Heating the bread oven

While the bread dough is rising, the oven is lit and heated. This takes around half an hour to an hour depending on the size of the oven interior.


Wood trimmings around 1-3 cm thick are used as the fuel. Oak, beech and hornbeam seem to be the most suitable because they produce a lot of heat with little smoke. Other types of wood used are pine, birch, willow or poplar. In the past however, any light fuel available in the region was used, such as waste stems, dried hop shoots and potato leaves. Never use painted or treated wood. The fumes are harmful.

the siege of Jerusalem illustrated (from The Old Testament: EZEKIEL Chapter 4, verses: 12-15)

12. And thou shalt eat it as barley cakes, and thou shalt bake it with dung that cometh out of man, in their sight.

13. And the LORD said, Even thus shall the children of Israel eat their defiled bread among the Gentiles, whither I will drive them.

14. Then said I, Ah Lord GOD! behold, my soul hath not been polluted: for from my youth up even till now have I not eaten of that which dieth of itself, or is torn in pieces; neither came there abominable flesh into my mouth.

15. Then he said unto me, Lo, I have given thee cow’s dung for man’s dung, and thou shalt prepare thy bread therewith.


translation under construction

Men begint met een klein vuurtje vooraan in de oven. Als dit goed brandt kunnen er takken worden bijgelegd. Als het vuurtje wat groter is geworden kan het met het oven rake meer naar achter worden geschoven. Naarmate het vuur brandt wordt het gevoed met meer hout. Er mag echter niet te veel hout ineens in de oven gestoken worden want dat geeft een onvolledige verbranding en dus rook, assen en houtskool. De takkenbossen worden dan ook meestal losgemaakt en de takken in kleine bosjes in het vuur geworpen. In grote ovens kunnen takkenbossen die met een wis, en dus niet met ijzerdraad, gebonden zijn in één keer in de oven worden geschoten met behulp van een takkenbosvork.

De kunst bestaat er in overal in de oven vuur te krijgen zodat hij gelijkmatig opgewarmd wordt. Door het brandende hout langs de zijkanten van de oven te leggen gaan de vlammen mooi langs het gewelf lopen tot ze elkaar tegenkomen en naar beneden afbuigen. Dit effect geeft niet alleen een mooi schouwspel maar zorgt er ook voor dat de vlammen zo lang mogelijk in de oven blijven.

making a oven-rake

You need a oven-rake when heating the oven. If you cannot find an old one, make one with a piece of flat steel, a reinforcement bar and a stick. Look at the drawing. The handle must be long enough.

[Als de oven warm genoeg is voegt men geen hout meer toe en verspreidt men de kooltjes over de vloer die op die manier ook gelijkmatig opwarmt.] The coals are then pushed to the sides with the rake, to make sure that the oven floor is heated evenly all over.

The oven is heated to a temperature of 200-250°, i.e. until the vault turns white. Depending on the type of wood, the size of the faggots and of the oven, four to eight bundles are needed.


  • Een typische vorm van de vlam in de oven is een "likkende" vlam.
  • Een goede scheiding tussen de instromende koude lucht onderaan en de uitstromende warme rookgassen bovenaan de ovenmond zijn het resultaat van een goed gevormd ovengewelf.

There were many ways of testing whether the oven was at the right temperature. A piece of bread was sometimes placed in the oven with an ear of corn stuck in it. The ear of corn had to go brown, if it went black the oven was too hot.

The baker could also spit on the floor of the oven: if the spittle evaporated in the air, the temperature was too high. If it did not evaporate immediately, it was not hot enough.

With another method a feather was held in the oven: if it scorched, the oven was nicely hot. Sometimes, a copy of the paper was held in the oven: if it immediately burst into flames, the oven was too hot. Others sprinkled a little flour on the floor. If it went black, the oven was too hot, if it stayed white, it was not hot enough. It should turn red at once.

Today, there are heat resistant oven thermometers that can be used to check the oven.

Determining the right oven temperature is largely a question of feeling and experience. Various factors can affect the heating, such as the outside temperature, the firewood used, the time between two baking sessions, etc.

Once the oven is hot enough, the coals and ash are taken from the oven with the rake and raked into an extinguisher. The red-hot coals can also be pushed to the sides of the oven and left to smoulder there. Before putting in the bread, the oven floor is cleaned with a wet scovel.

Bij het stoken staat de ovendeur open, ze wordt pas gesloten na het inschieten van het deeg.

foto Dirk Peusens

V 94.0509 S

scan from Het boek der uitvindingen, ambachten en fabrieken. De voortbrengselen der aarde : p. 142.


Charcoal was used for many purposes: filtering, drawing, making gunpowder, etc. It was also used as a fuel (just as in our barbecues) and in many small stoves and bed warmers.

The big advantage of charcoal is it heats well and gives off little smoke.

Specialised charcoal burners produced charcoal on a large scale, piling the logs to be charred in high stacks. Housewives and bakers raked the hot coals from the oven into an extinguisher.

The coals could not burn in the extinguisher due to the lack of oxygen, and thus carbonised. Any fireproof pot with a cover can be used as an extinguisher. Just try it, but be careful because the walls can get hot.

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scans from MATHIEU L.: p. 110 and 131

V 87.0566 a-d4

washing with ash (from DAVID J.: 12)

The ashes from your oven can be scattered in the garden and can also be used in other ways, for example as a detergent.

The oldest detergent, that was still used a lot in the last world war, is a lye, a solution of potash (potassium carbonate) and wood ash.

“As soap is becoming scarcer, we have to look for alternatives to replace it. Wood ash can be used. You have to use very pure wood ash, thus from wood that has not been fouled. The best is ash from oak or fruit trees. Wood that grows by the waterside is less rich in the components that have a cleaning effect.

A half bucket of ash is enough for 4 people and 4 weeks. It must be leached. Place in a bag made of the thickest possible fabric. Pour in lukewarm water slowly and allow to drip into a clean kettle. The main requirement is that the leached water be clean. It is best to place the bag of ash in a basket, the walls and base of which are covered with a thick layer of clean straw.

The leached water is very good for a first wash by machine. Most dirt is already removed at that point. Then wash a second time, namely with light soap suds.” From Praktische Wenken (Practical Tips), a handbook for housewives published in Leuven during the Second World War (1942).

The used lye wash used to be used for cleaning milk buckets and tubs, coffee pots, clay and tin pots: they were immersed in it for a while and then brushed down. Then the lye wash was poured on the dung heap so that the ash - a fertiliser - was not lost.