25 YEARS AGO ON AMBERGRIS CAYE BY ANGEL NUÑEZ
The Microwave Oven of Yesteryear
Some of the best journey cakes (or Johnny cakes) sweet bread, Creole buns, or even salt bread used to be baked in a special oven that was actually made right here in San Pedro. As a matter of fact I have a neighbor who still uses it today. This oven never had any electronic faults or defects, but it did rust after some time and needed replacement when it got too rusty. I am talking about the “drum oven” or the “horno”, as it was called in Spanish, that was used over the fire hearth 25 years ago.
Let me teach you how to make one. First you need to locate a nice metal drum. You cut from the bottom of the drum (about ten inches from bottom) around the circumference. Now you need a lid or cover for your oven and for this you cut off the top lid of the drum using a cold chisel and a hammer. You also need to get two pieces of steel rods to place on top of the oven, thus providing a surface for the lid to rest upon. (refer to drawings)
Now let’s use the “horno” or the San Pedro oven. Place the oven over some rocks so that you can build a fire underneath. Heat the oven from below with firewood. Once properly heated, the lid is placed on top of the open oven. Place most of the hot coal on top of the lid so that most of the heat will now come from above. Next, you can place the dough or specimen that is to be baked- the journey cakes, or cake or sweet bread. Place the lid over the oven so that there is heat coming from below and above. Bake for some 15 minutes checking periodically. If you are baking too fast or burning the cakes, then remove some of the heat from below. After two or three trials with this fantastic microwave oven, you will get the knack of exactly how much firewood to use. You will know that the bread is ready by its color using the conventional method that you use with any stove oven. In this drum or oven, you can also bake the birthday cakes and sweet potato puddings. For weekends mother used to bake these delicious burger buns, even though we did not have hamburgers 25 years ago. However, we ate them with butter and cheese or gulped down two or three of them with some fried fish or fish eggs. This oven does add a little “smoke flavor” that everyone enjoys.
As you can appreciate, eating was not the pleasure. Baking was the pleasure for moms and sisters. It was such a pleasure that even dads wanted to bake. Most families baked a huge batch on Saturdays, and when one was baking in these drum ovens over the fire hearth, the entire neighborhood knew what was going on. Try to build a San Pedro Microwave Oven of 25 years ago. It might be handy during the blackouts. Or you can enjoy it as a hobby as much as you enjoy the barbecue grills outdoors.