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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 - September 28, 2022 🍞 - Baker's Choice: The Approachable Loaf; Blog: This Island of Apples; South Pender Growers and Makers Market [ See LinkTree in Profile ]
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#apples #applebread #applelove #approachable #approachableloaf #breadlabcollective #breadlab

Happy Monk Tidings - September 28, 2022 🍞 - Baker's Choice: The Approachable Loaf; Blog: This Island of Apples; South Pender Growers and Makers Market [ See LinkTree in Profile ]
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#apples #applebread #applelove #approachable #approachableloaf #breadlabcollective #breadlab
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Happy Monk Tidings - September 21, 2022 🍞 - Baker's Choice: Harvest Bread; BLOG: Greetings from St. Francis and Mildrith; The Wood-Fired Oven's Back in Business [ See LinkTree in Profile]

Happy Monk Tidings - September 21, 2022 🍞 - Baker's Choice: Harvest Bread; BLOG: Greetings from St. Francis and Mildrith; The Wood-Fired Oven's Back in Business [ See LinkTree in Profile] ...

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Introducing this bread, Raven Ring Bread (a take on Hapanleipä, a Finnish bread) a recipe borrowed from @ravenbreads. The stand is made by my neighbour, Ken, a gifted woodworker. See you at the South Pender Growers and Makers Market, if it don’t rain too hard!

Introducing this bread, Raven Ring Bread (a take on Hapanleipä, a Finnish bread) a recipe borrowed from @ravenbreads. The stand is made by my neighbour, Ken, a gifted woodworker. See you at the South Pender Growers and Makers Market, if it don’t rain too hard! ...

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Happy Monk Tidings - September 2, 2022 🍞 - Baker's Choice : Volkornbrot (German Rye); Blog: The Golden Loaf of Gorsefield Rye; NOTE: We're closing two weeks for Mildrith Maintenance [ See LinkTree in Profile ]

Happy Monk Tidings - September 2, 2022 🍞 - Baker's Choice : Volkornbrot (German Rye); Blog: The Golden Loaf of Gorsefield Rye; NOTE: We're closing two weeks for Mildrith Maintenance [ See LinkTree in Profile ] ...

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Happy Monk Tidings - August 24, 2022 🍞 - Baker's Choice this week: Spelt and Honey Sourdough; Blog: The Great Kind Mystery; SPECIAL NOTE: Mildrith needs an upgrade [ See LinkTree in Profile ]

Happy Monk Tidings - August 24, 2022 🍞 - Baker's Choice this week: Spelt and Honey Sourdough; Blog: The Great Kind Mystery; SPECIAL NOTE: Mildrith needs an upgrade [ See LinkTree in Profile ] ...

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Happy Monk Tidings - August 10, 2022 🍞 - Baker's Choice: Double-Fermented Oat Bread; BLOG: Resuscitating Mildrith; Reminder: No Bread Next Week! [ See LinkTree in Profile ]

Happy Monk Tidings - August 10, 2022 🍞 - Baker's Choice: Double-Fermented Oat Bread; BLOG: Resuscitating Mildrith; Reminder: No Bread Next Week! [ See LinkTree in Profile ] ...

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It was a dirty day, Wednesday. The sky hadn't been washed, the ocean was soiled, and the air was muggy and smelled oily. Then, moments before the rain started, the sun shone through and a glorious slash of colour opened up. And a rainbow! No unicorns, sadly.

It was a dirty day, Wednesday. The sky hadn't been washed, the ocean was soiled, and the air was muggy and smelled oily. Then, moments before the rain started, the sun shone through and a glorious slash of colour opened up. And a rainbow! No unicorns, sadly. ...

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Happy Monk Tidings - August 3, 2022 🍞 - Baker's Choice: Anadama Bread; BLOG: Dog Days of Summer; Special Note: No Bread August 19 [ See LinkTree in Profile ]

Happy Monk Tidings - August 3, 2022 🍞 - Baker's Choice: Anadama Bread; BLOG: Dog Days of Summer; Special Note: No Bread August 19 [ See LinkTree in Profile ] ...

