Carbondale Community Oven no half-baked idea | AspenTimes.com

Carbondale Community Oven no half-baked idea

John Stroud
Post Independent
Aspen, CO Colorado

Larry LeonaitisLinda Criswell pulls the first official loaves of bread out of the new Carbondale Community Oven last Wednesday. The oven is located in the new town park behind the Third Street Center. A grand opening is planned for Oct. 7.

CARBONDALE – Never a community to shy away from finding new and unique ways to bond, a group of people in Carbondale is getting set to break bread together – literally.

The Carbondale Community Oven project was envisioned two years ago by Mount Sopris Historical Society Director Linda Criswell.

Her idea was to build an outdoor, wood-fired brick hearth oven in a public place to be shared by members of the community who want to bake bread, biscuits, pizza, cookies, muffins … whatever.

“A group of us, including both amateur and professional bakers, got together and started talking about how to do it,” Criswell said. “The idea was to have a central place where we could all do our baking, and have classes and fundraising events.

“It’s the same kind of oven used in professional bakeries all over the world, only outside,” she said.

Earlier this year, the town of Carbondale gave permission for the oven to be located in the new town park behind the Third Street Center.

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The park was dedicated as part of the Roaring Fork School District’s teacher housing project, which is eventually to be developed in the vicinity. The park will include a community garden, among other amenities, so the oven seemed like a natural addition, Criswell said.

Since then, the project has been a huge community volunteer effort.

Materials and labor were donated by Gallegos Construction, Valley Lumber, Mayne Block, Ben Sellers, Tile by Jacob, The Fireplace Co. and numerous individual volunteers.

Grant funding also came from the BKS Charitable Foundation, and the project has been supported by Slow Food Roaring Fork.

“It’s a ‘slow’ project in the best sense, because it brings back a food tradition and heritage that almost everyone has,” said Tom Passavant, chapter leader for Slow Food Roaring Fork.

Passavant heard about the Carbondale project through locals and slow food fans Patrick and Leslie Johnson, so he contacted Criswell.

“We had just been out with some friends in California at one of the vineyards, where we had the most amazing brick-oven bread,” Passavant recalled. “What Carbondale is doing is not only a way to bring the community together to bake bread, but to bake the most extraordinary bread in the world.”

Earlier this week, Criswell, along with Larry and Katie Leonaitis, fired up the oven and baked the first official loaves of bread to come off the hearth.

Criswell displayed a peel loaded with various sizes of loaves, baked to a perfect, even golden brown. The aroma of a fine Italian restaurant mixed with the late summer evening air. Katie Leonaitis presented a jar of olive oil, as Criswell broke one of the smaller loaves, and the group enjoyed the first communal sharing of bread.

A few finishing touches still need to be made to the oven, including installation of the steel door, being fabricated by local blacksmith Sean McWilliams, some more stone work and a cover to go over the dome on the oven to protect it from the weather.

A grand opening celebration, including baked goodies from the oven, is being planned for Friday, Oct. 7.

After that, a schedule will be announced for local bakers to make use of the oven, including designated days for certain kinds of baked goods, Criswell said.

“It takes about four hours to fire up the oven and get it to baking temperature,” she explained. “People will have to show up at a particular time to put their bread in, because once it’s in you can’t open the doors.”

The oven starts at around 450 to 500 degrees for heavier breads. As the oven cools, softer breads, pizza and other things that don’t require as high a temperature can be put in. At lower temperatures, the oven can also be used to culture yeast and yogurt.

The group would also like to organize baking classes with professional bakers, and be able to offer them in both English and Spanish, Criswell said.

“Nonprofit organizations can also do pizza fundraisers,” she said. “We’ll just see where it goes, but we’re definitely committed to doing regular firings.”

Linda and husband Russ Criswell spent the last two days headed to Monte Vista to pick up bags of flour from an organic mill to bring back to Carbondale.

Passavant said he eventually would like to see heirloom wheat grown and milled locally to be used in making baked goods with the community oven.

“It would be cool to have a loaf of bread that was 100 percent local,” Passavant said. “When you talk about re-localizing where our food comes from, bread is a good start.”

For information about the Carbondale Community Oven project and future baking schedules and events, visit the group’s website at http://carbondalecommunityoven.weebly.com/index.html

jstroud@postindependent.com