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Cooking with Fire in Public Parks
The pictorial building record of the first Christie oven, now the Fairmount oven, is here
This is how well an amateur-built Alan Scott oven works after it's been detached from its concrete base at Christie Pits, lifted up and moved twice, and then transported clear across the city and lowered by crane into its new home at Fairmount Park:
I’ve personally done a lot of training so folks can safely operate the oven themselves
Below is a handout I prepared as a checklist for trainees when I’m doing the training. The training takes about 3 hours and includes a short cooking lesson.
Bake oven training
Water access, Tbar Pails Water for fire extinguisher Water for cleaning Hand sanitizer Bake oven tools Warming oven Ladder Fire extinguisher Bake oven door bungee Kindling Paper Hardwood No painted wood, pressure treated or plywood Axe/hatchet Scraper Peel Apron and gloves Light fire inside door Try to create good ventilation/flue Push back and add more hardwood Temperature for cooking Knives, tongs, cutting boards Clean up Ash/Coals bin Lockup Chalk door re ‘HOT’ Cooking lesson
From Barry Ross: "I was interviewed today by Kate Mcgillivray CBC Toronto. She wanted to get info for a story about the value of fire pits, bake ovens etc getting going as good social and healthy venues for family bubbles during Covid and city cooperation to facilitate that! I spoke with her mostly about getting rid of the permits red tape for bake ovens and the value of community self management; and the lost social opportunity value with City Parks stalling all of this."
Link to the item, broadcast Oct.19, 2000.
From Tina Scherz (about the Feb.22 Winterfest -- she was the main cook/baker)
We lit the oven at 845, and stopped adding wood around the same time we put the potatoes in the oven. We baked them with oil and salt in a pan, and when it looked like the tops were getting charred, we covered them with tin foil. We did four pans in total, about 50 potatoes, and along with all the toppings, they were well-received! The last two batches turn out the best, when the heat was more evenly distributed, but the coals were still pushed to the back of the oven during cooking. I'd say they took about an hour and a half to cook. Around three o'clock, we pulled out the coals and baked some sourdough and ginger molasses cookies (yum!) At 5, when we closed up the oven for the day, we had a nice even temperature of 350deg. It was a long but productive day!
Q: How did your bread turn out? -- or was it too busy for you to get to use the oven after the potatoes were done?
A: I did bake three loaves and they were the best ever (in the wood-fired oven). Two loaves placed near the back of the oven developed a bulge at the bottom edge. Likely due to a hot spot in the back. Lesson learned: after removing the coals we need to let the oven sit longer with the plug closing the inner opening to equalize the temp. Have to be patient.
We sliced up one of the bulging loaves and it was deliciously warm and comforting on that cold, slushy winter day.
Hope to bake again soon. Still waiting to hear from the city about their proposal re long-term access to the bake oven.
Ballpark we had 750-1000 guests attend Winterfest this year. Our biggest turnout ever.
Today was the annual Fairmount Park Winterfest. A beautiful sunny day, not great for natural ice rinks but fine for a bake oven. Dale Howey, the baker from Montgomery Inn in the west, came over early and brought over a plug for the oven door and a tool for moving the baking around the hearth -- both made using the coals from the oven at Montgomery!
Tina got the fire started at 8.45, so by noon the oven was so hot that she had to cover the potatoes with foil to keep them from burning on the outside before they were fully cooked.
There was a big covered pan for keeping the potatoes warm, there were toppings -- a great snack on a winter day.
Today was the second practice session the bakers had asked for. It was originally planned for January 21, but the scheduling didn't happen, and then it was booked for Tuesday Feb.4 instead. That was a bit of a cliffhanger too -- it wasn't confirmed until the day before. At 5 p.m. on Monday, Gail wrote: "We are on for 9:30a.m. tomorrow. The oven will be open for us, so get kneading!"
Even so, the bakers were waiting in front of the oven until 10 and the staff person who came with the key said that this was the last time they would get to just "practice" -- she made quote marks with her fingers. After Feb.4 they would have to go through the regular permit procedure and fees. The consensus among the bakers was that they felt like they had been reprimanded.
The fire took a long time to get going, but then by early afternoon the oven was really hot. Lottie brought some bricks along to create a temporary plug for the inner opening. Eventually Lottie had to put her bread in, but it got a bit burned.
That's why there have to be quite a few practice days. But when Gail wrote asking for another practice day on Feb.25, the Parks manager Peter White wrote back: "I will cannot authorize another training session at this time. We are working out permitting details with the Councillor's office and will be meeting with him this week. I will follow up with you by the end of the week." To be continued....
