Brick Oven: Old School

My alter ego goes by the name of “Rustico,” after a particularly bawdy character from the Italian Renaissance classic by Boccaccio, The Decameron. I’ll let you Goggle that, if you want to find out what all the naughty hermit got up to. It’s not that easy to be naughty if you’re a hermit.

Which strangely enough, brings me to the subject of my rustic outdoor kitchen, which is something of a permanent work in progress. The centerpiece, however, is fully functional. That would be the brick oven in the picture above, which was built entirely by yours truly.

The basic plan for this oven came from the excellent book, The Bread Builders, by Wing and Scott. They did not include plans for a facade or enclosure, so those ideas were mine. The arches were a nice addition.

A brick oven can reach temps of up to and past 1000 degrees F, so don’t stick your hand in there to see how hot it is, as I did–once. Fortunately, hair does grow back.

So if you want authentic pizza that cooks in ninety seconds, get out your trowel and go to work. I taught myself masonry skills building this joker. Who needs stainless steel and gas for an outdoor kitchen? Give me a load of firewood instead.

Outdoor Kitchen

“You? Impossible! A Mason?”

My mother’s favorite thing to say was, “You kids need to go and play outside.” As I was the last of seven, she had plenty of chances to say it.

Now, one of my favorite things to do is cook outside. Let’s look at the many different ways to do that.

Blueberry Honey Pancakes

Wild Blueberries in Bloom

The wild blueberries are blooming here now, as well as the peach trees. Give it up, winter. Spring is ready to take over.

Siehe, der Lenz lacht in den Saal!

Richard Wagner, Die Walküre

Maybe spring isn’t exactly laughing in the hall, as Herr Wagner put it, but it is time to get ready for it.

Peach Blossoms

That means the cultivated blueberries are not far behind in blooming, but I STILL HAVE A FREEZER FULL OF BLUEBERRIES FROM LAST YEAR. In an amazing moment of insanity, I planted six nice cultivars of “Rabbiteye” blueberries, which means I have enough blueberries every year to feed a family of fifty. I’m tired of blueberry wine and blueberry jam. Let’s make some pancakes, about fourteen or sixteen.

Ingredients

1/2 cup All Purpose Flour

1/2 teaspoon Baking Powder

2 pinches salt

1 tablespoon Honey

1 Egg

Milk

60+ Blueberries

Butter for Cooking

Mix the dry ingredients first, then add the wet. How much milk? Enough to get the desired consistency. Less milk means more cake to the pancake, more means more crepe like pancakes. Do I really count the blueberries? No.

Frozen Blueberries

Blueberries are the easiest fruit to freeze, and about half of one of these handy little containers is about right. Add those last, and, and mix in with a tablespoon. That tablespoon is also used to measure out the pancakes.

Heat up a griddle to hot, and then add the butter. As soon as the butter melts to the foaming stage, turn the burner down to as low as it will go. Cast iron is the easiest thing to cook pancakes on, but for speed I use a carbon steel crepe pan–and yes, it is French, so give me a break.

A heaping tablespoon of the Berry/Batter mixture makes a nice small pancake. Serve with syrup if that’s what you like. Maple is traditional, but sorghum and cane (Alaga brand) is also popular around here. Tulip poplar and hickory are also available, so I may try those as well, as we have plenty of both trees on our property.

Asparagus with Sour Cream/Mustard Sauce

An Old School French Asparagus Steamer

Whether you like it steamed, sauteed, boiled, roasted, or grilled, my favorite vegetable, asparagus, is about to be in season. It’s almost Spargelzeit, or Asparagus time, as it’s called in Germany, so break out the steamer or grill. Skip the lemon butter and try something different this time–a sour cream mustard sauce. This is as easy to make as any salad dressing.

Ingredients

1/2 cup Sour Cream

1 teaspoon Honey

2 tablespoons Dijon Mustard

1 tablespoon Apple Cider Vinegar

Dill Weed

Salt

Mix these together, and chow down. Vary the proportions according to your whims. Sometimes I want more honey, sometimes vinegar, and almost always, more mustard. Someone has to support the mustard farmers of Burgundy, though I hear more mustard comes from Canada these days, instead of France. This also makes a great dipping sauce for almost any raw vegetable, or crudité, since we have gotten all French all of a sudden.

Making Apple Wine

Drink Chilled or on the Rocks, or Mixed with another Beverage

If you have been deluded into thinking that winemaking is some kind of alchemical process, take a little more than ten bucks and make 3.5 liters of Apple Wine. Yes, 3.5 liters of fantastic wine for around ten bucks, and that’s organic wine as well.

Ingredients

One Gallon Glass Jug of Organic Apple Juice

2/3 cup Organic Sugar (more sugar means more alcohol)

One packet Wine Yeast

That’s it. You’ll also need some equipment:

Air Lock, Carboy Bung, and Yeast

The airlock is a fermentation device that lets gases/pressure escape during the fermentation process, but doesn’t let air/contamination back in. That particular carboy bung fits a standard gallon jug, and the hole is for the airlock.

The process is as follows. Remove about one cup of apple juice, and have a drink. Replace with the sugar and yeast, and shake to help dissolve (one packet of yeast will ferment up to five gallons of wine). There are other methods of dissolving the sugar, but this is the simplest. Insert the carboy bung into the jug, fill the airlock to the line with water, insert it, and place your wine-to-be in a 60 something degree room. It will smell like sulphur when it starts to ferment, and the airlock will bubble like a percolator. Don’t panic. Let it ferment for a month or so to let the yeast settle to the bottom of the jug, and then you can bottle the wine, or just leave it for a few more weeks, and then bottle it. Don’t drink the dead yeast at the bottom, by the way.

For the best wine, let it age for a few months, though it makes a great marinade or ingredient as soon as it has fermented. Germans make all sorts of strange concoctions with Apfelwein, especially for summertime drinks. Summertime, you say? Lots of folks need to be reminded of that right now.