Beehive (Cob) Oven: A Roof Overhead

The last piece to the Fort’s Beehive Oven is a cover.  We weighed the various options and decided to go with a single slant roof elevated several feet over the oven.  Of course it took a “design team,” “framer,” rough frame roofers, and two “roofers” to get the job done.  Also a blacksmith…


Beehive Oven with partially completed roof.

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Between Baking and Building: The Journey of a Beehive (Cob) Oven


Bread loaves being loaded into Beehive Oven,

Before one can use a cob oven (cob meaning earth or in this instance clay, sand, water and a smattering of straw) there is the necessary–and often long–drying period.  The cob needs to dry (outside and inside) and harden, forming a kind of mud brick before the oven is usable.  Because we used a sand form during the Fort’s Beehive Oven rebuild, drying takes even longer.  Over several week the oven dried in the sun (mostly sun) and bit by bit the sand upon which the oven was formed was removed to reveal the OVEN.!cid_DWT183

Then a series of small fires were built in the oven to help the drying process and to burn off any of the newspaper that remained (wet newspaper was used atop of the sand form the keep the cob from sticking to the sand).


First official firing of the Fort’s Beehive Oven


The Baker and his “Art”

The first official firing of the Fort’s Beehive Oven took place during our 2014 French and Indian War encampment.  18 two-pound loaves of bread were produced.  Lovely, heavy, moist, delicious loaves.

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Rebuilding a Beehive (Cob or Bake) Oven

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Rebuild Begins.

The first weekend of May began with our Beehive Oven Workshop.  Ed Murphy, leading the workshop was anxious to get things underway.  First folks sieved the clay to remove any stray bits, then sand and water were mixed with the clay until deemed the right consistency (something about dropping a ball of cob and seeing if it held together…), and rebuilding commenced.


Sand Mold

First there was the cob slurry placed upon the plinth (when rebuilding the riser or plinth we stayed with a wooden frame filled with earth and a stones for the top).  Then the oven mold, made of moistened sand.  Then the placement of snowball sized cob ball round and round, layer upon layer (the first couple of layers were cob balls made of clay, sand and water only; additional layers had chopped straw added to reduced the weight of the oven dome while maintaining the insulating value of the ovenl, until, voila, a beehive appears.

IMG_20130504_141412OK, a slightly misshapen beehive laying upon its side, but there it is.

!cid_DWT181Then another layer of clay slurry to make a pleasing appearance and cover any stray hay.


The Fort’s new;y reconstructed Beehive or Community Oven drying in the sun,

Two days, clay sand, hay water, and many hands, we have a new oven.

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Building a Beehive (Cob or Bake) Oven: Take Down


The wooden old frame has been removed.

Some times repair work requires a little dis-assembly.

In the case of the fort’s well-loved beehive bake oven, almost everything, roof, oven, oven base, had to be  taken apart so that we might start anew.

The roof came off easily, tried from so many years of work.  The inside of the oven had already collapsed leaving only the outer shell to be broken up and removed.  The wooden frame which held the earthen base crumbled and required little effort to remove while the earth, long packed under the oven, held.


Rebuilding the base for the beehive oven. Members of the 78th Regiment of Foot (Fraser’s Highlanders) work to rebuild the base for the new bake oven.

Members of Frasers Highlanders put in a long day’s work rebuilding the frame for the oven base.  The frame was rebuilt to the six foot by six foot specifications of the original frame.

The new base (below) awaits dressing (large, flat stones placed on the base, then  topped with a slurry of clay and sand).


The new oven base awaiting top dressing.

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Building a Beehive (Cob) Oven: The Fort’s Community Oven

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Building the Fort’s Beehive Oven
Tidings from the 18th Century (p. 204, 1993)

The fort’s community oven (beehive) has served the fort for more than two decades.  After so many years of hard service, our oven is ready for major repairs.  While we make plans to work on our oven, we thought that we might take a moment and look back at the beginnings of the museum’s famous bake oven as seen in Beth Gilgun’s work,  Tidings From the 18th Century.

Dearest Friends, …Chris was called up to the Fort at number 4 for a muster in June….  While we were there, an outside bake-oven was built so that the soldiers who are sometimes sent there will have a place to bake their bread.  It was quite a fascinating process, and it surprised us how quickly the project was completed … (p. 202).

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Construction of Fort’s Bake Oven
Tidings from the 18th Century (p. 203)

The day the oven was to be assembled, the men built a wooden frame shaped like a hunched beaver.  The frame was built from saplings split down the middle into long strips and tied together with twine (p. 202).  …

The clay used to build the oven … was mixed with water to make it workable.  [Clay and water were placed] into [a] trough.  When water was added, two men took off their shoes and stockings to mix the clay and water with their feet (p. 202).  …

[Hay was mixed in] to help bind the clay … and molded into long rectangles that were about seven inches wide, 18 inches long, and five inches high (p. 203).  …

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The first loaves of bread baked in the newly completed oven
Tidings from the 18th Century (p 205, 1993)

As the sides [of the oven] were built up the clay was molding itself around the wooden strips so that gradually the inside had a bumpy look (p. 203).

