Country Lore: We Started a Bread Business With Our Clay Oven

This Louisiana couple had such good results with their homemade clay oven they started a sourdough bread business.

| August/September 2009

  • bread business - clay oven
    Another day in the bread business: freshly baked loaves of sourdough bread emerge from Kevin and Donna's clay oven.

  • bread business - clay oven

When my husband lost his job a few years ago, we knew it was time to downsize and get serious about self-sufficiency. So we moved to the country, built a small cabin, and began gardening. We built an outdoor, wood-burning clay oven and learned how to bake old-world sourdough bread. This home based business turned into a modest income for us when we began baking bread in the clay oven for friends, family, and our community market. With our reduced expenses and simple lifestyle, our little home based bread business now provides a good amount of the income we need.

The most sustainable and self-reliant way to bake bread is the traditional way, using a wood-fired brick or clay oven. It doesn’t require the use of non-renewable energy sources — just a few chunks of wood. This type of outdoor oven allows the loaves to bake with three forms of heat: radiant heat from the clay, convection from the movement of steam, and conduction from the brick hearth. The result is superior bread, with a moist crumb and thin, crisp crust.

For us to build a clay oven ourselves, we needed a plan that was affordable. We eventually found the perfect resource, the book Build Your Own Earth Oven by Kiko Denzer. In the book, Denzer describes how to locate and prepare clay, how to build your own clay oven, and how to design an oven that is artistic and highly functional.

We constructed the oven out of cinder block, clay, sand and hay. The hearth was made using firebrick supported on a bed of sand and dirt. The entire cost for the oven was about $100. We were able to build it with no extra help, but it would be fun to construct one as a group or family project. Making our oven was a wonderful learning experience, and we gained a valuable tool for homesteading that promotes simplicity and self-reliance. Mixing the clay with our bare feet was a blast!

We have been baking most of our sourdough bread in this oven, once or twice a week, for more than three years now. The clay oven accommodates up to eight loaves at the same time, and can actually handle two loads with only one firing. Furthermore, the oven holds the heat up to 10 hours after baking the bread, even in winter, so it’s efficient to use for cooking other foods, too.

We have produced an instructional DVD on the art of sourdough bread baking. The DVD and articles with practical information on voluntary simplicity are available through our website.

sue kasem
6/4/2010 12:27:52 AM

I have read about building homes from clay and straw. Can you guide me to find more information about this concept. Later may be we can be in touch about your clay oven. Also thinking of buying a land for that puropse. I appreciate any help or guidence you can provide. Thank you

8/26/2009 2:45:21 PM

Doug Gillespie - you are so right, I was very impolite to imply that your memory was off- you might not have even been a reader of MEN back then. So I'm sorry I hurt your feelings. It is very easy to forget that there are real people behind these comments. I also know how testy it makes my mum when we comment on her memory lapses, so I should have known better. If this was not a, how did you put it?-"subject of actual importance" Why bother even posting your comments at all? After all it does take some time and effort to post a negative comment on an article of no importance, than it does to just pass it over and go on to the next article. Unfortunately Like breeds Like on the internet. All negativity breeds is more negativity, not even I am immune. Emerald

Doug Gillespie
8/20/2009 2:00:52 PM

Apparently, my previous post was too long-winded (which is not surprising) ... the final sentence was truncated, and should have read: On that note, it would seem that your definition of "common politeness" diverges significantly from my own as well. Please do tell me, if you will, how snidely accusing someone of having a faulty memory and/or lacking common sense, merely because they were unaware of an article published seven years ago, qualifies as "common politeness" in your world. I shudder to think what level of "common politeness" you would render to someone who disagreed with you on a subject of actual importance. Doug

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