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.


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

doug gillespie
8/20/2009 1:57:45 PM

Emerald: Thanks very much for the link - I was unaware of that article's existence. It is certainly much more useful than this one. As to your other comments, it is indeed a shame that there is so much negativity these days - especially as it regards excessive defensiveness and the rejection of any opinion that diverges from your own. I do not expect the magazine to reprint an article from 2002 over and over for my benefit, nor did I even remotely imply that I did. What I said, for those who had difficulty interpreting it, is that the magazine (and it's siuster publications) has tended recently to publish articles of this type rather than the far more useful content it presented in prior times. The fact that there is a a prior article on this topic, albeit by different authors and with a somewhat different style of oven, which actually tells you HOW to do something does nothing to refute my statement. That article is the kind of content MEN used to publish. This article is the kind of content MEN seems to be publishing of late. The difference should be very apparent. In addition, if the MEN archives contain an article with instructions and diagrams and so forth for making such a bread oven, would it be too much to ask that this be mentioned in the current article? Do you not find it odd that this 2002 article is not even listed in the "related content" sidebar on the web version of the article? Would having this article in that sidebar not be "common sense"? Perhaps your definition of "common sense" differs radically from my own, but to my mind I cannot see how any other archive article could possibly be more relavent? Yet no link to that article appears amongst the five listed as "related." A link to the MEN bookstore, however, appears prominently within the text of the article itself. On that note, it would seem that your definition of "common politeness" diverges significant

8/17/2009 9:35:44 AM

For the two commenters who haven't read the MEN issue with the whole instructions in it here is a link to the article online with the instructions. You don't have to go and buy the book, but it does help explain in more detail the "whys" and "hows" of how this oven works.(and some of the failures that have happened to others) You can't expect MEN to have to reprint that same article over and over, just because you are having problems remembering which issue had the full article- besides the article that you are commenting on was just a follow up of someone who made an oven- like my comment that I have also made one due to reading about making them in the MEN article I have put the link up to. Besides- you never have to go and buy any of these books, I just borrow them from our public library and then if they are something that I would enjoy and go back to use as a reference then I put up the hard earned cash to buy it. It is truly a shame that there is so much negativity these days and common politeness and common sense are not used.

shirley _1
8/3/2009 10:00:37 AM

looking for earth oven info. Check MEN 'build your own earth oven' by Kiko Denzer seems to have all the instructions.

darrell kirk
8/2/2009 1:51:06 AM

Doug, Thank you for your comments. I felt that I was the only one who thought this about Mother Earth News and this article. Yes, I paid good money for the magazine only because the article mentioned that plans for the oven could be found on the MEN website. This was correct, however I assumed that the plans would be free! What a disappointment! I find it quite amusing now--yes the authors are living on only about $6,000 per year. I wonder how much they are making on the plans and DVD they are selling on MEN? Also, does the cost of the oven: $100. include the cost of the DVD and plans? Best regards, Darrell Kirk

doug gillespie
7/30/2009 5:56:30 PM

I have to say that, as much as I love MEN, and as valuable a resource as it has been to me over the years, I am increasingly becoming disillusioned with this sort of content in the magazine (and also in GRIT). Digging through the invaluable MEN archives, one can find hundreds of articles with titles similar to this one's - something along the lines of "We do X with Y and save $!" or "Our method for doing X works great!" or whatnot. In the past, though, such articles actually told the reader HOW to do X, and often included materials lists, diagrams, or even step-by-step instructions with photos. Lately, however, it seems that such articles serve very little purpose beyond that of advertising a book about how to do X ... a book which is conveniently available through the MEN bookstore, via a handy link in the article. If MEN, as a magazine, is going to degenrate into nothing more than a catalog for the MEN bookstore, then perhaps the cover price should be reconsidered - I can get the Storey publications catalog for free, after all.

7/19/2009 2:20:19 PM

Does this oven have to have a roof over it?

7/13/2009 11:22:10 AM

I gathered the stuff to make my oven over the last year, and while I am only at the pizza oven stage of my Earth oven and using it to make pizza, I am looking forward to putting the last insulating layer on this summer- For anyone who likes to bake, I can highly recommend picking up the "Build your own Earth Oven book" by Kiko Denzer. The pizza that comes from the oven has the best flavor ever! My oven is not as big as this one but it is big enuf for me! :) The hardest part about making this oven was finding the clay soil- Who would thought it would be that hard to find clay! Even having to buy most of the bricks and cinder blocks for the base, it cost me less than $100 to make. The best part- not heating the whole house in the summer to make pizza and bread and our family favorite- Fresh Pita bread.

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