Monday 9 November 2009

Bread and Circuses

Although I am a potter and would normally say that this is my only real area of expertise, I have in recent years, been called upon to bake bread on several occasions. This came about because, after I built the Roman kiln for Segedunum, they asked if I could also build for them, a Roman bread oven. Not being one to turn down a challenge I said yes.

The Oven was loosely based on evidence from the ones at Chichester and Doune Primary School. It was constructed on a masonry and rubble base, using hazel withies as an integral former for the clay dome. The baking floor is made up of sandstone flags and the exterior is finished with a layer of plaster. It works on the preheating principal, whereby a wood fire is lit inside the baking chamber and the whole structure is thoroughly heated for several hours. In order to bake the fire is raked out and the floor of the oven swept, the prepared dough being placed directly onto the heated flagstones.

I have used this oven many times now and it has proved successful on every occasion. So successful in fact that it got me hooked and I just had to find out more about bread making. I started researching, making and using various pots associated with the process, from different periods of history, and possibly putting on a little weight in the process.

The Clibanus or Testum is basically a small portable oven from the Roman period and pieces of Clibani have recently been found at the Amphitheatre in Chester, where it is suggested that they were used for producing fast food. The photo shows one of my replicas in use baking bread. Again a fire is lit on a flat stone and the clibanus put next to it to preheat. The stone, once thoroughly heated, is cleaned and the dough placed on it covered by the clibanus. Hot ashes and burning charcoal are then placed on top of the clibanus, after about half an hour the pot is removed to reveal a perfectly baked loaf! Every barbecue should have one! As for the circuses? Well nobody has asked me yet!!

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  1. This sounds very much like an Italian traditional pizza oven, Graham. It has a tiled floor and a clay dome with a small opening in front. They heat it with wood and then sweep the wood to one side to cook in it, putting everything on the floor of the oven. Interesting!
    X Kathy

    they use today testum (test) in Romania!
    I don't think they put hot coals on top, may be you are influenced by Dutch oven