‘We built a clay oven that cooks a pizza in 60 seconds’
These three families built their own outdoor ovens from scratch
The Jelletts’ pizza oven sits in what had hitherto been known as the ‘Ignored Corner’ of their garden.
My late father’s barbecue sauce always signalled the beginning of summer. Made from a bounty of fresh tomatoes, garlic, onions, sugar and lemon, the taste was sweet and tarte all at one. The exact recipe remains a secret – the key ingredient is rumoured to have been gin – and even now, as the aroma of charcoal drifts over from the barbecue, I can taste that compelling sauce.
In Ireland, eating outside can feel wonderfully decadent. Some dishes simply taste better in the open air. The sensational run of good weather during the lockdown has inspired a number of creative souls to take cooking alfresco into their own hands by building magic ovens.
‘Kids love to tug and stretch, poke and turn the dough’
Hugo and Roz Jellett, Co Laois
The couple who are involved in running the Electric Picnic’s fun bits – Salty Dog, Trailer Park, Berlinhaus and Spike Island – Hugo and Roz Jellett were inspired by a pizza oven built into an old tree at nearby Stradbally. “It sits unused all year and then takes a crazy hammering during the festival,” says Hugo. “This year, it will wonder where everyone is.”
Their oven sits in what had hitherto been known as the “Ignored Corner” of their garden, a repository for unwanted slates, mowed grass and other items that will “one day never be used”. It transpired that the corner boasted an unexpectedly amazing view, being perched a little higher than elsewhere.
A huge flagstone, which had been awaiting salvation, now acts as the base beneath a floor of 1,000 degree fire-bricks, rescued from “a disorderly heap”. They mixed clay powder with wood shavings to make the dome, before moulding it around “a bosom of sand to get the shape”.
With the dulcet tones of Mungo Jerry’s In the Summertime echoing out of the kitchen, Hugo and Roz ensure that pizza making is open to all. “Kids love to tug and stretch, poke and turn the dough,” observes Hugo. “The results are always better if they are left to make their own way through these critical life decisions. And, of course, the wonky shapes ensure nobody confuses the homemade pizzas with the frisbees you get from the shop.”
Roz’s pizza of choice features good quality mozzarella, garden spinach and spicy N’douja sausage, along with homemade dough and a tomato base. “You have to revel in the ingredients to get justice at the other end,” she says.
And a top pizza-paddle tip from the Jelletts: “A mixture of polenta and flour on the paddle are essential for shaking the pizza into the fiery furnace.”
Climbing the garden steps from the house to the pizza oven has been a bonding development for the family. There’s also something “a little miraculous” about it, says Hugo. “We built a clay oven that cooks a pizza in 60 seconds.”
‘S’mores here are a big favourite’
Lorcan and Belinda Carpenter’s supersized barbecue
In the first years after they established their Old Forge Glamping, the Carpenters constantly had to replace the on-site barbecues, which were unable to cope with the constant use by glampers. A few weeks before the pandemic reached Ireland, they decided to build something with sturdier foundations at their farmstead on the Carlow-Wicklow border. Mick Butler, a local stonemason, was called upon to create some magic.
“We explained to Mick that we needed a communal barbecue that would be a focal point for our campers,” says Belinda. “Something that would bring them together to share the cooking experience.”
Looking out over incredible views of Lugnaquilla, with shelter from both sun and showers beneath a grove of dappled beech trees, Mick’s barbecue is a simple but brilliant collaboration of steel and granite.
“There was finely crafted cut-stone granite hiding in various nooks and crannies around the farm, just waiting to be discovered and reborn. We also salvaged the steel for the grill from the farm, which was originally used for gates and fencing.”
Not only is the Carpenters’ barbecue a thing of beauty, but it has also been ingeniously designed with three tiers of grates, allowing up to 50 steaks to sizzle and cook at any one time. “It’s our very own 3BQ,” says Belinda, “which is equally popular with children and adults, as s’mores here are a big favourite.”
‘Spatchcock chicken is our most successful dish so far’
Harriet Tindal’s cob oven
Harriet Tindal recently became a Master of Wine, one of only 137 women in the world to hold the prestigious title. With the onset of the lockdown, she also set about fulfilling another long-standing ambition – building an outdoor oven. Discussing the options, at a suitable distance, with her neighbour, she found herself considering the notion of an earth-based “cob oven”. It seemed like a perfect fit for the covered veranda outside the kitchen of her Wicklow hillside home.
“Building a cob oven on our own would have been pretty tricky,” says Harriet. “But we worked out a formula by which Susie would give us an instruction, we’d comply and then WhatsApp her a pic to check we were on track and, all being good, we’d move on to the next stage.
“One of the great things is that we didn’t need to buy anything,” says Harriet. “We used our own subsoil, we got the clay from a neighbour, added straw, empty wine bottles and builders’ sand.”
Fittingly, Harriet filled the base for her cob oven with empty wine bottles from her family business, Searsons Wine Merchants. “This gave a sort of ‘shredded wheat’ effect for air, before we added further layers of cob.”
The hardest part of the process was digging out the subsoil. “We then had to mix the soil with clay, straw and water, before treading it in to blend it,” says Harriet. “We then lumped the mixture over the base, making patty sort of shapes and bashing them with logs to fuse them.”
And this was just for the base. “You use sand to make the inner dome and then mould around it. Let the clay dry, pull out the sand and, hey presto, one afternoon of a gentle fire later you can go straight into a bigger fire and cooking the next day. The heat gets up to nearly 500c!”
Cooking in the cob has proved a constant highlight for Harriet and her family during the lockdown. “Spatchcock chicken is our most successful dish so far, and my next experiment will be a steak cooking on the coals.”