Monday, May 11, 2009

Earth Oven: Cooking In The Ground

I love my toaster oven and have longed for a solar oven for quite a while, but making a earth oven is about as primitive (and free) as you can get - but I won't tell ya that it's an easy process cause this project takes serious backbone. We started out by slaughtering a goat which I totally am sparing ya'll any post about because basically everyone involved had some feeling of wishing to have spared themselves and the cute wittle goat from the whole archaic experience. The theory involved though is those who would like to eat meat want to make their food decisions based on the reality of where our food comes from, and provide this food for themselves.

The primitive earth oven can be used for cooking other foods too, not just animal meat... so here is how we put one together:
First a few of us dug a large hole, mounding a levee style pile of dirt around the sides (kinda like making a replica New Orleans), and then lining the hole with rocks.
On top those rocks we piled dried sticks, weeds, and bamboo to get a fire started, then threw split wood on top to get a raging hot inferno going. On top of the smouldering fire we threw in more rocks to help hold the heat.
While the fire was kept burning by adding logs and dried stuff, we went out to gather the fresh greenery that is required to layer inside the hole with the goat we were cooking. The green stuff has a dual purpose of creating steam to cook inside the hole and also as a protective cover from the dirt that will be piled on later. We used bamboo leaves, bamboo shoots, and burdock leaves as the steaming layers because they are abundant and renewable.
After about 5 hours we let the fire die down to red hot charcoal and white hot rocks. This is when you are ready to add in the green layers and whatever food you are going to bake.
Wrapping your food in foil is obviously not very primitive... and isn't required at all - you can simply wrap it in giant burdock, banana or some other large (safe) plant leaf that will keep the dirt from falling onto it. But as ya can see below, there is the little goat we slaughtered all wrapped in tin foil under the protection of an umbrella since rain came down a bit on the project. Terrible, ya'll!
The bamboo shoots went down first, then a good layer of bamboo leaves and branches, before laying the goat into the center of the heat. After the foiled goat was in we put the layer of burdock.
More rocks were added to help hold in the hot steam and heat once underneath the dirt.
And more and more bamboo leaves, which were creating all that white hot steam that was rising out in big puffy rolls.
Dirt was put back on top all this in thick layers until we stopped seeing the steam rise out of little holes yet to be covered. It looked like a volcano about to erupt.
5 hours later it was time to dig up the freshly earth cooked goat. A party full of naysayers and onlookers were holding their breathe wondering if the hot ground had really cooked the animal into an edible meal - but I knew for sure that thing was going to be cooked as perfectly as a wood stove makes a pot of rice. The heat from this job was so intense most the people working on it were sweatin' buckets and had to be incredibly careful not to get burned by a hot rock.
After tons of layers were dug back, taking not even 10 minutes Cody (pictured below) pulled up the goat he slaughtered out of the ground and proudly brought it to the table for everyone to taste, be woo'ed by and also be petrified of! Half the party stood away from the goat and half waited anxiously to try it.
The use of the earth as an oven was perfectly successful - all the herbs and potatoes stuffed inside the goat reminded me of Louisiana crawfish boils, where the potatoes & corn come out looking creamy soft. The goat itself was completely cooked, and could have even been left in only 3 hours instead and been done already. (Pictured below is Brandon at left who helped with the slaughter tempting Jason Bugg to eat some...)
A Little Side Note: Slaughtering the goat, in which I only took part of some of it, was really gross-ah-fying - it reminded me of catholic school propaganda about satanic rituals when nearing the end of the gutting & burying. If ya have any detailed questions about the homestead goat killing let me know in the comments section, since I won't be doing an actual blog post about it.

1 comment:

Susie Collins said...

In Hawaii, the cooking pit like this is called an imu (ee-moo). The heated rocks are also placed inside the cavity of the pig. They use wet burlap sacks, held in place with chicken wire, to cover rather than the foil you used. Then ti leaves line the rock pit and are used to cover pig and then the soil over that. Imu are mostly used for cooking pig, the finished product is called kalua pig or kalua pork. I do not eat commercial pork, but will eat wild pig cooked in an imu. The wild pigs feed on fruit and guavas, creating a very sweet meat. Pig hunters and pig hunting skills are revered and valued here in Hawaii, along with their dogs. Large parties in Hawaii are called luau (loo-ow), and the kalua pig is the main dish. The moist meat comes off the carcass in long shreds-- OMG, it is so good, or in Hawaiian delicious is "ONO"! Kalua pig is SO ONO! By the way, the day always starts out as yours did with the slaughter.