A wood-fired oven marathon, and the joys of eating outdoors

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By: Rachel Shenk

Warm weather might be here to stay awhile. Slowly, our dining room moves from the inside to the outside. We eat breakfast on the front porch and watch this part of the world wake up. We spill out onto the deck and the patio for supper. We fire up the wood-fired oven we built in the backyard and eat the first pizza from its hearth.

That’s what I like about this time of year. Our living space doubles with outdoor areas now available. And, along with the space, there is more room for family and friends. The summer holidays create time for these gatherings and the lengthening days provide the perfect backdrop.

Several years ago, we decided to hold a 48-hour wood-fired oven marathon, inviting neighbors and friends to participate. From six in the evening on Saturday to six in the evening on Monday, we cooked, baked, roasted and simmered around the clock with only a few hours of down time each day.

Jim built a fire that baked pizzas, roasted vegetables and roasted potatoes. It also warmed up a few donuts. 

As darkness fell and the last guest left, we put a large pot of baked beans to simmer overnight. By early morning, the beans were cooked to perfect tenderness and as they came out, in went a frittata and coffee cake to bake.

As guests trickled in, a chicken went in to roast along with a piece of beef. Someone brought some fish and it baked along with some baby back ribs. As more guests arrived and the second evening unfolded, it was back to pizza, roasted cabbage and vegetables, ingredients for a roasted salsa, roasted corn on the cob, cookies and roasted fruit.

On the second morning, we baked croissants, bacon and pancakes. We roasted lamb chops, made fish tacos and roasted asparagus. And more pizzas. By the time the six o’clock deadline rolled around, everyone had left and our deck seemed eerily quiet. All that remained was the heat inside the wood-fired oven, left from all of the firings.

With the massive winter snow now a dim memory, it feels good to be back on the outside, sitting on the back steps, drink in hand, communing with friends and food.

In the coming months, we will spend time around the wood-fired oven with family and friends, enjoying good food and sharing our stories. As darkness falls, bringing coolness at the end of a hot day, we will let our voices disappear into the night, as the fireflies and the stars come out. We will sit until sleep takes us inside, still soaking in the afterglow.

Here is one of our family favourites for summer gatherings.

Trifle
A busy day cake

Cake ingredients

  • 1 2/3 c. flour
  • 1 c. sugar
  • 1/2 t. salt
  • 2 1/2 t. baking powder
  • 1/3 c. butter, softened
  • 1 egg
  • 2/3 c. milk
  • 1 t. vanilla

Cake directions

  1. Grease a 8×12 cake pan. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Put all the dry ingredients in a mixing bowl. Add all the wet ingredients at once to the dry ingredients.
  3. Beat for 2½ minutes at medium speed with an electric mixer.
  4. Pour into greased pan and bake for 35 to 45 minutes. Cool on a rack.

Filling ingredients

  • 1 small package of Strawberry Jello
  • 1 quart of strawberries, sliced
  • 4 c. vanilla pudding or pastry cream (I make my own from scratch)
  • 4 bananas
  • 2 c. heavy whipping cream, whipped to soft peaks with 2 T. sugar
  • A smattering of chocolate chips

Directions

  1. Crumble the cooled cake into a trifle bowl. Mix the package of Jello as instructed on the box. Slowly drizzle it over the cake, trying to cover it evenly. Chill in the refrigerator for an hour.
  2. Cover with a layer of strawberries. Then, add a layer of pudding, a layer of bananas and finally, a layer of whipped cream. Sprinkle with a few chocolate chips to decorate.
  3. Keep in the refrigerator until ready to serve. Is best if served the day it is made.
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