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The wood-fired oven in the neighborhood

The wood-fired oven in the neighborhood

  • Ovens in village neighborhoods used to be places where people would gather, get in touch and enjoy themselves

Back in the day, there were no stoves in people’s houses, no bakeries to pick up your bread from. Villagers, however, were blessed with self-sufficiency in agricultural and livestock products as well as solidarity. The oven in the neighborhood was a place where people would gather, get in touch and enjoy themselves. Every neighborhood had its own oven to cater to the needs of many families within the boundaries of solidarity and companionship.

In Kalimassia village, Mr Yiorgis Stamoulis took over his father’s wood-fired oven, built in around 1910, and went on to master the art. He was always willing to attend to the neighborhood, constantly baking bread, rusks, buns, bagels, food, chick peas and almonds, while the smell would waft to the neighborhood. When he passed away, his younger daughter, Eleni, took the reins; by then, though, every housewife had her own oven, so Eleni ended up working occasionally, mainly on special days, Christmas and Easter.

Eleni recounts: “The oven would work endlessly; it never stopped. Ploumou, our grandma, always kept sourdough in our cellar. As there were no fridges back then, she would put some flour in a bowl and cover a sourdough lump with it so that it wouldn’t go bad. Even if taken out fifteen days later, all the sourdough needed to regenerate was a little bit of soaking. Everyone in the neighborhood would use the same sourdough. After Alexandra had made her bread the day before, it was my turn to make some of my own; I would grow the sourdough and put some of it aside for Ioulia to pick it up”.

“My father would get everything set since early in the morning. Step one is to light the fire in the middle of the oven. Then you gradually feed the oven with logs until it begins to go white, depending on what you want to bake. As the heat builds up, the black bricks turn white, and when the oven turns chalky white, it’s time to bake stuff in it. Back in the day, we used to say ‘The oven is now blazing’”.

“My father would monitor the process and get to regularly reposition the trays so as to make the best use of the fire and allow for everything to be evenly baked. Everyone in the neighborhood would participate in the baking process; they would take turns to check on the trays, make sure they were suitably positioned to be properly baked, prevent the goods from burning, getting scorched or undercooked, keep the blaze under control. We would also put rusks, bagels, chick peas and almonds in it. We could bake a minimum of eight loaves at the same time. We would open the oven and sneak a peek to determine by their looks if the loaves were baked. Upon taking them out, we would bang on their back side and a hollow sound would be heard.”

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“People wouldn’t leave, they would sit around and wait for stuff to be baked, hanging out and tattling. If the ramble got louder, more people would gather. There was no TV back then, so no one was looking forward to getting back home and watch soap operas; people were eager to interact with each other. Women from the neighborhood used to step by up until Chernobyl happened; then they passed away, I left for Inousses and would only light it up again when coming back for my vacation.”

The oven has been operating for all these years in the same fragrant way, as if the clock stopped over a century ago. The old neighborhood is now deserted, much has changed, the family home is only inhabited on holidays; still, those neighborhood stories have been nostalgically burned into people’s memories and the photos are still here to ensure preserving those mementos.

Translated into English by Nikos Loutraris

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