Friday, 26 August 2016

No cook fish recipes for summer

Peruvian Sea Bass Ceviche Recipe

Hawaiian Tuna Poke Recipe

This week has been horrendous. In London, the air has been still with barely a breath of wind. The humidity has been oppressive. My menopausal hot sweats have taken on epic proportions. I can't wear make-up because it slides off my face. My head has been pounding because it's been high pressure or low pressure, or one of those. The one that gives you a headache.

My daughter went to the Tate gallery with her friend Tiger yesterday.
'Mum, all I could see was older women fanning themselves.'
'Were they middle aged?'
'No, they were old. It lasts for decades,' she said, commiserating. 'Tiger said her mum is the same. Her mum's been crying too.'
She's referring to the meltdown last week when I sobbed, while giving her driving practice, from Camden to Cricklewood.
Dimly, through the blurry tears, I heard my daughter saying, while trying to negotiate traffic, the same stuff to me that I say to her along the lines of This Too Will Pass: "Nothing lasts forever, even pain and depression."

But I'm glad I didn't go on HRT because science. Even though just last year the powers that be said it was ok. FFS. 

The last thing you want to do on a muggy summer's day is to make your kitchen even warmer by cooking. The solution? Make a 'no cook' fish dish. Most cultures with a long coast line have some kind of raw fish dish. Examples include ceviche, gravad lax or poke.

You have probably heard of Peruvian ceviche, whereby raw fish is 'cooked' with lime juice, and the Scandinavian gravad lax, where raw fish is cured. The new trend to watch out for is Hawaiian 'poke', another raw fish delicacy.

You may wonder about food safety. Some fishmongers claim their fish is 'sashimi grade', but this is not a clear-cut standard. "There is no definition of 'sashimi grade' fish," says Harry Toyoda of T&S Enterprises London Ltd who supply fish to Japanese shops and restaurants. "It's a grey area."

For any business to sell raw fish, British health and safety law requires it first to be flash frozen, a measure that kills parasites. But, Toyoda continues: "In Japan no sushi bar would use frozen fish. Freezing salmon is not too bad, but to freeze seabass is such a shame. It changes the quality and texture."

The methods in these recipes of 'cooking' raw fish render it safe to eat, except for the poke. All fishmongers claim their fish is fresh so how do you know?  Develop a relationship with a good fishmonger and only buy from one you trust.
Supermarket fish is usually at least 10 days old. When I did a course at Billingsgate (fascinating and well worth it), I had to extract, with tweezers, at least 10 worms from a slab of fish. You know those white patches you sometimes see on pink salmon? Those are lice. Sorry to be yucky. So a good supplier is essential.
Hawaiian Tuna Poke Recipe

Hawaiian Tuna Poke Recipe

You can buy candlenuts from, but macadamias are a good substitute. Both nuts are buttery, oil rich and dense, to the point that the former can be burnt like candles (hence the name). Good tuna should be red, not brown.

Serves 4

For the marinade:
1 tbsp black sesame seeds
1 tbsp white sesame seeds
2 tbsp (or 2 sheets) nori seaweed, toasted, crumbled
2 tbsp toasted sesame oil
2 tbsp soy sauce
Juice of 1/2 lime

350g tuna, skinned, cut into 1.5cm cubes
2 spring onions, sliced thinly
1 ripe avocado, diced
3 tbsp candlenuts, lightly roasted then crushed

Mix the marinade ingredients together, sesame seeds, nori, oil, soy and lime.
Then add the tuna, spring onions, avocado and candlenuts to the marinade. Toss and chill for half an hour. Eat with steamed sushi rice.

Scandinavian Gravad Lax Recipe

Scandinavian Gravad Lax Recipe

250g caster sugar
200g rock salt
2 tbsp crushed white pepper
Zest of 1 lemon
1 tbsp crushed juniper berries
2 x approximately 400g of the centre portion of a salmon, preferably of the same thickness
A decent glug of Aquavit
Large bunch of dill, fronds chopped finely