Notes sent around afterwards by Lottie White:
A synopsis of training bake 1
We lit the fire at about 12:15 p.m., and slowly built it up and pushed it back into the oven over about three hours as the sides and ceiling of the chamber turned white.
Around 3:30 p.m. the oven temperature was reading about 500 F. We cleaned the front part of the hearth to ready it for baking pizza, and the pizza went in and was baked (by about 3:57 p.m., according to the time stamp on the photo I took).
The temperature in the middle of the oven was still reading 500 F (not high enough it turned out), and we decided to spread the coals out across the hearth to even out the heat throughout the oven, before removing the coals and preparing the hearth for baking some sourdough loaves.
Around 4:15 p.m., we removed the coals using the ash rake, shovel, and bucket we had on hand, and placed them in the ash receptacle.
We closed the outer metal door for about 15 minutes to stabilize the heat throughout the oven (standard practice in a properly sealed bake oven), knowing that we would lose some heat up the flue (which is inside the outer door).
Unfortunately the temperature in the middle of the oven by 4:40 p.m. was down to 375 F. We decided to chance it and put in two loaves at the very back of the oven, hoping that they would still rise and bake. And they did. Partially.
At 5:18 p.m., the temperature was down to about 250 F, the loaves had risen but were whitish with a softish crust. They were taken across the street to be finished off in Gail's home oven.
What we learned
Three hours of firing seemed to be enough to heat the oven for baking pizza, but clearly not enough for baking bread.
A metal wheelbarrow would speed up the ash removal process.
An inner door or plug is needed to prevent the heat from escaping up the flue once the coals are removed and the oven is prepped for bread baking using the retained heat in the chamber.
Finally... the pizza was deliciously comforting on that cold winter afternoon. And the bread survived the "bakus interuptus" and was enjoyed the next morning.
Hi Gail and co, I managed to produce this handle by creating a forge using the ashes from our bake oven today and a sort of blow pipe. I can make a blade out of metal available from Home Depot. It’s a bit over 4 feet long. Total materials cost would be around $20 and a lot of hot air. I also figure I could make an inner door out of materials available from Home Depot for around $50 as well. Let me know if you are interested in either of these.
The baker group got an email from and assistant to the city councillor Brad Bradford, saying that their office had asked the rec supervisor to get her staff to "come out and do a training, showing how to light the fire in that the Fairmount Park Oven."
But the bakers already know how to light the oven. It's practice that they need, and they had written to the councillor's office about needing a key for the Jan.21 baking date. No key, but a belated message....
From Dale Howey:
If the oven brick is heated thoroughly enough you should be able to do at least one bread bake before it cools too much, even with a leaky door. I tried experimenting to see if I could heat metal hot enough to make a rake handle today using the ash from our oven and did get it red hot with the help of a blow pipe we have for getting hesitant fires going (photo attached). I'll try with a hammer and some spare rod I have next week to see if it is hot enough to work.
The nine-person bakers' crew has scheduled a practice bake day today with Dale Howey (Montgomery oven) and Jutta Mason (Dufferin Grove ovens), but nobody let the Fairmount bakers have a key for their oven, so the practice had to be cancelled. Parks manager Peter White wrote to them saying for sure a key would be available for the postponed practice day (Feb.4).
On Wednesday Jan.15, Fairmount park neighbours Lottie White and Joseph Romaine came to Dufferin grove to watch park baker Heidrun light the two ovens and bake off the market sourdough.....
From Lottie: "A big thank you to Heidrun at Dufferin Grove for sharing her bake oven and bread baking expertise with Joseph and me yesterday. A day-long process that went by in a flash and was capped with a slice of heavenly potato and rosemary sourdough." read more.
The oven crew -- Karen and Marietta -- lit the oven in the afternoon and by 6 the oven was full of fire. Karen said that they had tried to push the fire soon after they had it going, and it went out. But by 6 the creosote had mostly burned off and most of the oven bricks inside were white.
At about 6.15, six baker-women came out of the house across the street, bearing the eight pizzas they had got ready to bake, on their metal platters, and singing a song ("That's Amore"). What class! The fire was pushed back more and Michael Monastyrskyj (Dufferin Grove Park baker and also the photographer for this account) scraped some fresh snow onto the bakers' broom and swept out the ashes.
The thick crust pizzas took some time to bake all the way through but they were delicious and the wedges never lasted longer that a minute when they were taken out of the oven. The fire keeper said that she was used to campfires, and it showed -- she kept the heat steady and none of the pizzas were burned despite the intense flames.
