Bread Baking Day

Bread Baking Day 13th August 2005. The cob oven was started one and a half years ago. Why did it take so long? Frankly put, this is a community project. I had already built an oven by myself in the back garden. That took me three days, but it was no way as sophisticated as our community effort. I remember beginning this oven in winter sunshine, a good omen since my volunteers were hard to come by then, some being charmed from the north of London.

I got excited about this particular project because I knew that once the oven was built the very smell of fresh bread and pizza would be a good enough attractant for future support. Ecologically, factors like climate and resource availability will tend to govern many decisions, not least the ethical and moral value of what one is doing. The principles that govern nature need to be identified and replicated when designing for human systems. A fallen tree had created an opening and let in a lot more light. Thus, the perimeter of my plot at this particular location grew hawthorn, holly and sycamore. This is succession at work. It is just a case of cutting the scrub layer back in order to get to these pioneers. Once there I knew I could design for this location. Volunteers are like pioneers also, making headway into something of a social fabric. This is to be a social permaculture.

The oven took us so long because I serendipitously waited for my free resources to make themselves available to me. There is plenty of clay on site, collected from the spoil of planting willow everywhere. Disused sandpits on the roads were frequently available, and the last resource, straw, was in the meantime being used for seating. Other materials like bricks and rubble could be located anywhere. This oven did not cost a single penny, in line with the policy that this is a spiritual as well as an ecological motive, the spiritual enhanced by the free efforts of other people.

It was a pleasure at Bread Baking day, that not even the rain could dampen our spirits. This would be the first official firing of the oven. I imagine Bakerís Corner as having a special social role to fulfil, firstly to create a focal point of the site, much like the campfire but with a greater sense of privacy from the overhanging trees. Thus the mythical boar-shaped oven sits there almost as if she is a sentinel of the woods - an oracle. Passive, she looks on. Secondly, the area is designed for quiet reflection. One can so easily nestle in amongst the twiggy growth, alive with one's own creation. The preparation and waiting process is essential, and hits home the ceremonial that once dictated such events; leaven bread was invented for this oven. How the oven, the cave, the bread, the birth of humanity are so epitomised within the traditional practices of civilisation. The ethic of this project is to remind one that manís sacredness with the land is held in ritual and practicality. After the corn god is cut down so the stored grain could be risen in the form of loaves, thus bringing the seed out of the darkness of the grain store and providing well-needed starch during the winter months. It is the role of the Green Man, who is here represented as the gold-headed corn.

Inexperience taught us not to load up the oven too much since the firewood burns very hot if it is well built. The idea is to store heat in the structure, providing convection, conduction and radiation. The food is cooked thus, not on an open flame although that is an option. The door is designed specifically to be able to control the draught and the emission of smoke. With that in mind I left the volunteers to get on with it. The first loaf came out black, but we could still eat the centre. That day the thirty odd visitors also ate spicy vegetable crumble, mixed fruit crumble, various picks and salads, pasta and pizza. In fact the pizza was the last to come out, taking four hours to get right. I personally gave up a fruit loaf.