Mix together the sugar, salt, pepper, lemon zest and juniper berries.
To prevent overflow of the curing liquid into your fridge, use a non reactive baking tray with a lip (that also fits in your fridge).
Spread 1/4 of the sugar/salt mixture on the tray. Place one piece of the salmon, skin side down, on the tray and spread half of the mixture on top along with the dill. Then place the other salmon piece, skin side upwards, on top. Spread the rest of the sugar/salt mixture over the skin.
Pour on the Aquavit (or vodka or gin).
Weigh down the salmon with a chopping board or plate plus something heavy on top. Leave the salmon at room temperature until the salt and sugar dissolve then place it in the fridge. After 24 hours, remove the weights and flip over the salmon 'sandwich'. Replace the weights and leave in the fridge for another 24 hours.
Remove from the fridge and cut a little slice from the centre of the salmon. Does it taste cured and not raw? Then it is ready. (If it is too salty, you can rinse the salmon.)
Cut D shape slices and serve with crisp bread and pickled cucumbers.
Peruvian Sea Bass Ceviche Recipe

Peruvian Sea Bass Ceviche Recipe

Authenticity points are gained if somehow you've managed to get hold of aji amarillo, a yellow Peruvian chilli pepper. You can buy the paste online, but any fresh chilli will work.

350g fresh sea bass, skinned, sliced thinly
1 small red onion, thinly sliced
Big handful of fresh coriander, leaves picked off
Juice of 3 limes
1 tsp sea salt (or more, to taste)
1 fresh chilli, red or green, deseeded, sliced thinly

Mix all the ingredients together and let it marinate for around 30 minutes or until the translucent fish has turned white. When you've eaten the fish, don't discard the juice at the end. This precious 'tiger's milk' is wonderful mopped up with boiled then skinned cold sweet potatoes, as eaten in Peru.
Scandinavian Gravad Lax Recipe

tuna poke

Saturday, 20 August 2016

Raw milk at The Calf at Foot Dairy

"I fucking hate men. Male farmers resent female farmers - they want to control you. My dad always said 'you can't farm, there's no money in it'. But I don't do it for the money. I do it so I can sleep at night.

If women were still the farmers, farming would be different. You don't have to push animals so hard. There wouldn't be any of this industrialisation; the cruelty, the chemicals. When I go to a supermarket, that's what I see: aisles full of chemicals."

The fierce and passionate Fiona Provan, owner of The Calf at Foot Dairy on the Suffolk/Norfolk border on the Somerleyton Estate, is trying to change dairy farming. I interviewed her after a visit to her 'parlour', a large airy wooden barn with chandeliers, sofas and book shelves. In a sunlit corner, one of her 'dairy angels', Amy, milked a cow whose tail lashed her softly in the face. Amy looks like a milk maid from a children's story book, all blonde hair, perfect creamy skin and laughing blue eyes.

Fiona continues: 
"My father was a vet, he was a very hard man. I was born in the '60s. I saw the way farming was going, how industrialisation became popular with farmers. My father worked very hard; 24/7, he was under pressure. The strain of running his own business made him lose his temper. In those days the drugs he gave to animals were dispensed from large glass bottles, he'd mix them up himself. He got allergies. 

I was brought up in Hertfordshire but 15 years ago I moved to the Suffolk/Norfolk border. I was desperate to set up a farm. I hated school. I wanted to be outside with the cows. The neighbours were dairy farmers. My best memories of childhood were from there. I was a naughty girl at school, always in trouble.

At 16 I left school and started as a stockman on a dairy farm. Women always make the best stockmen. They have the eye. When humans first started farming it was the women that did it, the men were out hunting.

At 22 I got married and I was given a house cow by my father, a Jersey cow. For a while I was very depressed. I was campaigning for animal rights but it wasn't enough. When I became a mother myself I decided that I must start an ethical dairy. I couldn't drink milk until I did that. 

You know most people don't know that cow milk is mother's milk. I had a human mother in here with a babe in arms. She was shocked when she realised that commercial milk is a result of taking calves away from their mothers.

At last people are beginning to care. My aim before I die is to create a movement. I want other people to start ethical dairies. I want competition.

It's difficult being a female farmer. My kids are in their late 20s now. I've been alone for 8 years. People are hostile, I get abuse, I've had my tyres slashed.

It's been difficult, I've had to move farms often. I have no grass. I need more grass for the cows to feed on. I need more funding, and I might start a crowd funder. My girls help me, my 'dairy angels'. I can't afford to employ people so they are volunteers. These girls come from towns and flats in cities, I've had them milking cows, injecting sperm within a week."

The Calf at Foot Dairy has around thirty cows, which are either JerseyRed Polls or a combination. Apparently cows cost around £500 each. Here, each cow has a name - Lily, Thistle, Dottie, Tess, Bluebell - and a strong personality. "Some cows are silly. Others are motherly," it is explained. "They are very intelligent."

