On almost-tomato-season plus the masonry oven

The makings of Glut sauce*(including the first ripe extremely cat-faced Brandywine) plus a bit more for peach salsa

It’s not quite full season yet with the tomatoes: we’ve mostly got the little guys going (I frankly no longer bother with cherry tomatoes) and some plums…but it’s COMING.  Goodness is it ever.

Strangely, I am way ahead of the game with the peppers, eggplant and okra.  Tomatoes are usually the herald of the family solanaceae, they’re the first ones reddening up and driving me crazy but this is a great year for the peppers and, especially, eggplant.  I am beginning to wonder if it’s just a good year all around or if it’s because all of these plants are ones that I have saved from good-looking parent plants over the last couple of years.  A mystery.

I wake up ridiculously early on Thursdays (4:00!).  Thursdays have become my Cook Everything Possible In Loven And Then Eat It All Until Next Thursday day.  It’s a bit of a marathon, but then again, I am cooking for (potentially) a week, and cooking bread loaves to sell…of course it’s arduous.  But in the oven, in order of its hotness, goes

  1. Caramelization session in the hot coals:  2 cast-iron skillets with some chopped veg like onions in one pan, zucchini in the other; this requires some frequent stirring.  It cooks from the top and the bottom.  The veg go into bread salads, or frittatas, or on pasta; whatever, it’s cooked! and with a woodsy flavor punch!
  2. Push the coals back and then bake pizzas/focaccias (2 per session, turned around 3x in front of the hot flames)
  3. The fire burns way down.  Tom scrapes it out, mops the floor, closes the door to equalize the oven’s hot spots.  About an hour later, I now fill the oven with the massive bread and roast chicken baking (bread takes 1/2 hour, chicken closer to an hour)
  4. Remove the bread, leave the chicken in there and set a skillet full of frittata, individual potatoes (pierced with a fork, set on the floor), soaked/parboiled beans and/or rice and baked dessert (custard, souffle, etc.) and start on roasting things overnight like the glut sauce or juicy peaches.  Later in the season I will have 2-3 steam table pans* full of tomatoes cooking overnight (the temp. goes from about 200 down to 150 or so)
  5. Dinner happens (if we’re not too stuffed with pizza) when we pull the chicken out.  I made a cold veg salad the day before.
  6. Remove things by doneness, check temperature, and leave the glut sauce and peaches in there to cook overnight.  Also overnight, in goes a glass casserole filled with a cultured milk product (buttermilk, kefir) that…cooks all night to become quark or kefir cheese.  The heat separates the curds from the whey; this lovely sweet tasting caramelized grainy cheese, then, becomes one of my favorite things to spread on my morning toast.

It’s fun!  And…exhausting!  But heck, no cooking the rest of the week…unless we’d like to, of course.

* don’t waste your money on buying a spendy turkey roasting pan this year; 4″ or 6″ deep stainless steel steamer pans will work quite well.  Buy them thick enough and they completely take the heat of my oven, too.  Lasagna, dehydrating veggies, etc. etc. etc.!

16 responses to “On almost-tomato-season plus the masonry oven

  1. Yeehaw, that IS a marathon of cooking! I just saw a newly minted masonry oven last week, and was inspired to fire up the mud oven soon. This is an excellent capture of what its like to try and optimize that stored energy — its hard to describe that feeling of being compelled to use every last bit of waning heat.

    But I have to say, your tale reminds me how exhausting it all is! When people ask me about how we like it, I often say “its kind of a lot of work”. Which, coming from someone who does a LOT of things the long and/or hard way, is kind of telling. (People often tell me my “hobbies” look like a lot of work, but when I say it? Look out! )

  2. This was a helpful post, so I bookmarked it for myself. I don’t have a masonry oven yet, but I hope to one day.

  3. sustainableeats

    Oh my I’m exhausted just thinking about that! Have you singed off any arm hair yet? So excited for your oven – someday just maybe I’ll have one. Until then we test the temp on ours making pizza. I read about one guy who cut the lock off his so he could cook it on “clean”. I tell you, it’s tempting!

  4. Is that a small regular eggplant or a Japanese eggplant.I do the Japanese ones whole and makes slits in them to stuff with basil and garlic.Then I saute in olive oil chop some fresh tomatoes up and add some puree and braise stove top.Besides the spicy sechuan(sp) eggplant from my local Chinese place it’s my favorite eggplant dish.

