Monday, March 14, 2011

Hope Merkel Builds A Mud Oven

Well, actually, it was Jordan Josea, mud oven builder extraordinaire, (that's Jordan in the center with the plaid shirt.) and his partner in mudability, Meleah, who together own and run Ncredible Edibles Sustainable Solutions in San Luis Obispo (, 234-7799) and a whole bunch of workshop volunteers who showed up Sunday at Los Osos Valley Nursery.(301 Los Osos Valley Rd, 528-5300)

The day before the area in the back of the nursery had been cleared and the platform for the oven built using adobe mud/dirt-filled sacks which were stacked up to proper height. Then in the center round platform where the oven will be placed, bricks were laid to serve as the floor of the oven. And a channel cut out of the platform where the door will go. The channel cut will later have a stone extension (or more bricks) put into place. The oven is heated by lighting a wood fire on the brick floor of the oven and when the oven’s reached it proper temperature, those hot coals can be scraped out of that channel/lip into a bucket, the floor of the oven quickly swept clean and the breads and food placed into the now hot oven.

Once the bricks are in place, a pile of wet sand is mounded up and patted and sculpted into a round ball. While that process is going on, other volunteers were busy slapping their feet in the Mississippi mud – the rich dark adobe dirt that served as the basis of the oven and would soon be patted into “potatoes” of clay that were then laid around and around the sand ball and pinched together.

The clay covered dome was cut into to form a doorway (the door will be a thick piece of hand shaped wood cut to fit ) and when the clay was dried hard enough to support itself (sort of like Roman arch) the sand will be scooped out and the next thick layer of clay mixed with straw will be placed over the dome. The oven wall should end up about a foot thick.

The amazing thing about the oven is that it’s a living, breathing, sustainable convection oven, the round shaped circular interior is perfectly designed to circulate heat. The interior heats up to 900 degrees so food can be cooked very, very quickly, and because the insulation is so thick it holds heat for a long, long time, so you can cook all your meals for days while only using only one fire. The mud oven is quite an amazing piece of engineering that’s been in use for thousands of years. Very clever, our ancestors. 


The second half of the project will take place next Sunday, March 20 starting at 10 a.m. if you want to come watch the oven get finished (complete with more clay sculpted all around it to form a bear with the round oven to be its belly. How cool is that?). Then, the following Sunday, the 27, it will be time for a pot-luck pizza topping party. Visitors can bring their favorite pizza topping, and celebrate with a mud oven pizza party. Check with the nursery to see when the party starts and plan to stop by.


mom said...

how much do i love this oven? very, very, very, very, VERY much!!!!

oh, how i miss california.

Spectator said...

Great story, great pictures. Now the county will come around at the first complaint to give a $100 ticket for polluting the air with wood smoke on a non-burn day.

If you can't put a wood burning fireplace in a new house, you can't use a new wood burning oven.

But I really don't know. However, the county must have some sort of fee or permit process for this, it seems to have one for everything else.

Sewertoons said...

Will it be sheltered from rain?

Anonymous said...

hello anne,
Love the story awesome pictures.
Im thrilled with the love of community on this project. The oven itself is the only thing that will need to be protected and yes it will have a special cover. we will be meeting at 10am both saturday and sunday to finish the project.
lov'n from the oven :}

Churadogs said...

Ooooo Noooo, I have to work Saturday, hope you don't get finished too quick since I was planning on coming on Sunday to do some follow up photos. Then, of course the next week for the pizza-in!

So far as I know, wood burning fireplace bans have not yet gone in effect. I think they may be on all new houses constructed since there's no question, they are a fine-particulate-matter air polluter. What's so interesting about the mud oven is how thrifty it is: one relatively small fire and you can get DAYS of cooking/baking done.

Toonces, fascinating thing I learned about mud ovens is that they can't be "sealed" since they have to "breathe" hence the pourous nature of the clay/dirt unsealed allows them to do that. I love that image, this magical clay/dirt convection oven breathing . . . And like all living things, it requires some loving care, including a nice waterproof nightcap when it's asleep.

And yes, there is something very special about this project and what it says about this community and the nursery and Hope who made the dream possible and the kind of amazing people from ncredibleedibles.

Stay tuned. I can't wait to see that oven transformed into a bear. Woa!

Sewertoons said...

Thanks for the report Ann, this is a really interesting project. Because it can't be sealed, I am glad that it can be protected. I visited a mission this summer with a lot of melted adobe walls.