Wood-fired community ovens today in Minnesota, USA and in history


I became acquainted with David Cargo several years ago when I attended my first meeting of the very active St. Paul Bread Club. The setting was perfect: a brisk Saturday morning at the St. Agnes Bread Company in St. Paul. There must have been three dozen of us there from all across the Minneapolis/St. Paul metro area – young, older, many of us with flour-dusts on our sweaters, and others new to the wonderful world of crusty hearth breads.

We sat among huge spiral mixers, long benches where professional bakers shaped hundreds of loaves every week day, racks of heavily-used trays, and huge, huge ovens. We were there to share our stories and recipes, and to learn together. We made pizzas and topped them with freshly combinations of deliciousness we’d brought from home – fresh herbs, soft and hard cheeses, caramelized onions, roasted pecans, and more.

It was heaven.

David was, and is, a major force behind these meetings. He manages the club’s website, http://spbc.info, offers classes in bread baking and in building wood-fired stoves, and he pursues his passion for community ovens.

What’s a community oven? I can’t blame you for asking. In this day of an iPad for every child, smartphone for each hand, and a cable-tv channel for every interest, the idea of a shared oven can seem pretty strange. But that’s how baking happened for hundreds and hundreds of years all across the globe. Why? For several reasons, including the high cost of fuel, the great deal of time it took to stoke up an oven to 500+ degrees, and the skills required to understand how to use the oven to cook breads, pastries, casseroles and other dishes as appropriate as the oven cooled down during the course of a day.

As you might imagine, community ovens were central to the social as well as the gustatory life of a town. What’s exciting today is a growing interest in these ovens. David shares information about the ovens he’s found at work or in construction all across the country on his blog, Quest for Ovens, http://questforovens.blogspot.com. In it he describes a very active oven built and operated by the White Bear Lake Methodist Church. You can find photos of this oven, and others in the Twin Cities’ metro area, here.

I hope you enjoy this Deep Roots Radio chat with David, who is the executive director of the Upper Midwest Bakery Association, as well as membership director for the St. Paul Bread Club. In this interview he shares some of the history of these ovens, and describes the growing interest in these massive structures today in Minnesota, Wisconsin, across the country and around the world.

Could there be a wood-fire brick oven in our future at Bull Brook Keep? Maybe use some of our basil and garlic for a crusty levain?