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Well dear readers, the day finally arrived when I started the fire in the bread oven that would eventually burn hot enough to burn the soot from the vault and gradually turn the whole thing white hot. This is the point at which you know your oven is hot enough to cook.
Pizzas at this temperature take a matter of seconds to turn into molten rock, so you have to keep a fairly good eye on them. Croissants take nano seconds! So, it’s really no use placing them on a tray in the oven, walking back to the house for the camera and back to the oven (30 seconds) expecting them to resemble those on the shelves down at our boulangers. No. You’d find the charred remains of lumps of dough, about to spontaneously combust in extreme temperatures.


So, careful oven management is a pre-requisite of firing up irresponsibly large fires!

The fire was massive. Contained as it was within the vault, it was nontheless a scary, scary fire to witness. Sometimes the flames would belch out of the doorway (singed my eyebrows) or leap up the chimney in a bid for freedom. It was fantastic to watch, and I just kept piling the logs on. Hence the singed eyebrow!

The tell-tale signs were that the heat was such that the bricks of the inner archway were becoming ‘clean’ again. The layers of soot built up by subsequent small to medium curing fires were gradually being eaten by the ravenous flames. When I got close enough to actually see ‘up’ into the vault, there appeared to be patches of ‘clear’ brickwork. No soot. So, taking this as a sign from the god of bread ovens, I just kept whacking the logs on! The heat was intense. At this point, it’s a given that you’ve acheived something in the region of 1000°F. Now, I’m thick at maths, so I got bored with subtracting my shoe size, dividing by my mother’s age and multiplying by a factor of Pi r squared to the ratio of 7.658. So I Googled a temperature converter, and found that my oven was cracking out in the region of 538°C. Proper number!


No surprise then that what should have been tasty, lightly browned croissants were in fact a mass of carbonised dust.
I pushed the embers and the still burning logs to the back and sides of the oven, and sat back to wait for them to stop burning, and start glowing.
The roof of the vault was revealed in the light of the flames. It was marvelous to see. All my hard work of the past couple of weeks was revealed as a lovely brick igloo, glowing white hot with the sparks and the occasional flame rising to lick the roof. Truly an amazing feeling, having created something from scratch that will (hopefully) provide us with food (not to mention warmth) for a while to come. I now know how Gérard, our neighbour feels when he fires up his large family oven. It’s a feeling of power, certainly. Of controlling the elements, and bending it to your will. But it’s also a very soothing and calming thing too. To simply sit and watch the fire dance for me is very soporific, and once or twice I stopped myself from succumbing to the mesmerising effect of the flames and the heat. Long enough to chuck another log on!

There are a couple of very small points of escape for the heat, but at this stage I’m grateful for them as the heat was escaping as steam. Rather it found a way out naturally, without cracking the bricks or the outer layers. Once all the moisture has gone, I’ll fill in around the base with a little fire cement.

We have lots of guests in the next few weeks and we’re hoping to try the pizza recipes out on a few willing guinea pigs, ready for the spring and summer of 2009. We think they’ll go down a treat! Especially if they look like these….


That was my first calzone. Perfect with a beer on a warm afternoon!


And that was my first ‘proper’ pizza! Mmmmmmmmmmmmm!

I’m also going to have a chat with Bruno, our boulanger friend to pick his brains about dough for fouée. That has to be on the cards, as it’s just simply delicious.

Although this wasn’t a particularly hard build, it ranks up there at the top as one of the most satisfying things I’ve ever done. If anyone wants the design, quantities and associated costs (for France) then let me know, and I’ll gladly send them on. If anyone wants any help to build one, again, just let me know!

Because I’ve built this oven, and we’ll be cooking regularly with it, I wanted one of those pizza peel things. You know, the flat shovel affair with the long handle (saves on singed eyebrows) to place your pizza in the heart of the oven.

So, off I trots onto e-Bay. I stopped by one of the ‘sponsored links’ pages, a company in the UK specialising in stuff like this to the catering trade. I saw exactly what I needed at just £10! So, I clicked on it to order, but no postage details to France from the UK. I e-mailed, then called the company based in Oldham to enquire as to what the total would be delivered.

Imagine my shock when I got an e-mail back quoting £54 ex. VAT just for posting the peel? So the whole thing would cost me £64 PLUS VAT! I sent them an e-mail back to say I thought that was a tad excessive. I begrudge paying that amount to post something worth only a tenner! The reply? That was the best they could quote after searching around. Sorry.

So, back to eBay and again to one of the shops there, this time based in Germany. No problem, the peel’s on it’s way this morning (just had confirmation). The peel was €13.50, and the postage was €12.50!

Is it that these companies trying to export to Europe are held to ransom by excessive transport/postal charges? Whatever it is, I wonder how much potential trade is lost per year? Just a thought.

Until the next time, au revoir.

TBC

All content © Le Chant d’Oiseau, 2006-2008

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I know. This ‘blog should have been written before the last one, but I’m just useless at getting things done just lately. I do have a list, but it’s so long I’ve forgotten where the end is. So, I just do things as and when the time and inclination are together in the same universe! So, the barn raising (a la ‘Seven Brides for Seven Brothers’) was a huge success. But, before that the fireworks and celebrations for Bastille Day both in our small village and our nearest large town were just so very impressive! In my rush to get a ‘blog out there for our faithful followers (you know who you are, er…Enid) I just plain forgot to tell you all just what you’re missing if you’re not in France for the Fete Nationale!

