While digging up material on the old ways of living I came across an article from 1906 written by Dan Beard, of Boy Scouting fame on building a clay oven. It’s a bigger contrivance not well suited for temporary camps, but in a long term survival situation where you may be forced to survive with no conventional means of cooking, this little item will fill the baking bill of need. Simply made of local materials this oven can bake bread, roast meats, and simmer stews and more once you learn how to cook in it. And the best thing is it will use any kind of wood, coal or other burnable debris and plants, just so long as you can get a good hot flame out of it and it die down to a good hot bed of coals.

I remember seeing one of these in use some years ago at a reenactment festival where fresh bread was being baked and sold. Tasty bread it was, but I don’t recall at the moment where it was, or whether the event is still ongoing on a yearly basis. It becomes more and more embedded in my mind that we really need to start to learn and acquire skills and knowledge that would have been used years ago before all of this electrical and electronic convenience we rely on so much today goes kaput in an EMP event. I have read more than a few articles over the last year or so that indicate we may well be on the reveiving end of a nasty solar flare storm in the immediate future, and this storm may cause some widespread blackouts across the continent.

A Clay Oven; by Dan Beard

THE word camp has of late been prostituted so that one is often at a loss to know what it means; but when I refer to a camp, the reader may understand that it is the real thing, and not one of those grotesque palaces in the woods, veneered with logs, and filled with an army of missing links dressed in livery. Such things are profane and a sacrilege to nature. Not only are they all of that, but their very presence is degrading to the real forester and hunter; they sap his manhood and transform a self reliant, manly sort of fellow into a cringing, tip-taking degenerate. But it was not of this that I intended to write; this story has naught to do with the effete luxury of degenerates, but is written for all those wholesome beings who love to sleep on sweet smelling balsam, hear the music of the sizzling bacon and watch the gymnastics of the acrobatic flapjack.

In a previous article the various sorts of camp fires have been described, and over the blazing logs or the hot embers of these fires all sorts of delicious dishes may be cooked.

In the present article are given some camp stoves for permanent camps; by the latter term is meant the shack, shanty or hut built to last from season to season, and not a summer house in the woods.


The Altar Camp Stove is so called from its form and appearance, and the altar of the ancients was probably evolved from the camp fire on the ground for the same reason that caused this invention, that is, to prevent the necessity of the priests bending their backs over the sacred fires. To the real lover of the woods the camp fire is sacred; but the altar stove is not made for fire worship, it is a practical device to save the cook’s back.

Figure 1 shows the foundation plan, Figure 2 the top plan, and Figure 3 the finished stove. Build the altar in the form of a log cabin, and fill the inside with stones, sods or dirt of any description, then take clay and build the fireplace on top the altar. If clay is not obtainable use any sort of mud mixed with stones, or stones alone; in fact the whole altar, fireplace and all, may be built of stones. It is then called a “Matasiso,” after a man who writes under that nom de plume. But all camps are not situated in stony countries, and the altar camp stove may be even built entirely of sods when the camp is on the prairies.

The fireplace is an open stove without top or front and narrower at the rear than at the front, for the convenience of small and large cooking utensils. A couple of forked sticks support a rod from which pots and kettles may be suspended.

After a few hot fires have been built the clay will harden and retain heat for a considerable time, and if the fireplace is made of stones, they will often become so hot that things may be cooked by resting the pans upon the heated stones.

The fire pit is also a most excellent bean hole for cooking baked beans, and baking biscuits or bread in covered dishes—”Dutch ovens”—buried in the hot embers. But a real oven of Clay may be easily built by covering a barrel or keg with clay and earth, then building a fire inside, burning out the woodwork and baking the surrounding mud, or, lacking any product of the cooper’s art, a good oven can be made by setting up a number of elastic sticks bent into loops of equal size, with the sharpened ends of the sticks forced into the ground as shown by Fig. 4. A small log or stick of firewood is next set on end at the rear as the core for a chimney, and then sticks are laid over as in Fig. No. 5 and the whole daubed over with mud or clay as in Figs. 6, 7 and 8.

After the clay is modeled into form, the core stick is pulled out, leaving a chimney hole, over which a box without bottom or top is placed, or a log cabin stick and mud chimney is built. After the clay is baked and the woodwork burned away, the oven is ready for use.


Build a raging fire of split birch or of hemlock bark and keep it going until the oven is good and hot, then rate out the ashes, put in your baking, and with a stone or wooden door close the opening of the oven and also the chimney opening; the heated clay will do the rest.

As to the food used in camp, it may be well to state that there are numerous creatures of the wilderness which, when properly prepared, make good and wholesome food, but which the novice would never think of choosing for such a purpose. I have had country people tell me that various turtles were poisonous, but after experimenting with mud turtles, sliders, snappers, and even that lively little turtle with the pungent musk-like odor, vulgarly called a. “stink pot,” but more politely termed musk turtle, I have come to the conclusion that, when well cleaned and washed, they all make excellent material for delicious stews and soups.

The truth is that there is little need of starving in the wilderness, even when game is scarce. Almost every stream has its supply of muskrats, and I have eaten them in Delaware served as a delicacy at the hotel table, and also at the Hotel Astor in New York City.

To prepare a musquash (muskrat) or any other small fur-bearing animal for the table, first make a skinning stick of a forked stick about as thick as your finger. Let the forks be about one inch to each branch and the stick below long enough to reach up between your knees when the sharpened lower end is forced into the ground. If you squat on the ground the stick should be about a foot and one half long, but longer if you sit on a camp stool, stump or stone. Hang the muskrat on the forks of the stick by thrusting the sharpened ends of the fork through the thin spot at the gambrel joints of the hind legs, that is, the parts which correspond with your own heels. Hung in this manner (with the one and one-half foot stick), the nose of the animal will just clear the ground. First skin the game then remove all the internal organs, and, if it be a muskrat not only remove all the musk glands, but cut into the inside of the forearms arid the fleshy part of the thighs, and take out a little white substance you will find there which resembles a nerve. This done and the meat well washed, it may be cooked with little fear of the food retaining a musky flavor.


The muskrat may be broiled over the hot embers, with sliced bacon so arranged that the drippings run over the musquash as it cooks. Or it may be made into a stew with vegetables and pork, and in this case the longer it simmers over the fire the better will be the results.

Only seasoned campers ever have an opportunity to feast on the delicious nose of a moose, or know the delights of marrow bones of deer split and mixed with parched cornmeal and cooked all night, or broiled wood rats, or dried venison pounded to fragments and cooked with rich bear’s fat, musk turtle soup, porcupine steaks, with hellbenders as a side dish; and, although thousands of muskrats are killed and eaten every year in Maryland and Delaware, probably but few of my readers in the Northern states will experiment with this rodent.

  1. […] Originally posted here: A CLAY OVEN « Surviving The Times […]

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