Browsing Posts published in October, 2011

Plot Bingo

As you gently wander around our Plots, you may catch sight of some pretty odd looking things.53

Well, odder than you’d normally expect to see, that is.

Painted in bright colours on the tops of tree stumps, you’ll see them dotted all over the site, and here are just a few of them I managed to find and snap the other day.

73So just what are they?

Well, Dear Reader, these have been created by one of our most talented artists, Ian and they are in fact the official numbers of the Plots they are each sat on.

NOT, as some have suggested, the leftovers from a truly huge game of Bingo!

Each one is different from the others, each with its own vivid colours and style.

We think they’re quite beautiful, and certainly add to the colour and vibrancy of the whole site.74

So, if you’re after a number plate for your house that’s totally unique, then ask him very nicely, and you never know, he may just paint one for you.

One word: AWESOME

May I just say the BIGGEST, most HEARTFELT ‘Thank You!!!’ to everyone who helped make today sooooo special.

You were ALL completely, utterly BRILLIANT!

Now, I’m sure there are loads of photos of today -I’m sure, thanks to Sara, on our Twitter pages- but I only have a few from where I was, which was mostly doing the cooking.

And what fun I had!The new oven before firing up today.

Now, yesterday I mentioned that I thought all the cracks that had appeared in the top of the pizza oven dome would have contracted and disappeared, but I was wrong.

Yes, they’d shrunk somewhat, but there were still some pretty big ones still visible.

Sarah and I wasted no time this morning in patching them with left-over clay from yesterday, then I cleaned it all out and here you can see it before everything all kicked off.

I carefully checked the all important floor of the oven and found no cracked bricks, so the small fire we’d lit seemed to have done no damage.The fire is lit.

This shot to the left here is just after I’d lit it with kindling and rolled-up dry newspaper -in just the same way as I light a ‘normal’ fire on a Saturday.  You can also clearly see the still wet clay down towards the bottom on either side.  This didn’t last long.

The smoke cleared pretty quickly as it got hot and burned it all away, and after about an hour, it was ready to begin cooking on.

Unfortunately, due to a mix-up, there was a slight delay, but soon the pizzas were coming round the corner from the ‘prepping’ area at quite a lick.A pizza being cooked.

To the right here is one of the many (…we reckon about 35 were made today!..) pizzas just after I’d put it in.  You can also see that the wetness on either side had now disappeared.

The cooking technique for this oven is to get the coals and burning wood as hot as possible, and leave them over the central cooking area for as long as possible until the first pizza is ready to be cooked.  Then you must push all the hot embers out around the outer of the oven leaving the centre cooking area as flat and clear as possible.

If there is much of an appreciable time before the next pizza is ready to go in, I found that raking the embers back over the central area again helped preserve the heat on the all-important central area.

At this stage, because the oven was so hot -many times hotter than a normal, ‘boring’ oven, they were cooking in literally seconds.  As I put them in singly, you could see the cheese starting to bubble and the crust rising.  In fact, just putting this one in and getting my camera out, taking the shot then putting it away again, and this pizza was done!

We also noticed that like at SAGE Greenfingers, the oven was that hot, the actual dishes bent out of shape quite considerably.  If this making pizza lark is going to be a regular occurrence (…and there’s no reason why it shouldn’t be…), then we really must invest in some proper cast-iron pizza pans like they use in Pizza Hut and all the big pizza chains.  Yes, they may well cost us a small fortune, and yes, pizzas will take slightly longer to cook -because of all the iron in the dish that has to heat up, but I’m sure they’ll be well worth the investment.

We also need a long-handled pizza peel -that’s the long, flat thing you put them in and take them out of the oven with.  The hairs on my left arm are quite singed with all the heat from having to get so close to the thing armed only with a small gardening spade!

Towards the end of the pizzas, the oven had cooled down a little too much, so before we cooked the last few, I stoked up the fire and was amazed at just how quickly it got hot again.Roaring flames and bent pizza dish!

Here you can see one of the last batch cooking, and you can clearly see the flames round the outside and just look at how the dish has bent out of shape.  I’ll bet you can’t do that in your oven at home!

So, about two hours and many pizzas later, we’d run out of dough, but that was no problem.  We just moved down to the fire area instead!

I quickly lit it, got it hot enough, and we started roasting potatoes in our customary Saturday manner.  After using the pizza oven and learning some of its foibles, merely lighting a ‘normal’ fire felt easy!

And the potatoes were excellent.

Now, I couldn’t finish today without thanking a few people.

I’m sure I’ll miss loads of you out, so please excuse me if I do, but here are just some of the people who made today probably the best ever LEAF Day I have been to or taken part in.

