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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.


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#anadama #anadamabread #cornmeal #cornmealbread #metchosinbc #armstrongbc #stoneground #stonegroundflour #stonemilled #stonemilledflour #stonemilledbread #woodfiredovenbread #bread #realbread #naturallyleavened #baker #bbga #artisanbread #breadhead #breadmaking #sourdough #sourdoughbread #penderisland #southpenderisland #happymonkbaking #happymonkbakery #happymonkbakingcompany #southerngulfislands #southerngulfislandsbakers #southerngulfislandsbakeries

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#anadama #anadamabread #cornmeal #cornmealbread #metchosinbc #armstrongbc #stoneground #stonegroundflour #stonemilled #stonemilledflour #stonemilledbread #woodfiredovenbread #bread #realbread #naturallyleavened #baker #bbga #artisanbread #breadhead #breadmaking #sourdough #sourdoughbread #penderisland #southpenderisland #happymonkbaking #happymonkbakery #happymonkbakingcompany #southerngulfislands #southerngulfislandsbakers #southerngulfislandsbakeries
...

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Morning Breadsong (volume up!) A pile of Salish Sourdoughs just out of Mildrith, the wood-fired oven. 
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#breadsinging #breadsong #woodfired #woodfiredoven #woodfiredovenbread #bread #realbread #naturallyleavened #baker #bakery #bakerslife #bbga #artisanbread #breadhead #breadmaking #breadmaking🍞 #sourdough #sourdoughbread #coboven #earthoven #earthenoven #penderisland #southpenderisland #happymonkbaking #happymonkbakery #happymonkbakingcompany #southerngulfislands #southerngulfislandsbakers #southerngulfislandsbakeries #penderisland

Morning Breadsong (volume up!) A pile of Salish Sourdoughs just out of Mildrith, the wood-fired oven.
.
.
.
.

#breadsinging #breadsong #woodfired #woodfiredoven #woodfiredovenbread #bread #realbread #naturallyleavened #baker #bakery #bakerslife #bbga #artisanbread #breadhead #breadmaking #breadmaking🍞 #sourdough #sourdoughbread #coboven #earthoven #earthenoven #penderisland #southpenderisland #happymonkbaking #happymonkbakery #happymonkbakingcompany #southerngulfislands #southerngulfislandsbakers #southerngulfislandsbakeries #penderisland
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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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