The reinvention of the Bush Bakery

The project to re-purpose my old markets trailer begins in a disused dairy shed in the Hunter Valley.

Nothing excites me more than a new project. I’ve been holed up here at Wallarobba, at my mate Craig Miller’s Mum’s farm; I’ve set up my work space in the old dairy shed. My base resource is what used to be my markets shop trailer.

Your Challenge, should you choose to accept it…

For this project, I’ve set myself some really tricky challenges — not the least of which is to build the Bush Bakery Mk II almost entirely from existing materials — a kind of re purposing/recycling process. Essentially, I’m stripping out the inside of what was the shop trailer, and then turning it into a mobile baking classroom-cum-sleeping quarters for the Tour Down South.

The classroom and benches take shape.

I gotta say, I’m learning so much about recycling building materials, and how to work in this manner. It’s about the third or fourth carpentry project I’ve done this way, and I feel as though I’m finally getting the hang of it. I’ve been working on it day and night for the past week in order to test it out before hitting the road properly in June. So far, I have spent a grand total of $100 on the refit; everything that came out of the old shop trailer has been broken down and reused in the new classroom trailer. My carefully laid out pile of timber, hardware, assorted building materials and baking equipment which came from both this trailer and my old classroom at Ellalong has been utilised well. Indeed, towards the deadline (Friday for Saturday’s workshop) I was actually starting to run out of materials. Luckily, I managed to improvise well enough to get the new trailer ready for a trial run.

I took the newly repurposed Bush Bakery Mk II out yesterday for the first time to conduct an outdoor 101 class yesterday. I have been in a state of high anxiety all week, as I’ve been working on the trailer. There is nothing worse than equipment failure in the middle of a workshop, and so many things can go wrong when you are making bread from scratch with very little actual bakery equipment. Thankfully, everything worked quite well, and my students seemed pretty happy with the bread we baked, as well as the day in general. This feedback nourishes me and allows me to keep going on the project, knowing I’m on the right track.

My 1924 Bush Oven, made in Massachusetts, USA. A marvel of simple technology.

One of the highlights of the day was just how good the oven I’m using works. This oven was made in 1924 in Massachusetts, USA. It weighs virtually nothing — maybe 5kg — and it can bake a few loaves at once. It was the inspiration for the Bush Oven which Craig and I are currently designing for the Tour, and yesterday was the first time I have actually used this beautiful antique oven. Wow! What a clever little thing it is. I’ve been reflecting once again on how we think we are currently really technologically savvy, and yet back in 1924 they made a super efficient oven which can do a lot of baking from not much at all. We fired the oven up with lightweight firewood, and managed to bake a baker’s dozen worth of loaves in a just a few hours. The oven spring we were getting was nothing short of amazing. Crust colour wasn’t great, but the crust itself was brilliant. Leathery, crisp and thin. Colour can be addressed in other ways — but black ovens like this one are notoriously difficult to put steam into. Nonetheless, Craig and I are now working with this idea for our new Bush Oven. Stay tuned for progress here.

The trailer currently is barely functional. I got the basics done for the workbench, but I had to improvise a way to hold wooden transit boards for final proofing which was barely adequate. The idea I am working towards is a kind of third world retarder/proofer, based around the same technology utilised in the Coolgardie Safes of last century — essentially coolers which worked by evaporating water. My version will have walls made of expanded clay pellets, which were used in an aquaculture setup here on the farm, and which will be wrapped in wire mesh. These pellets hold a lot of water, and the way I’m going to build it will allow air to pass around the pellets, causing evaporation as well as turbulation. Airflow will be provided by vents which are on the front of the trailer, so when I’m moving the Coolgardie will cool things down. When I’m stationary, the cooler can convert to a proofer by wrapping it up in calico and placing a water bath warmed by hot coals from the oven. If I build it right, it will seal well, and in theory will satisfy my hard core off grid requirements.

Plumbing for the Bush Bakery will be very simple. There will be hot and cold water, as you would expect; I’ve salvaged a stainless steel water tank from the Bush Bakery Mk I, and this will sit on the roof and be heated by the sun. I’ve used this incredibly basic technology before, and it heats water well, even on cool days. The tank will connect with a tap inside the trailer, and will also provide the water for the Coolgardie unit via a trickle feed system. This will have a valve fitted to regulate the water flow so that the cooler will have the right amount of water for evaporation. Cold water will simply come from a hose connection. Weight is an issue with this small trailer, so I won’t be carrying much water when on the road.

I’ve written about the mixing tools here already — I’ll be making a Baker’s trough for this purpose. More about this when I’ve made it. Again, I’ll be playing around with my version with a view to optimise it for weight, volume and mechanical advantage. By the time it’s ready, I’ll have most of the rest of the trailer’s infrastructure complete, so there will be some trials to do before I roll on down the road with the Bush Bakery Mk II.

For the sleeping quarters, I’m going to have a simple fold out bed on the opposite side of the trailer to the kitchen. I’ve insulated the roof, and will be insulating the wings which fold out to provide shelter. I’m still deciding how to create walls and windows for my fold out bed — I’m tossing up between some sort of canvas/shade cloth roll down wall system, or something a bit more sophisticated made of wood. It will be the middle of winter, so it is going to have to be able to keep me and my dog Pippa warm and dry every night. Pippa’s bedroom will be on the ground under the fold down bed. I’ll be adding a mesh section under it to keep her contained while the moon is out.

I’ve got six weeks to finish and test my Bush Bakery Mk II. As usual, I am confident I will have it all good to go by then — but anyone who saw me a few nights ago before Saturday’s workshop would know, sometimes I tend to be a bit more ambitious with my projects and the deadlines I set for them than is humanly possible. That’s just the way it is. I can only plug away, and hope that I get a good run with things. Sometimes jobs like this can go smoothly and without too many hitches. Other times, stuff just eats up time, and progress is slow. This is a real risk with a project of this type — particularly when one is working with ‘inventions’ which one hasn’t ever done before. There are many unknowns. In addition, my choice of re using and recycling as much as possible means I have to make do largely with what I’ve got. This is not simply an idealogical position — here at Wallarobba, it’s a forty five minute drive to the nearest large hardware store, so you really can’t just nip down and grab things on the spur of the moment. Buying hardware in this case involves planning, lists, and a flexible brain. Luckily, when we dismantled the Bush Bakery Mk I, materials were sorted and carefully dismantled because I knew they would be used again. Thus, my supplies are already waiting for me to use them — though I have no idea what things I will actually need as yet!

I do love a challenge. Keep an eye out for future posts right here to see how it’s all going. If you would like to book for a Bush Baking Workshop, and see and use the new setup, you can book for any of the workshops here. Keep an eye out for new venues via our facebook page as well. I’m coming your way soon!

Originally published at

Teller of tall tales, observer of the slow unravel. Long time SourdoughBaker, and an advocate of simple, slow and small.