Do you love eating and cooking outside? We do! We obviously love having a great British BBQ, but also I have always wanted an outdoor pizza oven. I love the idea of getting friends over and baking bespoke pizzas for everyone, whilst they socialise on the patio.
Get in Your Garden! Week #22
Well whilst I continue to dream about it, author of this week’s Get in Your Garden! guest post has actually gone and done it. This week’s post is by Marc from Living Unplugged and is all about why and how he built his own pizza oven. I must say I am very jealous!
“Living Unplugged is about providing you with the tools and the confidence to take back your love of food, without the guilt of dieting. To take pleasure in activity without the soul sapping feeling that exercise is punishment. To experience the sense of accomplishment in creating or mending something rather than clicking ‘add to basket’. We want to inspire you to live a more intentional life.”
Why We Built Our Own Pizza Oven
Before I talk about why I went to the somewhat extreme measure of building a wood fired pizza oven in my back garden, I should probably give you some context.
Food is important to me and my family. Our friends find it amusing that we’ll be discussing our next couple of meals while we’re eating what’s in front of us. It’s not amusing. It sensible*. What better time to be inspired to cook an amazing meal than when you’re eating an amazing meal? Our family motto has become – “Life’s too short for bad food”.
*ok, maybe we’re a little odd.
Beyond the obvious reasons, food is central to our family time precisely because it can involve all of us. My 4 year old loves tasting and smelling ingredients, and there’s something deeply satisfying about sending him out to the garden to get fresh herbs. Sometimes he even comes back with the right ones! It’s the one bit of being a parent where I know unequivocally that I’m doing a good job.
As much as possible in the summer months (and sometimes in the winter too), we try and eat in the garden. It’s part of the reason we bought the house we live in. One look at the garden and I knew that I’d be growing veg and eating weekend meals there.
Garden meals are special because they come distraction free. There’s no TV and no mobile phones. Meals take on a new significance, they become events. Even a bowl of pasta gets carried out to the table, rather than served into bowls and eaten off laps in front of a Pixar movie. The food will taste better, because the attention is all on the meal and the company, not on a host of other distractions and pacifiers.
So why an oven in the garden? Last year I married Laura, the mother of my 4 year old. We didn’t want to spend a lot of money, but we did want to have a memorable day. I decided that we could do a pretty decent job of catering the reception (letting your ego plan events doesn’t always work btw). Plus, since I’d be cooking, it meant that I didn’t have to spend ages talking to people. Perfect! (I sometimes struggle with big social gatherings).
Several months before the wedding and after many a late night binging on information about wood fired ovens, I set about building a clay pizza oven. We already baked all our own bread, and pizza is a firm family favourite so it all made sense in my slightly dough obsessed mind.
The oven took 5 weekends to build. We were able to use mostly recovered materials (bricks found in the garden, empty wine bottles etc), and what we couldn’t find in the garden wasn’t prohibitively expensive. Better still, there was plenty of scope for all of us to contribute to the build. The kids particularly enjoyed ‘puddling’ the clay – basically marching up and down on a sand and clay mix to make the clay mortar. (For a full description of how we built our oven, click here)
The wedding reception went smoothly. I baked 50 pizzas and 20 garlic breads, plus I managed to avoid too many awkward social moments. Now we use the oven maybe once or twice a month for bread, pizza, baked potatoes, lasagna, focaccia, apple crumble, meringues… the list goes on. And because they played a part in creating the oven, my kids have a real stake in what we use it for. For them every meal we eat on our little patio area next to the oven is better than the last, and they tell us so. (click here for my pizza recipe)
We know how fortunate we are to have the space to build our oven, and space to eat in our garden, but it’s not really about the location. The reason our al fresco (and al forno) meals are great is because we eat them together, distraction free. In a world where everything is designed to compete for the limited resource that is our attention, finding a time and a place to enjoy two of the simplest and most basic of human activities – eating and communicating – is priceless.
Thank you so much Marc, I really want to do this in our garden, and that pizza recipe looks amazing!
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