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Ode to Mildrith the Wood-Fired Oven

Mildrith the wood-fired oven of the Happy Monk Baking Company, Pender Island, British Columbia
“She’s my one, my only,” I think. But I must be dreaming.

When I step outside at 2 a.m., it’s cold and dark. I find my way to Mildrith’s shelter with the light of a headlamp. Sometimes a light breeze jostles the wind chimes. They sound like an eerie, monastic night-chant. Compline.1

The fire in Mildrith, the wood-fired oven, has been burning 17 hours. More, if the weather has been cold.

I pull on a pair of gloves to protect my hands when I open the steel doors. I can feel the heat radiating from the cob entrance to the oven. The latch screeches when I lift it to open the doors. Inside, a small pile of glowing coals is all that remains of the wood and fire. And a dusting of grey ash.

Hot air billows into my face. I aim an infra-red thermometer probe at the far inside wall. It’s 750ºF. Five hours ago, before I went to bed, the walls were over a thousand degrees.

The radiant heat of Mildrith’s walls

After sweeping out the coals and opening the air vents, it will be two hours before Mildrith is ready to bake bread. It’s the radiant heat from the wood-fired oven walls that bakes the bread. Not the fire.

I could go back to sleep now, but there’s work to do. The night sky draws me round to the front of the property. I look out onto Boundary Pass. The moon and stars are reflected there in the rippling waters. A freighter passes by towards to Turn Point. I’ll stand a moment.

But I’ll be thinking of Mildrith.

She’s made of the earth. Pender earth.

Mildrith is one of the best things in my life. She’s right near the top. Next to Jennifer and my family, I got a lotta love for Mildrith!

She’s made of the earth. Pender earth. Rocks, clay, hay, and horse poop, all born of Pender. And made by Pender hands!

She’s baked 1,500 loaves of Happy Monk bread. Her thick thermal walls and insulation layers hold heat for hours, even in the cold of winter. She’s produced 60 loaves of pillowy, chestnut-colored bread in one firing.

The steel doors look steampunk, forged by a Metchosin blacksmith who likes to play death metal music while hammering and welding the red hot steel.

She’s got a web of cracks around the entrance. They give her character. We’ll give her a facelift this summer and repair those cracks.

Why do I call the wood-fired oven Mildrith? You can read about that here. If you’re interested in the longer story of how the oven was built, check out this earlier blog post.

It’s loading time!

When the wall temperatures reach 550ºF, it’s time to load the oven.

This is the fun part!

I’ve carried trays of dough baskets down from the garage fridge. Fifteen of loaves are waiting on the workbench, ready to go. I dust the wooden peel 2 with flour, dump a boule onto it, score it with a razor, open the oven door, slide in the peel, place the boule.

Working fast! No dilly-dallying! Dump, score, place. Dump, score, place, until the wood-fired oven is full. Seal it up, slam the doors shut, start the timer.

Steam soon begins rising out of the chimney. Because the oven’s still quite hot, I’ll check the loaves in about 15 minutes. They won’t be entirely done, but I might need to re-arrange them, moving the darker loaves to a cooler part of the oven.

More steam billows out Mildrith’s doors. Twenty to 25 minutes, the first loaves are done. They’ve gone from cold dough to 200ºF+, internally. Using a metal peel now, I pull the puffy, golden brown loaves out of the oven and slide them onto trays.

Salish Sourdough loaves baked at the Happy Monk Baking Company, Pender Island
This is what Mildrith hath wrought – “Beauty is truth, truth is beauty,—that is all ye know on earth, and all ye need know.” 3

No smell on earth like baking bread

There’s nothing quite like the smell of baking bread on this earth. I’m working fast, but my feet are off the ground as I float the trays into the kitchen. I line them up on cooling racks. The kitchen fills with the aroma. You can hear them crackling away. The singing crusts!

