My sister Lori and my sister-in-law Jocelyne owned an eatery in rural PEI, where they built their own wood fired oven and made all their food from scratch. People were always curious about their oven and how they prepared their food, so they decided to make a video series called Old World Knowledge, with the help of their friend, Christopher Church.
The goal of Old World Knowledge is to demystify the lost talents of the Old World, such as baking bread, curing meat, and cooking in a wood-fired oven. These were skills that were once an essential part of daily life, but with the rise of modern technology and convenience foods, most people don’t know much about them anymore. It’s sad, because I find there are few things more rewarding and satisfying than enjoying a meal you made on your own entirely from scratch.
Among their videos is a helpful guide to chopping wood – a process that has become somewhat of a mystery to most of us, especially those living in urban areas. Jocelyne explains that it’s all about technique, not strength. You don’t have to be large or strong as long as you practice proper form.
We also learn about the Le Panyol oven. It can reach temperatures close to 1000 degrees F, and the core is very well-insulated to retain the heat for hours. The video goes over all the steps to building a fire in the oven – from the equipment, type of wood, cleaning process, when and how often to start up a fire, to the temperatures for cooking various foods.
I was surprised to learn that pizza should be cooked between 700-900 F! That’s much hotter than our standard home ovens. When you cook it hot and fast, it gives the crust a wonderful texture that’s crisp on the outside and chewy. A good tip is to cook the vegetables beforehand, because they won’t have time to cook on top of the pizza if you add them raw.
The videos also share tried and true recipes, like pizza dough and tomato sauce. The great thing about making a big batch of pizza dough is you can divide it up and freeze the dough for later. Just pull it out and put it in the fridge in the morning and it’ll be ready to use when you get home at the end of the day. And making a basic tomato sauce from scratch for your pizza is surprisingly easy and totally worth it. Jocelyne shares some great tips, like roasting an onion and adding it to your sauce, and putting a bit of wine or balsamic vinegar to give it some zing.
When building the pizza, Jocelyne says to leave spaces at the edges and go easy on the cheese to allow dough to bubble up. Amazingly, the pizza only takes about 90 seconds to cook in the wood fired oven. Look for char marks – they give it flavor, and that’s what you want.
Lori shows us how you can cure and smoke your own bacon. You’ll learn what meat to choose, and what ingredients you’ll need for the dry cure. Lori shares her favourite seasonings, but you can adjust these to your preference. Make it savoury or sweet – it’s up to you. The bacon should be cured for a full week, then placed in a smoker for 1-4 hours. After letting it chill for 24 hours, you can slice it up. Like the pizza dough, you can freeze portions for later, so you can enjoy homemade bacon whenever you like!
These videos are fascinating for anyone wanting to gain a better understanding of Old World cooking skills, whether you plan on using a wood-fired oven and smoker yourself, or you’re just curious about the whole process. Many of the tips and recipes can be transferred to a modern kitchen, so you don’t need to have a wood-fired oven to benefit from this series.
I hope you’ll take a look at what Old World Knowledge has to offer, and share your thoughts.