If my oven were a dog I would have been arrested for cruelty!*
Yes it’s true; I have been a bad clay oven owner. Earlier this year I uncovered my oven for the first time since putting it to bed for the winter. It had sustained some water damage as usual (the tarp I used was clearly not totally impermeable to the UK winter rain and snow) but on the whole it wasn’t looking too bad. After the first firing of the year (pizzas) I left the oven to cool down over night with the intention of covering it up again the next day. Then it rained. The following day it rained again, and then again and again for several days – heavily! I know I should have covered it up after the first night but to be honest I had lots going on at the time and just didn’t bother. After a couple of weeks I made a decision to leave the oven uncovered so I could see what happened, a sort of oven-sadistic experiment if you will. And so it has remained open to the elements for several months now.
So what have I learned? Firstly the oven has not collapsed. The internal structure seems to be intact. There are some cracks but none of them appear to permeate to any great depth from the internal layer outwards. Externally the picture is slightly worse. The rain has partly eroded some of the clay:sand mixture from the outer layer creating a rough texture which is rather friable when touched. This only seems superficial though. There are a few cracks but this is not unusual. The chimney has suffered somewhat, with a large chunk falling out of one side. The other, most noticeable sign of damage is at the interface between the bricks of the oven entrance and the external side wall of the oven. Clearly, water has run down this natural channel and eroded some of the mixture.
So is it ruined? Is it time to knock it down and start again? Well no, I don’t think so! I fired the oven up for a large party two weeks ago and it worked just perfectly. I cooked pizza for over fifty guests over a period of six hours and the oven performed as brilliantly as it always does. It’s fine – seriously.
This experiment has demonstrated to me that the ovens are much hardier than I had imagined. I don’t recommend that you leave your oven unprotected (I will do some repair work and re-cover mine soon) but if, for whatever reason, you do forget to cover it and it gets wet, it should not lead to disastrous consequences.
By the way, if there is a Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Clay Ovens (SPCC) I am deeply sorry. I promise it will never happen again Your Honour.
* No ovens were hurt during the making of this post.