We will be firing up the Fairmount Bake Oven on Saturday the 21st at 3 p.m.
Making the pizzas at 5 p.m.
Hoping to bake the pizzas between 6 and 7 p.m.
Barry Ross sent the poster, which says:
4th annual Winter Solstice Bonfire and Lantern Parade
December 21, 7 -8 pm
Fairmount Park Fire Pit
Help welcome the return of the sun on the darkest day of the year with a lantern parade and bonfire.
Drummers will lead the parade around the park and a bonfire will be lit in the firepit.
PLUS NEW this year Farimount Park Bake Oven will be lit!
All are welcome!
Thank you to the Beach Hill neighbourhood Association, Gerrard East Community Organization, Friends of Fairmount Park and the Fairmount Park Ice Masters!
"we had the bake oven unveiling along with our rinks season launch last Sunday- Councillor Bradford and his staff were there as well as MP Erskine Smith. We had about 100 neighbourhood folks turn out, speeches made and some pizzas baked and hot dogs grilled on the fire pit. Hot chocolate, coffee, hot apple cider etc."
We met with councillor Brad Bradford’s office this morning. There was much focus on the most organic, neighbourhood spirit and efficient way to run the oven is based on the following statement that I made:
“All or most parks generally like the idea of an annual blanket bake oven permit with all event scheduling and individual event access (ie lock and unlock) and safe use controlled by ‘Friends Of’.
“Friends Of” to notify Parks in advance of any intended use and the name of the qualified operator.
Parks can inspect the oven anytime to ensure it physically meets safe operating standards.”
This is essentially the process we use for building and operating the Fairmount Park ice rinks - in a word, self-managed.
Their office seems to accept this is an ideal approach and will priority review it with parks and other involved city groups for buy in. We told them we want to conclude a general agreement on process by Nov1st so we can get on with planning for oven related events already getting organized.
The oven was brought over from Christie Pits by the Parks Department. From Barry Ross:
I was able to convince staff that the oven and/or oven and enclosure could be moved by looking at the design drawings and getting advice from folks like you and Jutta and the original builder.
From Barry Ross:
Unfortunately the city technical team assessed the oven and determined there is no way to move it safely across town to Fairmount and likely it would crumble thru the trip as the masonry of the oven and enclosure and foundation are all integrated.
From Barry: The city is reviewing our application and is gradually ticking off ‘ok’ boxes.
They are now at the funding/fundraising part.
They will first be investigating the cost to relocate your older oven to our park, so I expect they will contact you about past experience and players involved in prior moves……I volunteered to put that info together myself but they insisted on leading that.
So expect they will be in touch with someone from the Christi Pits end soon.
when we built the first oven, I heard from Alan Scott (whose plans we and a lot of other people used) that the ovens are moveable. We never thought of it again until we heard that the oven we built at Christie had been more or less dumped a distance away. I guess Parks thought that it was redundant. Since the funds we used in 2000 were donated by the Maytree Foundation, we didn't want the oven taken out of the city, and Maytree were not pleased to hear about it either.
It's great that it's going to Fairmount, Barry, and I imagine any contractor who works with heavy stuff -- like the contractor that move the oven within Christie Pits -- would know how to handle the transport. Certainly Parks supervisor Brian Green would know about the issue as well.
From Jode Roberts:
I saw them move the oven -- it's on a concrete base so they used heavy machinery to pick it up and move it out of the way and then into its current location. My understanding is that it could be loaded onto a flatbed.
From Jutta Mason:
We partnered with the city to build the Christie Pits oven in October 2000. It's the twin of the second Dufferin Grove oven, built in May 2000, and about half the hearth size of the first Dufferin Grove oven, built in 1995. The pictorial building record of that first Christie oven is here.
CELOS has a website about all 18 of the city's public bake ovens, with separate sections for each. The Christie ovens log (older and new) is here. It's kind of annoying to read since you have to read from the bottom up, but it tells a lot, starting from when this first Christie oven was built (scroll right to the bottom).
If you scroll to the Nov.1 2015 entry, you can see that the oven was picked up and moved some distance away (then picked up again later to be moved back), apparently without incident or damage.
The original Christie oven was not used all that much, as you can see from the log, since the rec supervisor didn't approve of fire. But its twin at Dufferin Grove has been used more than a thousand times since it was built. After 15 years of so much use, possibly also with bad habits of too much slopping of water during mop-out, the hearth surface started to crumble a bit. But putting in a new one was dead easy, as you can see in the Sept 2015 entry here. So this oven you're getting should not cause you too many maintenance troubles.