Sawdust. Chips. Slabs. Mill byproducts. All are the much less glamorous side of sawmill production. As lovely figured maple and sturdy beams come off our saw, the mill byproducts fall away. Where these products end up is not something we often focus on, but sometimes they can end up in some pretty cool places.
Slabs – or the outside “edges” of the logs we saw – are divided into hardwood and softwood bundles and stored in a towering pile in our yard. They are prized for their ability to quickly kindle a very hot fire. Our usual buyers are homeowners, and also those who still have wood-fired evaporators in their sugar houses. One of our more interesting customers is a group of community bakers.
Brookford Farm, in Canterbury New Hampshire, is home to a good-sized wood fired oven. When the resident baker departed, a group of bakers, loosely called the Canterbury Community Bakers, were welcomed to the farm for periodic “bakes.”
Softwood and hardwood slabs are key to getting the oven fire started up. If the bakers are planning a Saturday bake, the process begins early Thursday morning when the fire is first lit. It takes approximately half a cord of wood to build the fire (remember this is starting up a cold oven.)
On bake day, if the fire has been properly maintained, the temperature of the oven will be just over 500 degrees Fahrenheit and the oven floor will contain mostly ash and a few coals. These need to be scraped out of the oven, and the oven floor must be mopped clean to be prepared to receive the bread.
The loaves are prepped by turning them out onto the peel and shallowly slicing them with a special cutter called a lame. This allows the loaves to expand evenly in the oven. This oven is large enough to bake about 60 artisan loaves per bake. Depending on how many loaves are in the oven (the more loaves the more moisture is generated by the bread itself) the oven is misted with water and the door closed.