  5. That sounds like quite a day. Thanks for the roasting pan tip. I only need one a few times a year; the steamer pan seems as though it could double for a few other tasks over the year.

  6. I just found you- terrific setup, terrific blog – You definitely speak my language.

    My transformation started June 2009, so you are a couple years ahead of me- my next project is the hoop-house ahead of my north GA “winter”.

    ‘ll be doing some catch up reading- thanks for making your journey available to us all.


  7. It’s just a great year for all the heat-loving things, I think. Our reward for Slugstock 2009.

    I like the concept of cooking once weekly, but I like the ritual of cooking daily. One day a week I try to do more preservey things like pickles, baking, curing meat, or making cheese. Also, too, my blog would suck if I only cooked once a week.

    • Okay Peter don’t believe me when I say I cook once a week. I cook every day! But for the first time ever, my family is eating leftovers. Not a bad thing, really. And: the time I am not spending doing the usual multi-course meals I do is now spent in the pursuit of other preservation efforts…like that cambozola we sampled yesterday. Magnifique.

      And yeah your blog would suck if you only cooked once a week.

  8. “I am beginning to wonder if it’s just a good year all around or if it’s because all of these plants are ones that I have saved from good-looking parent plants over the last couple of years. A mystery”.

    I like your thoughts on saving seed and often wonder the same thing. Perhaps, over time, I will know for sure.

  9. Oh, that is quite some cooking! You must be exhausted later.

  10. Sara, “optimizing that stored energy” is what it is all about! I think I will be calmer once I get into a full routine with this oven, but right now it is a rather fraught endeavor. I just can’t let that heat go to waste, and heck, that means I make a lot of bread and other goodies AND THEN HAVE LOTS OF DISHES to wash. If I could somehow eliminate that latter task, I think I wouldn’t be so wiped out on Thursday nights! I will say, though, after using a friend’s mud oven, there’s a much slower slide to not-enough-heat-to-cook in this monster…so I should just calm down eh? But get cooking yourself!

    Paula, I will say they’re quite fun, but what Sara has might fit someone’s occasional needs. Me, I am simply crazy and it should be noted.

    Annette, well…personally I do think it’s kind of stupid that ovens only go to 500 or so. And no, I haven’t had any burning catastrophes with this oven yet but last night’s pizzas in there were HOT as in the cornmeal used to dust the peels burst into flames when we took the pizzas out, now you can’t expect a home’s oven to do that! or if so call the fire department!

    Hi John. They’re an heirloom called Diamond, I think. I like them because they’re small; no waiting for them to get big and too seedy (I can never really tell by looking other than the skin looks a little duller if they’re overripe). But indeed your preparation sounds wonderful. I adore eggplants but as usual I am alone in my house with this love. More for me 🙂

    Stefani, I am looking to purchase more of the things myself. I have two full-sized ones and it’s just not enough for the height of the tomato season!! They’re lots less expensive surely than the All Clad roaster I have.

    Cohutt, hi! You do indeed sound like a kindred spirit. I think your wife is quite tolerant! My husband, personally, just kind of goes along for the ride without much fuss. Ah well. It keeps us busy, this making our partners crazy.

    Peter, what I meant to say was this major oven session gets a lot of the rest of my weekly food prep work finished. Having never been big on leftovers or storing food in the fridge, period, it’s taking some adjustments on my part…but the bigger reason I am doing it is that other food preservation (especially in libation- and cheese-form) has taken lots more of my time in the summer. Sigh. It’s all good.

    Mike, we may never know, though, right? That might be okay. I like the idea of just having lots of well-growing food around me…and I feel better knowing I am growing things that adjust well to my terroir, as the French say.

    Yeah, Meems, it’s more that I have a lot of dishes to wash! Now if that wouldn’t happen (or if I could, temperamentally, allow dishes to sit overnight) I think it wouldn’t be so hard. But…it’s tasty!

  11. wooooww, what an event! I would love to be around for that – either to help cook or help eat!

  12. A good masonry oven reference with design and material considerations as well as cooking “how tos”


    • Come on by! I thought that looked like a lot of fun…and goodness knows I can share the work with someone. THAT might be the best part.

  13. Fantastic post. I’m big on baking pizzas, breads, and roasting veggies so I think I certainly have a lot to take way from this article. My wife’s convinced me to get an oven for outside . It’s a great idea for anyone who has a smaller home with room to spare in the backyard, for sure. Thanks a bunch!

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