As a chef and food writer, I've been interested by raw milk for a while. It boasts many of the same benefits as human breast milk, and is also put on cuts and burns to promote healing. I've tried donkey milk, which is naturally very sweet; mares' milk, again sweeter than cow; goats' and sheep's milk; and, when I journeyed through Tibet, I ate yak's milk products. I also drink soy milk (apparently good for the menopause) and nut milk.

The United Kingdom has a huge per capita consumption of cow's milk, third behind Ireland and Finland. I was surprised by this as in both the US and Scandinavia grown ups drink glasses of milk with their food. But this is probably down to the milk in our tea. (The French, of course, eat more cheese and butter than any other country.) But I know little about farming, so I put more questions to Fiona.

Tell me about industrial dairy farming.

Calves are separated from their mothers. I never do that. They drink from buckets. I would never allow that.


Calves must drink milk with their chin tipped up, otherwise they don't get the nutrition. They can drink water with their chin down.
(In normal dairies) calves weren't allowed to suck. They suck on anything they can, so they get abcesses and sores.
The calves stay on for 5 months - by that I mean they stay with mum. Then the weaners are sold on. The mum is still grieving.
At The Calf At Foot Dairy, the calves stay on for a minimum of 9 months, up to 12 months.
Each cow and calf is judged on its own merit. We use our intuition and instincts as to when the calf should wean.

Is it like human babies? They start to want solids?

Calves start to eat grass at 2 weeks old.  It's more that mum gets run down, I call it 'melting'. She loses energy, looks a bit droopy.

How do you have enough milk to sell to the public?

In the first couple of months there is plenty of milk, in fact they have enough milk for four calves. Usually they only have one calf, sometimes, rarely, twins. At five months I might separate the calf and cow overnight to give mum a rest.
Two or three months later I start to turn them away.

What do you mean?

They come to get milked and I turn them away.

Do they like being milked? Just like human mothers like breast feeding?

Yes. Being milked is a relief for them. They get that surge of oxytocin, that lovely dreamy feeling.

Do you milk by hand?

No, we have a milking machine. They come to the parlour - that's what we call the milking bit of the barn.
Right now in August, it's tricky to milk the cows: there are the biting flies, it's very uncomfortable for them and for the milkers.

On food and the environment:

I don't push for the local thing, I believe in sourcing the best suppliers. You can buy online now so this isn't too difficult.
I don't believe in a vegan diet either, I think it will completely destroy diversity. It relies on monocultures like soy, of which virtually all of it is GM. We've got a 100 years of topsoil left, you know. That's it. Animals grazing is vital for diversity and for the soil. Militant vegans from the US have trashed my FB page with vile, threatening comments.

On health benefits:

Raw milk is also good for vaginal atrophy and thrush. Just inject it in, it'll sort it. You can drink it too, that helps, but really I don't give a toss about human health.

On ethical dairies:

I spoke a couple of years ago at the Real Farming Conference in Oxford. Now it's bigger than the official farming conference. 
The only other ethical dairy like mine is Belvoir Ridge (pronounced Beaver) in Nottingham. They heard me at the conference. They took it up, haven't looked back since.
Fen Farm and Hook and Son are both organic and raw dairies but not ethical like mine. That's why my milk is expensive, the most expensive.


What is raw milk?

It's unpasteurised, non-homogenised milk direct from the cow. It contains nutrients such as vitamin C, which is reduced by heat treatments. It is also referred to as 'white blood' because it contains living white blood cells. 

In many countries it is illegal to sell raw milk: it is legal in England, but not in Scotland. The Calf At Foot Dairy therefore ship quite a bit of raw milk to Scotland.

  • Pasteurisation (named after Louis Pasteur) is a process of heating the milk and cooling it to rid it of any dodgy bacteria. Flash pasteurisation means that milk will last for 2 to 3 weeks. Most British milk is pasteurised.
  • UHT (Ultra-Heat Treatment) means milk is heated up to an even higher temperature. It lasts up to 9 months.
  • Homogenisation is the process of breaking down fat globules in milk (which usually rise to the top and become cream) until they are tiny, thereby resisting separation. Most US and European milk is both pasteurised and homogenised. This is why it's impossible to get a decent cup of tea anywhere but in the UK. Homogenised milk in tea tastes weird and synthetic.
Does raw milk taste better?
It has a fuller, fattier, more complex flavour. I'd say you can taste the farmyard in it. It is unprocessed and therefore more nutritious. It contains good cholesterol and higher cholesterol is now associated with a longer life.

