Newspaper article The Topeka Capital-Journal

Built for Low-Tech Baking ; Topekans Construct Oven's Dome with Dirt, Clay, Straw and Sawdust

Newspaper article The Topeka Capital-Journal

Built for Low-Tech Baking ; Topekans Construct Oven's Dome with Dirt, Clay, Straw and Sawdust

Article excerpt

Six years ago, Topeka resident Abby Schlingensiepen traveled to Germany to visit her husband's family and left wishing she could bring home the freshly baked breads sold in the country's shops.

"They have beautiful breads, and I wondered how they cooked their bread," she said. "A friend said, 'You have to have the right oven.' "

While she couldn't pack an earth oven or loaves of bread in her suitcase for her return trip to the capital city, Schlingensiepen realized she could build an oven in her backyard. A friend gave her a book about outdoor brick ovens, and she began collecting the bricks, rock and other materials needed for the project.

Last Christmas, her husband, Tobias, gave her a gift that encouraged her even more: "Build Your Own Earth Oven" by Kiko Denzer with Hannah Field, a how-to book with illustrations and instructions.

"I read it and thought, 'I will do this.' I thought if it fails, it could become a planter," she said.

Schlingensiepen, who earned a bachelor's degree in fine arts from Washburn University and has experience using a kiln to fire pottery, began digging a pit in her backyard for the oven in March. The hole was about 4 feet in diameter and 3 feet deep.

After filling the hole with rubble and sand to bring it back to ground level, she used patio bricks to construct a 3-foot wall around its perimeter. More rubble and sand were added, followed by a layer of clay, dirt and sawdust. Some of the clay and dirt was salvaged from city street projects.

"Then we put down a layer of beer bottles," she said.

The glass bottles, donated by Burger Stand, serve as insulation to keep the heat even in the oven, she said.

A mixture of clay and sawdust was layered over the bottles, followed by a layer of clay, dirt and sand to form the bottom of the oven. That was topped by a layer of fire brick.

"When it heats up, the sawdust burns out," she said. …

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