We were all surprised how quickly the oven was built but disappointed to lean that is could not be used for a bout four weeks (p. 205).

gilgin book cover sm

Tidings From the 18th Century : Colonial American How-To and Living History
by Beth Gilgun
Published in 1993 by Scurlock Publishing Co., Inc.
is now in it’s 4th printing



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Building a Beehive Oven (Cob or Outdoor Bread Oven): Research

ft-4-ovnWhile doing some research in preparation for our upcoming beehive (cob) oven rebuild we came across some interesting materials.  Among 3141_099_E2006-03654_03662[1]_Page_1these, from the Canadian Museum of Civilization, is the Book The Bread Ovens of Quebec (BOILY, Lise, and Jean-François Blanchette. 1979). 

3143_261_E2006-03748_03767[1]_Page_12Now out of print, but available in PDF form, The Bread Ovens of Quebec takes a look at the traditional outdoor ovens in Quebec breaking down the construction of a cob oven and includes items such as songs, and–removal of spells cast upon the oven/bread.  Oh, my!

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Building a Beehive Oven (Cob or Outdoor Bread Oven)

_DSC5847This May, as part of the many projects that are underway at the fort, we will be rebuilding our Beehive oven.

Built in the mid 1980s, our community oven has served the fort well; but it has come to the point were a complete repair–otherwise known as a rebuild–is needed.

We’ll keep you posted on our progress.

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From Hannah Glass’ “The Art of Cookery Plain and Easy” (1760)

  • take a pound of loaf sugar, beat and sift it
  • a pound of flour, well dried
  • a pound of butter
  • eight eggs
  • half a pound of currant, washed and picked
  • grate nutmeg
  • the same quantity of mace and cinnamon

Work butter to a cream, then put in your sugar, beat the whites of your eggs near half an hour, mix them with your sugar and butter, then beat your yolks near half an hour, and put them to your butter, beat them exceedingly well together, then put in your flour, spices and currants; when it is all ready for the oven, bake them in tins, and dust a little sugar on them/

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Volunteering at the fort is FUN, FUN, FUN

Judys_Tour-69-2-EditBy Many Winters
(aka Dan Harper)

Volunteering at the Fort at no. 4 is indeed fun but also educational, informative, a learning and teaching process.  Volunteers assist in preserving not only the deeds our ancestors accomplish but they way they did things and the very way they lived.

We moved back to New England in 2002 and almost immediately found The Fort at No. 4 and visited four or five times that first summer.  The next summer, at my son’s suggestion, we became members and from there to volunteering and reenacting was a very small step.  As a young man in the late 1940’s and 1950’s I was intrigued with early Colonial history.  I read everything I could, fiction and history, on the subject.  One of my favorite was Look to the Mountain by LeGrande Cannon, the story of a young couple, the first settlers in a New Hampshire town.  It was concerned with the daily living of these people, the way they cleared tilled the soil, the way they built their cabin and barns, the hunting and fishing, and the first town meeting.  Except for a short bit on the Battle of Bennington, there is no big picture, no heroics other than their daily fight against nature.  It is just a young couple, our ancestors, doing precisely what we do today; providing for our families, sheltering and feeding them, teaching children but doing it in a rugged 18th century way.

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Spiritual Nourshment

The chief source of spiritual nourishment for any nation must be its own past, perpetually rediscovered and renewed.
Ralph Barton Perry

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One of the may recipes to be found in Foods From the Fort offered in our bookstore is Oatmeal Bread.  To make the bread you will need:

  • 1 cup rolled oates
  • 2 cups boiling water
  • 1 package active dry yeast (or not quite one tablespoon yest)
  • 1/2 cup lukewarm water
  • 1/2 cup molasses
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon shortening or butter or coconut oil
  • 1 1/2 cups flour

Places oats into a large bowl.  Pour the boiling water over oats then stir in the molasses, salt and shortening to the oats.  Let the oat mixture set about an hour until cool.

Once the oat mixture is cool, dissolve yeast in the lukewarm water in a small bowl.  Add the dissolved yeast to the cooled oat mixture.

Once the oat mixture and the yeast are mixed together, add in the flower one cup at a time.  Stir until well mixed.  Cover and let the oats/flour mixture rise until doubled in bulk.

Once the mixture has doubled in bulk, stir it down.  Spoon the sticky mixture into two greased bread tins.  Let rise again until almost doubled in bulk.

Bake in 400 degree oven for 20 minutes.  turn oven temperature down to 350 degrees and bake an additional 25 minutes.

After baking remove bread from pans and rub the top of the bread with butter.  Allow to cool.

Makes two loaves.

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