All around the world, ovens come in different forms and shapes, and with different intended uses. Often these are based on the climate of the host country, and are specifically designed toward cooking a certain food in a certain way.
But just because we have modern ovens doesn’t mean we should neglect these more authentic ovens, which can give us a vital insight into our culture’s history and help us learn how people lived before the advent of the current oven as we know it.
In some countries, these ovens are still in popular use – whether it’s due to a lack of electricity or energy supply to the house, reduced amounts of money or access, or even just because it’s a tradition, there are many who use alternatives to what we know. These are just a few of the most popular around the world.
These are a fantastically rustic way to cook your food, although have none of the same conveniences that we’re used to in modern appliances. There are many different versions of an earth oven throughout the world, although its basic nature can be described as a covered pit in the ground. The base is usually made of fire bricks or concrete, while a dome of clay or compacted soil is placed over it. Inside, a fire is started by burning solid fuels, most commonly wood although coal can be used as well.
For most cooking, it’s necessary to wait until the fire have dies down almost completely, as the heat left in the oven is plenty to cook foods such as loaves of bread or pizzas. Food that needs a longer cooking time like meat can need all day inside a burning earth oven to be cooked through properly, but one big advantage of building your own is that you can make it big enough for large items – an entire lamb, for instance.
These have traditionally been community ovens, built as large events and used to feed a large group of people in one go – they are much less practical when it comes to feeding just a few people in a short period of time.
Solar power as an energy source has recently reached new levels of popularity, as more and more homeowners become aware of the environmental benefits. Up until now, they have usually been used in areas lacking in electricity or gas, but also in solid fuels which are used for cooking in earth ovens.
There are many variations on the solar cooker, although they all work on the same basic principles. Using sunlight as a fuel, dark pans or lids are often used to absorb as much heat as possible, which is then held into the area by use of a plastic bag, glass bowl, or a box with windows made of glass or plastic. This is the “heat trap” and helps to retain heat and moisture within the pan. There is also often a reflective surface to capture and intensify sunlight.
Food takes a long time to cook in a solar oven, even in very hot countries, but they operate completely without waste and are helpful to those with financial or environmental concerns.
These are mostly used for smoking meat and fish for preservation, although they can be used for plenty of other types of cooking. The method of smoking really hasn’t changed much over time, as it turns out the traditional way is the best!
You can do this in one of two ways. The first is to smoke something when it’s uncooked, which involves hanging the food over some smouldering wood chips which have been previously dried – you will include fresher wood later to keep the smoke going strong. This is the traditional method as it cooks the meat as it goes – salt is sometimes used for additional preservation.
Secondly you could cook the meat prior to smoking. This is obviously a more contemporary method which is used purely for achieving the smokey flavour and at the same time preserving meat for longer periods of time.
In appearance, smokehouses tend to be circular (although don’t have to be) with a gabled or pyramid roof and just one vent. They usually only have one single entrance and no windows to prevent unnecessary wastage of heat and smoke. Usually there is just one room in which all the meat is hung.
While meat and fish are the most popular things to smoke, smokehouses can also be used for cheese, vegetables, spices and even the malt which is used in making whisky.
So next time you use your conventional oven, think about how much easier and quicker it is to use one of these methods – then when you have the time, try them out yourselves, preferably with friends and the community.