Roudette bakes in earthen oven
December 10, 2004
Roudette bakes in earthen oven

In the Buccament Valley a year ago, a traditional practice was revived as an energy-saving alternative to cooking on a gas stove.

Based on a technique she learned whilst studying the applications of earth in house construction, Vonnie Roudette built a wood fired oven from clay soil. {{more}}The oven was constructed in layers, with grass and banana leaves added for insulation.

A technique in earth building she learned in Ohio from Welshman Ianto Evans, Roudette has further developed her knowledge of building with natural materials in training programmes in Colombia and Mexico.

Spurred on by the interest in the oven shown by her art students at Community College, a project was undertaken recently to build an oven on the college grounds. The traditional skills have been passed on to the students who plan to use the oven to bake pizza and cakes for sale under their own initiative to raise funds for art materials. Some of them also plan to build ovens at their homes.

Roudette’s original oven in Penniston was an experiment in earth building and has proven very efficient in use.

A well-insulated oven can keep its heat for

24 hours and therefore can be used not only for baking bread and cakes but also roasting meats, rice and beans, even cooking soups.

Economical on fuel, the oven works through absorbing heat from a fire which is stoked inside, then its ashes removed. The heat retained by the walls of the oven cook the food through three heat transfer methods – convection, radiation and conduction. Traditional ovens are known to produce exceptionally tasty bread and it is due to this efficient transfer of heat that accounts for the wholesome taste.

Roudette has also experimented with a solar oven in Colombia, which reached a temperature of 225 degrees F from sunlight.

“The natural resources we have are not harnessed. In less than 25 years we will be experiencing shortages of non- renewable energy sources such as oil, and we need to be developing alternative sustainable sources of energy such as solar, wind and wave power.”

Roudette also stresses the importance of conserving what we do have, such as water and electricity. The current trend is to increase consumption of these utilities without regard of the implications in the future.”

Roudette notes that people all over the world still bake in earthen ovens, and the best commercial ovens are often brick, which is kiln-fired earth.

The oven can be built from materials that are easily accessible and can provide a central focus for a garden. It can also be shared among families or a community.

The savings on gas consumption is considerable as many meals can be cooked in one firing.

The enthusiasm of young students for the earth oven indicates that valuable traditional skills will not be lost. Making their own oven for baking pizzas and cakes to share with their peers is therefore deeply meaningful. They are utilising what is around them and learning traditional skills to work together to produce a cost effective, sustainable, and most likely profitable initiative.

Though these students are driven in no small measure by their appetites for delicious food, they pursue those appetites productively, without damage to themselves or expense to the natural environment. They are learning through action a consciousness indispensable to the society of the future which must adopt more sustainable practices in development.