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Dufferin Grove Park has two outdoor wood-fired bake ovens. The first one was built in 1995, and the second one in 2000.
Here is the history of how these two ovens came to be built in a public park in Toronto, and how they were used at the start.
In 2011, park friend David Rothberg funded a portable tandoor as well. Park staff practised cooking and baking with it, and lent it out to the Thorncliffe Park women's committee until they got their own oven.
The two ovens at Dufferin Grove Park are used by city staff five days a week from June to the end of August -- two days for farmers' market bread baking, two days for public pizza-making and one day for cooking Friday Night supper. In spring and early fall, oven use goes down to 3-4 days a week, and in winter it's only one day a week. The staff's school pizza-making visits or summer camps are sometimes before or after the public pizza time, sometimes on a bread-making day. Cost for groups is $2.50 per pizza plus $60 for staffing.
New rule: when there's a fire in the ovens, they have to be blocked off.
Reason: so that no one can jump inside. (Really? It's nonsense. Who would want to? That's why no one tried to jump in during the first 21 years the oven was in use)
Note: this new rule appears to be modeled on the Riverdale Farm oven rules. That oven no longer has public use.
Dave Miller was Nigel Dean's helper in building the first Dufferin Grove oven. He also had a diploma as a pastry chef, but he wasn't baking when we knew him. The first pizza day we ever did, Dave made the dough and helped the St.Mary's High School students to bake it. That day was pretty clumsy, with flour and toppings all over the place. But we had to start somewhere, and we got more graceful and better organized as time went on.
Kathryn and her family moved to Havelock Street in Toronto, from a farm where Kathryn had a small bakery. Kathryn had already begun her career as a writer, but she still liked to bake and showed us how. Quita had a wood-fired oven in Collingwood, and came down to give us some tips. Annick lived right beside the park and showed us her French baking style and gardening style.
Jonathan White and his wife Nina flew up from New Jersey to make the oven repair happen. Jonathan and Mike Conway (from CELOS) started work at 9 a.m., getting all the tools together. Park baker Heidrun Gabel-Koepff spent most of the day as well, including climbing right in the oven (photo below) to vacuum out some of the dust.
Jonathan and Nina own the "Bobolink Dairy and Bakehouse" on their farm in western New Jersey, about an hour and ten minutes from New York City. They participate in many markets in NYC as well as having events at their farm. They have over a hundred milk cows. Jonathan does the dairy and Nina does the baking, in an Alan Scott oven not much different than the big oven at Dufferin Grove.
Jonathan came across the Dufferin Grove ovens on this website. He decided to help fix the smaller oven hearth to honour the memory of a friend of his youth from Toronto, Michèle Cherrington.
The bricks came out easily. There was a lot of ash underneath, which Nina and Jonathan both felt might be the result of too much water use when mopping out the oven -- driving the ash right under the bricks.
There were a lot of eroded bricks but Heidrun's count beforehand was correct -- we even had a few extra new bricks left over. Once the bricks were out, the bed of fire clay underneath was solid and level. One could still see Alan Scott's parging marks, from 15 years ago.
Heidrun got into the oven and vacuumed out the rest of the ash at the back. Meantime, as more visitors from other public ovens came to see the repair work, Mike took the time to repair a market bench that had been partly broken for a long time.
Jonathan had spent time beforehand thinking about how to level the fire clay under the new bricks, so that the hearth would be level. But it turned out not to be a problem -- the fire clay from when the oven was built had hardened over time and the bricks sat level.
Park friend Pete Gaffney lent his masonry saw, so Mike was able to cut the final bricks to the right size for the front of the hearth under the door frame.
The bakers from other public ovens who came by to watch, and catch up on oven issues over lunch: Dale Howey and Tania Davidson from Montgomery Inn oven, Zahrah Munas from Regent Park oven, Leah Houston from (former) Mabelle oven, and Gene Threndyle, from the Artscape oven at Queen and Crawford.
The final step was replacing the broken upright brick by the oven door, fastening it in with refractory cement. That's the end of the heat leak. Now the cement has to cure for a day, and then the oven is ready for use again.
At 6 pm, friends and family of Michèle Cherrington, in whose honour Jonathan worked on the oven, came over to the park and later to the CELOS house, to celebrate over Bobolink cheese and bread and Portuguese wine, also provided by Nina and Jonathan. A very good day!
The oven still has crumbling mortar above the door but it doesn't go right through and therefore doesn't seem to affect the heat.
The oven didn't retain its heat very well after the first fire, so another, bigger fire was put in. That one took the temperature up to 600F.
The spelt rye came out looking just fine.
Jutta Mason: (history, website) firstname.lastname@example.org