Is raw milk dangerous?

Raw milk can contain dangerous bacteria such as e coli, salmonella, TB and listeria. But if it is obtained from a hygienic dairy farm, you should have no health problems. The 'dangerous' reputation of raw milk is rather outdated. It is now thought to be good for allergies such as eczema and hay fever.

Advantages of raw milk:

  • Raw milk contains a 'creamline', where you can see the difference between milk and cream, which rises to the top. The fat in cream is an aid to losing weight - it's healthy fat.
  • You can make cheese and yoghurt from it. Heating milk, as in pasteurisation, means that it is difficult for the curds to adhere to each other. 
  • If you are lactose intolerant, which many people are unless you are of Northern European descent, you can often tolerate raw milk. The Calf at Foot Dairy explains: 
"Lactose is milk sugar. If you drink the kind of untreated milk produced at The Calf at Foot Dairy, the lactose is broken down in your body by the enzyme lactase. In pasteurised milk, this enzyme is destroyed by the heat treatment. As a result, more and more people are finding themselves to be lactose intolerant simply as a result of not being able to break down this sugar.  With care in returning to a traditional, nutrient-dense diet which includes unadulterated raw milk, this intolerance can be reversed."
  • The animals are treated better.

Industrial dairies: 

Cows in industrial dairies have their calves removed at an early age. The calves are fed milk replacers as all the milk meant for them is given to humans. The cows are forced into pregnancy and lactation at an early age (18 months rather than 2 years old). This is repeated quickly, forcing the pace rather than allowing the cows to get pregnant at a natural and healthy rhythm. Industrial cows rarely live past 5 years old, having suffered 3 'rotations' (pregnancy and lactation) already. They are given antibiotics to prevent illness, which comes through into the milk.

Ethical dairies:

The cows keep their calves, feeding them for at least 9 months. The only milk that is taken is excess milk. They are untethered as they are being milked. The cows don't get pregnant every year, only when they are ready. As a result, they are healthy and happy and live often until 12 years old. They are not culled once they have outlived milking. They are grass fed rather than grain fed. Grass feeding cows is better than water guzzling grain feed. 

We should appreciate the milk given by animals - it is a precious resource, not to be taken lightly. At the moment milk is cheaper than bottled water. Food is too cheap in this country.

Monday, 15 August 2016

McDonalds style fried apple pie recipe

home made Mcdonald's apple pie recipe

home made Mcdonald's apple pie recipe
home made Mcdonald's apple pie recipe

This recipe, using apples from South Africa, is a home-made tribute to a fast-food classic, the McDonald's deep fried apple pie. 

This hand pie consists of apple purée with a tender chunks of apple, hints of cinnamon spice and crispy flaky pastry on the outside, I had something similar when I ate at April Bloomfield's restaurant, Salvation Burger, in New York earlier this year. At McDonald's it came in a handy cardboard box and if you were wise, you'd tentatively nibble away at the corner, to test the temperature before diving in. It could be mouth burningly hot on the inside.
I've used two kinds of South African apple, the sweet Pink Lady and crisp and tart Granny Smith.
I've created a recipe for a home made McDonald's style apple pie with a twist, a custard flavour, which you can fry or bake, depending on how indulgent you feel. This recipe originally appeared in Metro. 

McDonald's custard apple pie recipe

Makes four pies

2 Pink Lady apples, peeled and cored, diced

1 Granny Smith apple, peeled, cored, diced
1 tsp of ground cinnamon
2 tbsps of brown sugar
A pinch of salt
3 tbsps of custard powder (Birds and Orgran custard powder is vegan)
1 tbsp of plain flour for dusting
320g box of ready rolled puff pastry, cut into four rectangles
Groundnut oil for frying
3 tbsps icing sugar for dusting
1 tsp ground cinnamon for dusting
1 egg, for wash or vegan option, use a non dairy milk.