This is what Mildrith hath wrought: transformed raw dough boules into crusty things of beauty. Mouths water. We begin to dream of hot crumb, shattery crisp crust, butter melting, and the gentle tang of sourdough leavened bread. I’m smitten.

“She’s my one, my only,” I think. But no, not quite. I must be dreaming, intoxicated with the smell of Happy Monk bread. “Thank you, Mildrith,” I say.

The sky is dark blue, now. The morning is here. Bread will soon be warming the hearts and bellies of Happy Monk friends.


Happy Monk Tidings - October 27, 2021 🍞 - Baker's Choice this week: Mountain Rye; Blog: Colossal Roughhousing on Boundary Pass [ See link in profile ]

Happy Monk Tidings - October 27, 2021 🍞 - Baker's Choice this week: Mountain Rye; Blog: Colossal Roughhousing on Boundary Pass [ See link in profile ] ...

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The good earth! We survive the big storm! Been inside all day so I’m going swimming and the hot tub awaits. .
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#coldwaterswimming #coldwaterswim #coldwatertherapy #penderisland #southpenderisland

The good earth! We survive the big storm! Been inside all day so I’m going swimming and the hot tub awaits. .
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#coldwaterswimming #coldwaterswim #coldwatertherapy #penderisland #southpenderisland
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Happy Monk Tidings - October 20, 2021 🍞 - Baker's Choice: Sprouted Purple Barley Sourdough; Blog: To All the Bakers: Past, Present, Future and Imaginary! [ See Link in Profile ]

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Happy Monk Tidings - October 15, 2021 🍞 - Baker's Choice: Pender Island Apple Bread; Blog: Happy Monk Bread Teachers: Francis Olive [ See Link in Profile ]

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Happy Monk Tidings - October 6, 2021 🍞 - Baker's Choice: Sesame-Wheat Sourdough; Blog: Making Your Own Bread - You've Got This; Video: Bake Day with the Happy Monk [See Link in Profile ]

Happy Monk Tidings - October 6, 2021 🍞 - Baker's Choice: Sesame-Wheat Sourdough; Blog: Making Your Own Bread - You've Got This; Video: Bake Day with the Happy Monk [See Link in Profile ] ...

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Bake Day with the Happy Monk. The amazing @jomosenpai (my son) came over to Pender last summer on a bake day. Was in my face all the time, taking pictures, shooting video. It was so great having him around, and I’m amazed the bread (Polenta Rosemary Sourdough) turned out so well. This video he made turned out very well, too!
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#woodfired #woodfiredoven #woodfiredovenbread #bread #realbread #naturallyleavened #baker #bakery #bbga #artisanbread #breadhead #breadmaking #breadmaking🍞 #sourdough #sourdoughbread #polenta #polentabread #coboven #earthoven #earthenoven #penderisland #southpenderisland #happymonkbaking #happymonkbakery #happymonkbakingcompany #southerngulfislands #southerngulfislandsbakers #southerngulfislandsbakeries #penderisland

Bake Day with the Happy Monk. The amazing @jomosenpai (my son) came over to Pender last summer on a bake day. Was in my face all the time, taking pictures, shooting video. It was so great having him around, and I’m amazed the bread (Polenta Rosemary Sourdough) turned out so well. This video he made turned out very well, too!
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#woodfired #woodfiredoven #woodfiredovenbread #bread #realbread #naturallyleavened #baker #bakery #bbga #artisanbread #breadhead #breadmaking #breadmaking🍞 #sourdough #sourdoughbread #polenta #polentabread #coboven #earthoven #earthenoven #penderisland #southpenderisland #happymonkbaking #happymonkbakery #happymonkbakingcompany #southerngulfislands #southerngulfislandsbakers #southerngulfislandsbakeries #penderisland
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Happy Monk Tidings - September 22, 2021 🍞 - Baker's Choice: Harvest Bread; Blog: Sourdough September and the Real Bread Campaign [ See link in profile ]

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A horizontal world, an endless beach with long rollers, sandwiched beneath a low sky ceiling … and hundreds of surfers. Chesterman’s Beach, Tofino.

