For thousands of years in the Middle East and along the coast of the Mediterranean sea, small villages shared a communal oven for their baking and cooking needs. Traditionally, the ovens were made from a clay, sand and straw mixture known as “cob.” Villagers would bring their risen loaves of bread to the oven to bake their bread for the day. They would return later in the day for cooking lunch and dinner meals. The communal hearth became a gathering point where neighbors would share in the daily routine.
To me, this is the ultimate version of slow food. Taking the time to make meals a time of fellowship is an ancient ritual. It brings people and families closer together. There is a movement in the US and other countries to revive this tradition both at the family and neighbor level.
The New York Times reported on a gathering in California of chefs and Michael Pollan, a well-known local food expert and author of “Omnivore’s Dilemma.” They fired up an earth oven in a backyard one afternoon and feasted on different local meats, vegetables and grains for 36 hours.
In searching the internet, you will find plans for cob ovens for the backyard that can be built with local materials that are either free or cost less than a hundred dollars.
My son and I built a fire pit in the backyard last year and often build fires on winter evenings after work and school that the whole family can enjoy. Typically, the night rounds up with some form of hot dog or sausage cooked on sticks over the fire and marshmallows for s’mores at the end of the night.
After viewing several plans for earth ovens, we may make our next backyard project a Georgia red clay oven! Putting it right next to the fire pit should make a nice addition to a backyard gathering place.