  1. In a bowl mix the apples with the cinnamon, sugar, salt. 
  2. Place the apple mixture into a medium saucepan and simmer, adding the custard powder. 
  3. Cook until the apple chunks are tender but not too mushy. Remove from the heat and let it cool.
  4. Dust a clean surface with flour and remove the puff pastry from the packet. Unfurl it and cut it into four equal sized rectangles. 
  5. Scoop a couple of tablespoons of the cooled apple mixture into half of each pastry rectangle.
  6. Brush the edges of the pastry rectangles with water and fold in half, pressing down the edges with the tines of a fork.
  7. Using a frying pan, add a shallow layer of ground nut oil, heat until the oil is between 180 and 190ºc.
  8. Place each rectangle in the oil and fry for 3  to 5 minutes each side until golden brown.
  9. Remove and place on kitchen paper to drain. 
  10. Then dust with icing sugar and more ground cinnamon if you wish.
  11. You can serve this as a snack, for breakfast or as dessert with a scoop of vanilla icecream.

Baking instructions:

Preheat the oven to 200ºc after step 2 above.
After step 7, to get that golden glow, brush the tops with egg yolk mixed with a drop or two of milk. Or, if you are vegan, brush with some non dairy milk.
Bake for 15 to 18 minutes or until golden brown.
Remove and sieve icing sugar over the pies.

home made Mcdonald's apple pie recipe
home made Mcdonald's apple pie recipe

Monday, 8 August 2016

A load of cobblers - fruit recipes for summer puddings

The 'cobbler' is, in my view, an American version of the 'crumble'. Both contain this food equation:

 fruit + flour + sugar + butter 

So acidity plus grain/fibre/carb (or grass, for wheat is grass seed) plus sweetness and fat. 
The crumble is probably Britain's most popular pud (according to my mini-survey on Twitter a few years ago). We think of it as ancient dish but The Oxford Companion to Food says that crumble exists only since World War 2, as a response to rationing. 
The cobbler reminds me of scones on fruit or 'biscuits' as the Americans call them. The top looks almost like a bumpy cobbled street with stewed hot fruit bleeding into the sweet dumplings. It's a pudding associated with the southern states, making great use of seasonal fruit such as the peach. August is Peach Month in the U.S. and Georgia is known as the 'peach state'. (My recipe for Peach Tea.)
Here are a couple of recipes: a peach cobbler (as seen in Metro) and a cherry corn cobbler, which I made on my visit to Norfolk while staying at the Lake Fritton Woodland Lodges.

Peach cobbler recipe

Serves 4-6

Level: easy

Equipment: 20cm round baking dish

For the fruit base:
6 peaches, skinned, pitted, quartered (easy to skin with a small sharp knife)
1 tbsp vanilla paste
Zest and juice of 1 lime
50g maple sugar, coconut sugar or demerara sugar

For the 'cobbled' topping:
50g macadamia nuts or candlenuts, crushed
100g self raising flour
Pinch of salt
50g sugar of your choice (as above or white sugar)
100g salted butter

  1. Preheat your oven to 200ºC.
  2. Toss the peaches with the rest of the fruit base ingredients into the baking dish. 
  3. Place in the oven and bake for 15 minutes. 
  4. Make the topping by combining the nuts, flour, salt, sugar and butter together in a bowl and rubbing the butter into the dry mixture until its texture resembles rough breadcrumbs. 
  5. Remove the baked peaches from the oven.
  6. Using a tablespoon, make 6 mounded spoonfuls of the 'cobbled' topping and place them on top of the fruit base. 
  7. Bake for 20 minutes at 180ºC.
  8. Serve with vanilla ice cream or double cream. 

Cherry Corn Cobbler recipe (gluten free)

This corn version of the cobbler is even more American in that it uses a kind of cornbread topping.  It has a slightly crunchier texture than the ordinary flour version. 

Serves 6

Level: easy

Equipment: 25cm round baking dish

For the fruit base:
750g fresh cherries (sweet or sour), pitted, de-stemmed
1 tbsp vanilla paste
1 heaped tbsp arrow root or cornflour
1/2 tsp salt
50g light brown sugar
Juice of half a lemon (if using sweet cherries)

For the 'cobbled' topping:
150g masa harina flour
100g sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

Pinch of salt
80g unsalted butter, at room temperature
125ml buttermilk
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

