It’s been a long time in the making.
First there was the idea, now more than a decade old. Whimsical, romantic, just like our younger selves.
To bring the idea to fruition, my husband George would have to do a course. But our kids were born and my father got very sick, and anyway, the yard was too small to hold our grand vision. So doing the course was postponed.
Then we bought a house with a bigger yard and a meatier mortgage and it became one of those ‘one day’ types of ideas: a project that always got pushed aside when things like the leaky roof needed to be replaced or faulty wiring repaired.
Then ‘one day’ came around unexpectedly when I added the project to a book proposal that was subsequently accepted by ABC Books. We were finally going to build a wood-fired oven in the back garden. And I was going to write about the whole process, complete with instructions on how to build it. How hard could it be?
I fantasised the oven would be just like the ones in Mum and Dad’s villages in Greece: the beloved, rustic workhorses that were made from stones and mud found in the surrounding gardens. These were fired up weekly to bake massive loaves of dense, hearty bread. Our family talked excitedly about the dishes we would cook; slow-roasted lamb with lemony potatoes, rich, sticky crumbles; crusty loaves of sourdough and thin-based pizzas topped with rosemary and olive oil. But mostly, the excitement stemmed from a primal yearning to share food with family and friends around the hearth. We talked about people gathering around in anticipation of what was to come out of the mouth of the oven; about neighbours bringing their uncooked dishes over so that we could get the most out of each firing. It would be just like a village, albeit in the suburbs.
But first, there were decisions to be made—what sort of oven? Domed or vaulted? Big or small? Made from found materials in the garden, or using expensive fire-proof bricks and mortar?
George, took charge. Drawings were made in a lined note book, which quickly became dog-eared with use. Options were weighed up. Books were ordered and online forums consulted. It started to become a full-scale project,complete with burgeoning timelines and project plans.
George decided on a dome-style oven, the sort that is traditionally built in Italy. It heats up quickly, is self-standing, burns fuel efficiently, and holds the heat over a long period – all things he felt would suit us well. More than thirty such ovens have been uncovered in Pompeii. He reasoned ‘If it’s good enough for the Romans, it’s good enough for me.’
A concrete truck arrived one fine summer morning, and the concrete laid for the oven's foundations. Friends were invited to help. The base was built over many weeks. A time capsule made by the kids was embedded within. The heath laid down. And finally, as the winter approaches, the dome is starting to take shape, with each of its bricks painstakingly cut by hand to fit. The deadline for the book has come and gone, but George refuses to be rushed. Rome wasn’t built in a day; and it we want a great roman oven, we’re simply going to have to wait.