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Dog days. The beginning of summer mellowness. Baked in languor. But sometimes it's hard to let go. Shouldn't I be baking something? [See LinkTree in Profile ]
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#penderisland #southpenderisland #happymonkbaking #happymonkbakery
#happymonkbakingcompany #dogdays #dogdaysofsummer #southerngulfislands
#southerngulfislandsbakers #southerngulfislandsbakeries #southerngulfislandsbc

Dog days. The beginning of summer mellowness. Baked in languor. But sometimes it's hard to let go. Shouldn't I be baking something? [See LinkTree in Profile ]
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#penderisland #southpenderisland #happymonkbaking #happymonkbakery
#happymonkbakingcompany #dogdays #dogdaysofsummer #southerngulfislands
#southerngulfislandsbakers #southerngulfislandsbakeries #southerngulfislandsbc
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Happy Monk Tidings - July 27, 2022 🍞 - Baker's Choice: Whole Grain White Wheat; Blog: Call Me Ishmael; Video: How the U.S. Ruined Bread; Announcements [ See LinkTree in Profile ]

Happy Monk Tidings - July 27, 2022 🍞 - Baker's Choice: Whole Grain White Wheat; Blog: Call Me Ishmael; Video: How the U.S. Ruined Bread; Announcements [ See LinkTree in Profile ] ...

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Happy Monk Tidings - July 20, 2022 🍞 - BAKER'S CHOICE: Rye and Currants; BLOG: Blessed; EXTRA: World's Oldest Sourdough? [ See LinkTree in Profile ]

Happy Monk Tidings - July 20, 2022 🍞 - BAKER'S CHOICE: Rye and Currants; BLOG: Blessed; EXTRA: World's Oldest Sourdough? [ See LinkTree in Profile ] ...

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Happy Monk Tidings - July 13, 2022 🍞 - Baker's Choice: Bird Seed Bread; Blog: Down to the Crossroads, Medicine Beach; Baking your own bread guides - [ See LinkTree in Profile ]

Happy Monk Tidings - July 13, 2022 🍞 - Baker's Choice: Bird Seed Bread; Blog: Down to the Crossroads, Medicine Beach; Baking your own bread guides - [ See LinkTree in Profile ] ...

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This is James Morton, my father, who would have been 100 years old today if we hadn't lost him 36 years ago. I've surpassed him in living age and spent more years without him than with him, yet he still whispers in my ear and is a great listener when I talk to him. Taken at 14th Ave. and Burgess St., Burnaby, 'round about 1955. Handsome devil, ain't he?

This is James Morton, my father, who would have been 100 years old today if we hadn't lost him 36 years ago. I've surpassed him in living age and spent more years without him than with him, yet he still whispers in my ear and is a great listener when I talk to him. Taken at 14th Ave. and Burgess St., Burnaby, 'round about 1955. Handsome devil, ain't he? ...

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Happy Monk Tidings - July 6, 2022 🍞 - BAKER'S CHOICE: Cinnamon-Raisin Bread; BLOG: Filling the Belly: Words vs. Loaves [ See LinkTree in profile ]

Happy Monk Tidings - July 6, 2022 🍞 - BAKER'S CHOICE: Cinnamon-Raisin Bread; BLOG: Filling the Belly: Words vs. Loaves [ See LinkTree in profile ] ...

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How many times have I seen these loaves tumble out of the oven! If I’m not in a rush, I like to pile them up and just stand near them a moment, feeling their heat, hearing them crackle, their glorious warm aroma! Seems like a miracle, been working hard since the dark hours of morning, heard the first birdsong, seen freighters moving silently through Boundary Pass, a gentle breeze coming up from the ocean. I know I’ll pay for all this later in the day with fatigue and there’ll be several days catching up with sleep. Is it worth it all? Three years into Happy Monk Baking, I still say yes. Happy sleeping, everyone!
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#woodfired #woodfiredoven #woodfiredovenbread #bread #realbread #naturallyleavened #baker #bakery #bbga #artisanbread #breadhead #breadmaking #breadmaking🍞 #sourdough #sourdoughbread #rusticbread, #breadhead, #coboven #earthoven #earthenoven #penderisland #southpenderisland #happymonkbaking #happymonkbakery #happymonkbakingcompany #southerngulfislands #southerngulfislandsbakers #southerngulfislandsbakeries #penderisland

