Also check out her cooking-and-culture programs in Sicily, Morocco, and India, and sailing off the Amalfi coast…sigh…)
Although I haven’t cooked from it yet, Wood-Fired Cooking: Techniques and Recipes for the Grill, Backyard Oven, Fireplace, and Campfire by Mary Karlin looks terrific, and covers many kinds of wood-fired cookers, including the Caja China and The Big Green Egg. Her website Elements of Taste has lots of resources, as well as recipes (including Wood-Fire Roasted Artichokes).