A horizontal world, an endless beach with long rollers, sandwiched beneath a low sky ceiling … and hundreds of surfers. Chesterman’s Beach, Tofino. ...

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Post to The Happy Monk Baking Company
Happy Monk Tidings - September 1, 2021 🍞 - Baker's Choice: Sprouted Rye and Seed Bread; Blog: We're all rich when you think about it; South Pender Growers and Makers and Heritage Market; The Happy Monk Holidays - [ Link in profile ]

Post to The Happy Monk Baking Company
Happy Monk Tidings - September 1, 2021 🍞 - Baker's Choice: Sprouted Rye and Seed Bread; Blog: We're all rich when you think about it; South Pender Growers and Makers and Heritage Market; The Happy Monk Holidays - [ Link in profile ]
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Happy Monk Tidings - August 25, 2021 🍞 - Baker's Choice: Cinnamon-Raisin Bread; Blog: Marriage, Laurie Anderson and the Weddings of Pender; and more! [ See links in profile ]

Happy Monk Tidings - August 25, 2021 🍞 - Baker's Choice: Cinnamon-Raisin Bread; Blog: Marriage, Laurie Anderson and the Weddings of Pender; and more! [ See links in profile ] ...

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Happy Monk Tidings - August 18, 2021 🍞 - This week's Baker's Choice: The Approachable Loaf; Blog: A Benediction on Mount Norman. [ See links in Profile ]

Happy Monk Tidings - August 18, 2021 🍞 - This week's Baker's Choice: The Approachable Loaf; Blog: A Benediction on Mount Norman. [ See links in Profile ] ...

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Happy Monk Tidings - August 11, 2021 🍞 - Baker's Choice: Polenta and Rosemary Sourdough; Blog: Here's to the Homely Loaves! [ See Linktree in Profile ]

Happy Monk Tidings - August 11, 2021 🍞 - Baker's Choice: Polenta and Rosemary Sourdough; Blog: Here's to the Homely Loaves! [ See Linktree in Profile ] ...

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Lo! The mighty Seed Feast! Favoured by Happy Monk customers the Pender Islands over! These loaves, just rolled out of Mildrith, are hot and fragrant with seeds, nuttiness and bready wholesome-ness. O for a steamy slice and a schmear of butter! That I may eat “and leave the world unseen, and with thee fade away into the forest dim.” (Apologies to the ghost of John Keats).
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#seedfeastbread #seedbread #seedybread #sourdough #sourdoughbread #woodfired #woodfiredoven #woodfiredovenbread #woodfiredbread #coboven #earth.oven #bread #breadlove #baker #bbga #happymonkbaker #happymonkbaking #naturallyleavened #artisanbread #realbread #breadpoetry #rusticbread #penderisland #southpenderisland

Lo! The mighty Seed Feast! Favoured by Happy Monk customers the Pender Islands over! These loaves, just rolled out of Mildrith, are hot and fragrant with seeds, nuttiness and bready wholesome-ness. O for a steamy slice and a schmear of butter! That I may eat “and leave the world unseen, and with thee fade away into the forest dim.” (Apologies to the ghost of John Keats).
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#seedfeastbread #seedbread #seedybread #sourdough #sourdoughbread #woodfired #woodfiredoven #woodfiredovenbread #woodfiredbread #coboven #earth.oven #bread #breadlove #baker #bbga #happymonkbaker #happymonkbaking #naturallyleavened #artisanbread #realbread #breadpoetry #rusticbread #penderisland #southpenderisland
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Happy Monk Tidings - August 4, 2021 🍞 - Baker's Choice: Volkornbrot (German Rye) with Sunflower Seeds; also Seed Feast; Blog: Why Eat Ancient and Heritage Grains?; Goin' Fishin' Soon! [ See Linktree in Profile ]

Happy Monk Tidings - August 4, 2021 🍞 - Baker's Choice: Volkornbrot (German Rye) with Sunflower Seeds; also Seed Feast; Blog: Why Eat Ancient and Heritage Grains?; Goin' Fishin' Soon! [ See Linktree in Profile ] ...