How many times have I seen these loaves tumble out of the oven! If I’m not in a rush, I like to pile them up and just stand near them a moment, feeling their heat, hearing them crackle, their glorious warm aroma! Seems like a miracle, been working hard since the dark hours of morning, heard the first birdsong, seen freighters moving silently through Boundary Pass, a gentle breeze coming up from the ocean. I know I’ll pay for all this later in the day with fatigue and there’ll be several days catching up with sleep. Is it worth it all? Three years into Happy Monk Baking, I still say yes. Happy sleeping, everyone!
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#woodfired #woodfiredoven #woodfiredovenbread #bread #realbread #naturallyleavened #baker #bakery #bbga #artisanbread #breadhead #breadmaking #breadmaking🍞 #sourdough #sourdoughbread #rusticbread, #breadhead, #coboven #earthoven #earthenoven #penderisland #southpenderisland #happymonkbaking #happymonkbakery #happymonkbakingcompany #southerngulfislands #southerngulfislandsbakers #southerngulfislandsbakeries #penderisland
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Happy Monk Tidings - June 29, 2022 🍞 - Baker's Choice: Rustic Peasant Bread; Blog: A Pinch of Salt, A Pinch of Life [ See LinkTree in Profile ]

Happy Monk Tidings - June 29, 2022 🍞 - Baker's Choice: Rustic Peasant Bread; Blog: A Pinch of Salt, A Pinch of Life [ See LinkTree in Profile ] ...

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Happy Monk Tidings - June 22, 2022 🍞 - Bakers Choice: Sprouted Rye and Seed Bread; BLOG: Henry Miller and the Staff of Life — [ See LinkTree in Profile ]

Happy Monk Tidings - June 22, 2022 🍞 - Bakers Choice: Sprouted Rye and Seed Bread; BLOG: Henry Miller and the Staff of Life — [ See LinkTree in Profile ] ...

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Happy Monk Tidings - June 15, 2022 🍞 - Baker's Choice: Cranberry-Pecan Sourdough Bread; Blog: Breakfast on Bloomsday https://mailchi.mp/4c924688ed54/happy_monk_tidings_june15

Happy Monk Tidings - June 15, 2022 🍞 - Baker's Choice: Cranberry-Pecan Sourdough Bread; Blog: Breakfast on Bloomsday https://mailchi.mp/4c924688ed54/happy_monk_tidings_june15 ...

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Fun at 4 in the morning … first load of bread in the oven, first light, first birdsong, making the treacherous walk back inside with a tower of bannetons. In the rain.
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#bakerslife #bakersofinstagram #baking #baker #woodfired #woodfiredoven #woodfiredovenbread #coboven #earthoven #earthenoven #bread #sourdoughbread #sourdough #bbga #realbread #naturallyleavened #artisanbread #artisanbreadbaker #rusticbread #breadhead #breadlove #breadhour #penderisland #southpenderisland #happymonkbaking #happymonkbakery #happymonkbakingcompany #southerngulfislands #southerngulfislandsbakers #southerngulfislandsbakeries

Fun at 4 in the morning … first load of bread in the oven, first light, first birdsong, making the treacherous walk back inside with a tower of bannetons. In the rain.
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#bakerslife #bakersofinstagram #baking #baker #woodfired #woodfiredoven #woodfiredovenbread #coboven #earthoven #earthenoven #bread #sourdoughbread #sourdough #bbga #realbread #naturallyleavened #artisanbread #artisanbreadbaker #rusticbread #breadhead #breadlove #breadhour #penderisland #southpenderisland #happymonkbaking #happymonkbakery #happymonkbakingcompany #southerngulfislands #southerngulfislandsbakers #southerngulfislandsbakeries
...

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Happy Monk Tidings - June 1, 2022 🍞 - Baker's Choice: Fig and Fennel Sourdough; Happy Monk Blog: The Golden City [ LinkTree in Profile ]

Happy Monk Tidings - June 1, 2022 🍞 - Baker's Choice: Fig and Fennel Sourdough; Happy Monk Blog: The Golden City [ LinkTree in Profile ] ...

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Post to The Happy Monk Baking Company
Happy Monk Tidings - May 25, 2022 🍞 - Baker's Choice this week: Sprouted Kamut Bread; Blog: A Paean to Rye Bread: Deeply Felt and Honest [ See LinkTree in Profile ]

Post to The Happy Monk Baking Company
Happy Monk Tidings - May 25, 2022 🍞 - Baker's Choice this week: Sprouted Kamut Bread; Blog: A Paean to Rye Bread: Deeply Felt and Honest [ See LinkTree in Profile ]
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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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