  1. Preheat your oven to 200ºC.
  2. Toss the cherries with the rest of the fruit base ingredients into a baking dish. 
  3. Place in the oven and bake for 15 minutes. 
  4. Make the topping by combining the masa, sugar, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda, salt, in a bowl or food processor.
  5. Add the butter and process until it looks like breadcrumbs if using a food processor. If doing by hand use cool fingers to rub the butter into the dry ingredients, again until it looks like breadcrumbs.
  6. Then add the buttermilk, eggs and vanilla extract to the topping mixture.
  7. Remove the baked cherries from the oven.
  8. Using a tablespoon, make 6 to 8 mounded spoonfuls of the 'cobbled' topping and place them on top of the fruit base. 
  9. Bake for 20 minutes at 180ºC.
  10. Serve with vanilla ice cream or double cream. 
Cherry Corn Cobbler
peach cobbler

Friday, 5 August 2016

Cob oven making in Norfolk

white cottage thatched cottage in norfolk with Charlotte Eve

building a cob oven, norfolk
pic by @siennamarla
pizza oven at white cottage, norfolk
Making pizza in a wood fired cob oven, Norfolk
 'If you can leave your hand in for a second it's not hot enough.' 
We arrive at White Cottage in Norfolk just in time for homemade pizza fresh out of their cob oven, which has now reached a roaring 700°F (370°C). This oven is built from the cheapest materials: sand, clay, straw. I was supposed to arrive at 10 in the morning but, due to a feverish night, I'm only able to get there for lunchtime after taking paracetamol to stop the shivering. We stayed at Woodland Lodges, a peaceful lakeside retreat at Fritton filled with dappled meandering woodland paths, deer and rabbits. 

While I've always liked Norfolk - white beaches, good food, weird people - I've never been to the broads before, and would love to spend time reading and cooking on a canal boat on the watery network. 

Charlotte Eve and Kate Edwards live in a picture book (yellow, not white) thatched cottage and run courses on how to build a cob oven, a technology that can also be used to build houses. Charlotte opened a window in her cottage kitchen, which then functioned as a serving hatch. We collected our pizzas from there to be baked in the oven. 

Around 15 people attended the course, evenly divided between men and women. What did surprise me was that the women were more hands on than the men. 

Step by step recipe for building a cob pizza oven


  • 12 bags of 10mm ballast (all in one, light concrete mix) - a mix of sharp sand and stones no larger than 10mm
  • Clay (if using potters clay 15%, natural dug clay 25%)
  • Straw (not hay)
  • Water, to add to the mix
  • Stick with a sharp point
  • Material for a base
  • Plaster trowel
  • Cooking surface (either fire bricks or metamorpic rock such as marble or granite)
  • Hardwood oven door (the height needs to be 63% of the internal height of the oven; the width is not as important but rule of thumb is about a foot or so)


1. Build a brick, wooden or stone base
Think about the height so you want a level where you can feed the fire, add and remove pizzas and operate bellows while sitting down. Diameter: a 1m diameter base will allow for cooking one pizza at a time. It needs to be strong to support the weight of the oven. You can make a cob base, which is very strong. The base must be weather proof and level.

2. Mix 1 part clay to 3 parts sandy subsoil by adding water and doing the cob dance (which entails jumping up and down on the pile).

3. Do 4 big mixes and in 2 of them add some straw (1 part) as well. Keep turning the big piles of cob, adding water and stamping. 
4. Lay the cooking surface level on the base. Use fire bricks or marble/granite.
building a cob oven, norfolk
pic by @siennamarla

4. Sculpt your oven around a dome of sand (use sharp sand and water to make it stick) which sits on the fire bricks. Smooth it over with a trowel. You don't want irregularities because the oven will then have air pockets and cool parts. 
building a cob oven, norfolk
pic by @siennamarla
building a cob oven, norfolk
pic by @siennamarla

5. Build around the sandy dome by making cob bricks, the size of your palm, with your hands. The first layer is the cob without straw and the second is the cob with the straw (this insulates the oven). The wall must be at least 7 inches thick. Completely cover the dome. When it comes to the smoothing process, the women took over while their hubbies stood by, watching, chatting about plasterers and how they don't notice the finer details. The oven was smooth as an egg by the time they were done primping. 
"Not that we're perfectionists!" said one. 
building a cob oven, norfolk
pic by @siennamarla
building a cob oven, norfolk
pic by @siennamarla
6. Cut out a space for the oven door
Make a semi circular oven door from hardwood. The door must be 63% of the internal height. Use it as a template to draw around it in the cob. Cut into the cob with a trowel. Make sure the door fits perfectly so that you will have a good seal. 
Leave it to dry for two days.
When using the finished oven, soak the door in water then press it into the door space. This ensures that the heat is absorbed into the bricks.
7. Pull out the sand