This year, unlike other years before it Mouliherne decided to celebrate a couple of days before. I think part of the reasoning behind this is due to the fact that Saumur has such an impressive display, and events all day that many of the smaller communes feel ‘left out’. Many of their inhabitants, visiting guests and holidaymakers preferring to visit the more picturesque and larger displays in the major towns.

Mouliherne traditionally holds a hog roast, dancing to live music and a fireworks display down at our local plan d’eau – it’s a recreation area centered around a lovely lake. Most communes in France have a plan d’eau. Ours has a fantastic barn structure there too, available for hire to all and sundry, and the focal point for many a ‘do’ throughout the year, from boules competitions to hog roasts, to weddings and other events. Anyway, we were told by friends that the feu d’artifice would be going off (literally) at around 10pm. So, off we went. We arrived there at around 9.45, parked (no meandering nor nodding though, as we were among the first to arrive in the carpark) and unloaded the wheelchair for Syb’s mum. We then found a likely viewing point on a grassy knoll overlooking the lake and barn. Lovely. Not long now. A few minutes of watching the ‘ooh, aah’s’ and back to Chateau Oiseau for a swift nightcap! Friends arrived and stood with us for a while for a chat, and together we commented on the noise emanating from the barn. A stage had been set up in there and there was dancing to a live band. Now, I used to be a musician and I know the difference between a live band and something akin to a can of marbles being gargled by a pre-pubescent teen fighting with a gorilla. I have no idea what kind of ‘dancing’ is done to this kind of ‘music’, but images of some long forgotten (or even undiscovered) Polynesian tribe spring to mind. (Insert apology to Polynesian pre-pubescent gorilla fighting teens here…)

It was dire. And I know dire, believe me. I’ve been in dire bands before! Many times!

But, when the noise stopped the anticipation grew. Only to find the pre-pubescent gorilla fighting teens were taking a short breather in search of the lost chord. I think they found it. Several, in fact.

10pm was a dim & distant memory by now, my patience was wearing thin. There was a flicker of red torchlight close by where we’d noticed earlier that there was a temporary cover constructed for the techniciens d’artifices. All of a quiver, we counted two, no three red torchlights swaying back and forth. They’ve lost their matches, surely? Red torch number one went to the left of the lake, while red torch number two went to the right. Red torch number three (obviously Red torch leader), stayed put in the tent thingy. Moments later, they all came back to the same point. We were wondering whether this was indeed the display, as it seemed to be so well co-ordinated. But no. They’d misplaced the button thingy, perhaps? Or even their matches after all?

11pm came and went. Red torch leader dispatched his troops once more left and right.

Pre-pubescent teens, having at last conquered the gorilla had stopped playing. The applause was rapturous and it was a close call whether the audience was thankful for the silence, or appreciative of the ‘band’.

11.30 and a tangible air of anticipation now as whoosh…..it started!

And wow! What a display! 15 minutes of world war three. Chest thumping maroons, huge sprays of sparks coloured the night and we ‘ooh’d’ and ‘aah’d’ with the best of ’em! For such a small commune, this was indeed a fantastic show, and an obvious highpoint in the social calendar here. After a thrilling 15 minutes, we looked at one another, made a mental note to be here for the Bastille Day celebrations next year, and forgave the pre-pubescent gorilla fighting teens everything. They were the best band we’d heard in ages!

By complete contrast, two nights later we found ourselves sat on the hill overlooking the Loire in Saumur, the chateau to our left and the town below us. There was the most fantastic sunset which seemed to last forever. The chateau glistened in the evening sunlight before being lit from the ground as night fell. When we arrived, there were a few folks dotted here & there, picnics in full flow. Wine glasses chinking, laughter and soft music filling the air. It was a very calm atmosphere, a very warm, sultry evening. As the time passed, more and more people came and found a spot to sit, the mixture of languages adding to the carnival atmosphere that was slowly replacing the calm of earlier. From somewhere in the crowd, drums began to play. There sounded like there were a few of them, and very tuneful it was too. After each ‘piece’ the audience clapped, whooped and hollered! Each ‘piece’ seemed to be louder and more frenetic than the last, helping to create the most fantastic sense of anticipation. Small versions of the fireworks we were waiting for were being thrown about the sky by small boys, their trails helping to illuminate the assembled gathering. Suddenly, the drumming stopped, the crowd cheered and the lights in the town below went out!

What followed was nothing short of brilliant. Bigger, more impressive and longer than the one we’d experienced a couple of nights before. We’ve been coming to Saumur for Bastille Day fireworks since we moved here, three years ago but we’ve always been down on the bridge, the Pont Cessart. That’s where it all ‘happens’, apparently. The crowds gathered there though make it difficult for Syb’s mum to see very much, apart from the backs of people’s heads! So to sit up by the chateau, perched high above the town below meant that we saw everything. I got some great shots too. So, Bastille Day in France 2008. Two very different experiences, both absolutely wonderful, and we’re eagerly looking forward to next years. I hope the band get some practice in before then though…

Until the next time, au revoir.

TBC

All content © Le Chant d’Oiseau, 2006-2008

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