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Happy Monk Tidings - July 28, 2021 🍞- Baker's Choice: Sprouted Kamut; Blog: Mildrith's Body of Miracles; Goin' Fishin' - [ See Link in Profile ]

Happy Monk Tidings - July 28, 2021 🍞- Baker's Choice: Sprouted Kamut; Blog: Mildrith's Body of Miracles; Goin' Fishin' - [ See Link in Profile ] ...

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Moonset and high tide, South Pender Island at 3:50 a.m. 
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 #woodfired #woodfiredoven #woodfiredbaking #woodfiredbread #clayoven #clayovenbaking #coboven #cobovenbaking #sourdoughbread #sourdoughbaking #breadmaking #breadbaking #breadlove #bread #bakersofinstagram #bakerslife #penderisland #southpenderisland #southerngulfislands #southerngulfislandsbc #happymonk #happymonkbakingcompany #happymonkbakery

Moonset and high tide, South Pender Island at 3:50 a.m.
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#woodfired #woodfiredoven #woodfiredbaking #woodfiredbread #clayoven #clayovenbaking #coboven #cobovenbaking #sourdoughbread #sourdoughbaking #breadmaking #breadbaking #breadlove #bread #bakersofinstagram #bakerslife #penderisland #southpenderisland #southerngulfislands #southerngulfislandsbc #happymonk #happymonkbakingcompany #happymonkbakery
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Happy Monk Tidings - July 21, 2021 🍞 - Baker's Choice: Bird Seed Bread; Blog: Rye Bread: The Agony and the Ecstasy [ See link in profile ]

Happy Monk Tidings - July 21, 2021 🍞 - Baker's Choice: Bird Seed Bread; Blog: Rye Bread: The Agony and the Ecstasy [ See link in profile ] ...

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In the early light of dawn, Mildrith oven-springs sourdough, caramelizes crusts gold and brown and leaves heavenly smells as evidence. Inside her hot clay dome, 12 boules of Salish Sourdough are on the final stage of their journey. Behold the steam rising out of the chimney!
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#woodfired #woodfiredoven #clayoven #clayovenbakery #clayovenbread #woodfiredbaking #woodfiredbread #sourdoughbread #sourdoughbaking #breadmaking #breadbaking #breadlove #bread #bakersofinstagram #bakerslife #penderisland #southpenderisland #southerngulfislands #southerngulfislandsbc #happymonk #happymonkbakingcompany #happymonkbakery

In the early light of dawn, Mildrith oven-springs sourdough, caramelizes crusts gold and brown and leaves heavenly smells as evidence. Inside her hot clay dome, 12 boules of Salish Sourdough are on the final stage of their journey. Behold the steam rising out of the chimney!
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#woodfired #woodfiredoven #clayoven #clayovenbakery #clayovenbread #woodfiredbaking #woodfiredbread #sourdoughbread #sourdoughbaking #breadmaking #breadbaking #breadlove #bread #bakersofinstagram #bakerslife #penderisland #southpenderisland #southerngulfislands #southerngulfislandsbc #happymonk #happymonkbakingcompany #happymonkbakery
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  1. Compline is the “canonical hour”, at one in the morning, when monks rise to say their night prayers in chapel.

  2. peel is a shovel-like tool used by bakers to slide loaves of bread, pizzas, pastries, and other baked goods into and out of an oven. It is usually made of wood, with a flat carrying surface (like a shovel’s blade) for holding the baked good and a handle extending from one side of that surface.

  3. Quote from “Ode on a Grecian Urn” by John Keats.

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