Kate demonstrated how to dig out the 'former' (think the opposite of a mould), which we would usually do after leaving it a couple of days. The men became much more engaged when it involved fingering sand out of the oven and bandying innuendos about. 
Leave for a week to dry out.
building a cob oven, norfolk
pic by @siennamarla

building a cob oven, norfolk
pic by @siennamarla

8. Decorate the oven (optional)
Kate showed how, with a mallet, you could put tiles on the oven to make a mosaic exterior. Whether you want to add colour or not, making it into a sculpture is a fun idea. 
"You can do a dragon very easily." 
Using a stick to bond it to the layers below, a nose was stuck on, followed by eyes, ears, lips and spikes. For fish fins and other more extended appendages, sticks can be inserted and left in place.
When creating a dragon oven, the nostril holes can go right through to create an even more impressive fire-breathing beast. In fact, this really improves the draw.
building a cob oven, norfolk
pic by @siennamarla
When the women went arty, the men again stood back and watched. 
"Some of us stand with hands in pockets, we know our place."  
"Hand it over to the wife," added another. 
Red nails were added to the dragons claws, then 'eyelashes' with branches.
building a cob oven, norfolk
pic by @siennamarla
9. Fire it up for 1 day
Ignite kindling and keep the fire going for at least six hours. You should be able to see the moisture from the cob. 

10. Final coat of cob

The oven now should be sealed either with more cob (without straw), fibre chalk or lime.

Then your oven is ready.

Maintenance: cover the oven when it is not in use. If it cracks, add more cob. 

Afterwards, the group settled on the grass with homemade flapjacks and cups of tea, bits of advice were shared. Don't stay in Great Yarmouth. If forced to visit 'Yarco' (as it is apparently nicknamed), get curry at Planet Papadum. For the best fish 'n chips, visit Grosvenor Fish Bar in Norwich. 

Norfolk: vagina pizza cob oven, which is based on the Gaia sculpture on the Isles of Scilly.

Above: their vagina pizza oven, which is based on the Gaia sculpture on the Isles of Scilly.

Charlotte's pizza for the cob oven recipe:

For the dough:
3oz (100g) strong or extra strong white flour
1/2 tsp fast action dried yeast
A big pinch of salt
1/2 tbsp quality olive oil
Some hand hot water

Mix it, then knead for a few minutes until the dough has a spring in it.
Leave it to prove for about 1.5 hours.
Cut the dough with a sharp knife into portions and roll out with a rolling pin on floured boards.

For the tomato topping:
1 onion, sliced thinly
50ml olive oil
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tin good quality tomatoes
1 tsp sugar
Half a chilli
Big bunch of basil
1 ball mozzarella cheese per pizza
Dried herbs
Local rapeseed garlic infused oil


Gently fry the onion in loads of good quality olive oil - do it really gently until slightly caramelised.
Add some crushed garlic, really good quality tinned tomatoes and a tiny touch of sugar. 
Cut a chilli in half and throw it in the sauce.
Add a big bunch of basil to the sauce.
Salt and pepper.
Simmer gently and let it reduce slowly.
Remove the chilli and basil.
Spread it on the pizza bases.


Add your cheese - not too much - the pizzas cook so quickly in the cob oven that the cheese won't have time to melt before the base is cooked if there is too much cheese.
Add dried herbs.
A drizzle of rapeseed garlic infused oil is great.
Avoid fresh basil before cooking - it wilts and burns up. 
Toppings like mushrooms and peppers should be roasted first otherwise they release water onto the pizza. 

The pizzas should cook and puff up (see below) in 1 minute in the oven.

Making pizza in a wood fired cob oven, Norfolk
Making pizza in a wood fired cob oven, Norfolk

Obviously the best way to learn to do this is to attend a cob oven building course. Cost for a one day course and lunch is £120 per person. They also teach how to make a cob tandoor oven.

If interested in doing one of their courses please contact Charlotte and Kate at

Thanks to Sienna for co-authoring this piece.

I stayed courtesy of Hoseasons in a Meadow Premier 3 lodge at Fritton Lake Retreats, Fritton, Norfolk. A three-night short break for up to six people in a Meadow Premier 3 costs from £355, a week costs from £595. or call 0345 498 6130