Big thanks to: Pam and Sara for the pizza dough.  ALL the artists for your beautiful work shown all over the site.  ALL our fellow plot holders who so kindly opened up their plots to the artists so they could show their work and to the general public so they could see a little of what goes on beyond our railings.  To the band who turned up and played so excellently to much applause inside our Geo Dome towards the end of the evening.  To all the folks at Grow Sheffield for the bike-powered smoothie maker.  To Madame Zucchini for her excellent vegetable cabaret.  To PXI Nick for the loan of the fruit press.  To the architecture students of Sheffield University for the design and building of our new compost toilets.  To Cape UK for the help with the Geo Dome.  To Ruthie Ford for her brilliant organizational skills.

And lastly, and probably most importantly to Diane for the immense amount of work she has put in over the last few weeks.

You really have been utterly amazing.

Thank You.

…for a perfect pizza. 22/10/11

So three weeks have gone by.  Three long weeks since I last posted.

“And whats happened in that time?”  You shout.

In a word: LOADS!

As I left you three weeks ago Dear Reader, it was with pictures of the new LEAF ‘wishing well’ that actually wasn’t a wishing well.

Skip forward a couple of weeks…

Earlier this week, I laid the top bricks that will make up the bottom of the oven.

Then Jon and Matt got to the edging stones -cementing them in perfectly.Clay mold.

Then it was time to make the building sand mold you can see here to the right.

This was so we could cover it with wet newspaper then begin putting the puddled clay around the outside.

Sand mold covered in wet newspaper.The newspaper was used as a barrier between the sand and the clay so the former wouldn’t stick to the latter.

Then we had to puddle the clay.

Oh what fun Diane and I had!

She was brave enough to get her shoes and socks off to do it barefoot, but I took the chicken’s way out and wore a pair of clean wellies for the task.

Partially puddled sand and clay.To the right here you can see one of my ‘mixes’ about half way through.

Through experimentation, we decided that we’d puddle the clay and sand in a roughly 50/50 mix.

“But whats ‘puddling’?”  You may ask.

And therein lies the rub!  To ‘puddle’ clay, you have to mix the sand in with it completely, and the only sure way to do this is to spread a layer of sand -much as you’d sprinkle a layer of flour when you’re making dough in the kitchen- then you have to whack your clay on the top, then spread almost all of the rest of the sand on top of that, then get stuck in.  The technique I favoured was stamping up and down to a beat only I could hear in my head (…told you those voices would come in handy one day…), while moving slowly around the spreading pile of mix.  I’d then grab the side of the blue plastic sheet and roll it into where I was treading.

Each mix takes about 45 minutes from first adding the clay and sand to it being a useable form for slapping on the dome.

Dome partially constructed.To the left here you can see the dome partially constructed.

As you can probably make out, its build by going round and round with ‘blobs’ of clay, carefully placing them on each other -rather than on the dome and covering paper, then when you’ve done a couple of layers, you can take a break and smooth it off using a float.

Done!And here you can see it completed!

We finally finished this yesterday evening (!!!), and left it overnight to ‘set’ before the nail-biting operation today.

And nail-biting it was, for Matt very skilfully cut out the hatch where you put the fuel and pizzas in using a small hand saw.

Cutting the hatch.Here it is after Matt cut the first small hole.  You can also see the larger round line drawn in the still-wet clay which marked where the hole would be.

We started small so that we could monitor the rest of the surrounding clay to see if it dropped.  Diane has been on an oven-building course, and during this, their whole dome collapsed, so we were more than a little fearful at this point!

But we needn’t have been!

Hole cut.  No collapse!To the right here is the finished dome with the cut-out fully open, and as you can see, there’s certainly no sagging or slippage.  This was after we’d emptied more than three humper’s worth of sand from inside the dome very, very carefully.

Inside you can see the makings of a small fire we later lit surrounded by the newspaper we’d laid between the two layers.  There was no need to peel this all out and risk a slippage as it burned off quickly when the fire was lit.

Lit and warming up nicely.And here you can see it just after I’d set a match to it.

Today’s fire wasn’t about making pizzas in -that’s for tomorrow!  No, today’s fire was about hardening off the clay as it was still very soft.  As the inner clay hardened off, the top of the oven got warmer and warmer and eventually quite hot, and you could see the clay change colour and see the clay actually steaming as most of the water was expelled from it.

Now, you can’t see from these photos but later on as it all warmed up, cracks started to appear all across the top and sides of the dome, but we aren’t worried.

When I get to it tomorrow morning, I’m sure all these cracks will have magically disappeared, only to re-open again as I get it going towards lunchtime.

These cracks are to be expected!  I remember the dome over at SAGE Greenfingers and there were cracks all over the outside, despite the fact that their dome was three layers thick!

Anyway, watch this space for details of our new compost toilets as designed by Sheffield University Architects and see details of Allotment Soup -happening 23/10/11

Its all go.


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