Bread From The Rocket Oven

  • A new bakery in Hackney is adapting a technology from the developing world to produce artisan bread in a space traditionally used for light industry and storage. The E5 Bakehouse has been set-up in railway arches alongside London Fields. It uses a rocket oven, a simple solid fuel oven developed in the 1980s to provide a reliable cooking source for communities in Africa. The low-tech, wood burning oven allows the E5 Bakehouse to produce traditional sourdough breads using methods that have been around for thousands of years.

    The oven at the E5 Bakehouse (photo: EatingEast.co.uk)

    Rocket ovens are used throughout Africa, Asia and South America as a reliable method of making the most out of cheap and easy to find combustibles; roots, branches, twigs, dried weeds or even moss can be used. The basic and scalable design means anything from a discarded tin can, an oil drum or a pile of bricks can be used to construct the oven. Mud or clay can act as insulation and further maximise efficiency.

    Ben Mackinnon who runs the E5 Bakehouse, enlisted the help of his sister, an engineer working in the Central African Republic to help with the build. The oven was constructed using mainly reclaimed materials; junk paving slabs and bricks, clay from agricultural land near Ben’s childhood home in Suffolk, sand from the beach, bags of lime left for disposal. The oven was constructed for hundreds of pounds rather than the thousands it would normally cost to buy a baker’s oven, and can accommodate up to 40 loaves at a time.

    A rocket oven in it’s more usual setting (photo: Ziggy Fresh)

    This use of cheap, accessible and easily adaptable technology has allowed the growth of a business that may otherwise have struggled to get going. Especially in the current economic climate where banks are less likely to loan money for such enterprises. The use and adaptation of developing world technology will play a greater role in cities as it allows individuals and communities to take control of resources and production methods that have long since been commercialised and removed from the fabric of the city. The internet and a growing open-source approach to technology enables ideas to spread and develop freely. The impact of this on the developing world has been well documented. The potential impact on the city is just as great as people search for ways to be more autonomous and less reliant on mass produced goods. It can enable small-scale urban production and challenges the notion that city dwellers are consumers rather than producers.

    An Indian rocket oven (photo: Chef Cooke)