The flames of wood-fired pizza ovens fuel regional food gatherings
by Rebecca Horwitz
For those of us who still eat gluten (a dying breed), there are few culinary experiences more delightful than biting into a hot pizza fresh out of the oven. Yes, even in the summer when it’s steaming outside, not many will turn down the prospect of a pizza with all their favorite toppings. When it comes to eating pizza locally, we are fortunate to have numerous options in the Hudson Valley.
An increasingly popular way to enjoy pizza is through community wood-fired ovens, both stationary and mobile. Fire has long been a focal point for community gatherings, bringing neighbors together for meals and warmth—to slow down, reconnect, and break bread. The modernday pizza oven is an evolution of this symbolic community hub, and serves the same unifying function.
In our area, there are two stationary ovens in use: one behind the Accord Youth Center, and one at the community center in the town of Olive. Both were spearheaded by Charlie Blumstein, who got folks together during the building process to teach how the ovens were built and how to build an old school pavilion over them. Currently, the wood-fired oven in Accord is being used for a monthly community pizza night in which participants contribute ingredients for toppings, and everyone enjoys free pizza.
There are also two mobile pizza ovens: one is owned by Stone Ridge Orchard, which is now part of Breezy Hill Orchard in Staatsburg. The other mobile oven is owned by Country Wisdom News and is brought around to community events to help encourage the idea of local pizza for local people.
Of course, there is another way to get excellent local pizza—make it yourself at home! And to make it as local as possible, you’ll need locally made flours.
You may not have known that it is possible to find locally grown and milled wheat right here in the Hudson Valley. Fear not! Wild Hive Community Grain Project, based in Clinton Corners in Dutchess County, carries all your flour needs. Wild Hive is owned and managed by Don Lewis who started the business twenty years ago, with the goal of providing people of this area access to high quality, freshly milled flour, which had been the norm up until eighty years before. When Lewis started his business, he produced 5,000 pounds of wheat a year; now he’s upped that to 100 tons. He contracts with local farmers to grow the grains he uses, which provides fair prices for farmers and high quality grains for his bakery. In this way, the relationship between growers and millers is reestablished. He has also reintroduced heritage grains to the market, which he says produce a superior quality wheat.
“This valley started growing grains in the 1600s,” says Lewis in an Etsy blog film called Breaking Local Bread: Wild Hive Farm. “It was the breadbasket of the United States. This area was producing the best quality wheat for bread in any of the colonies.”
Wild Hive produces an impressive variety of organic flours, including corn, hard red whole wheat bread flour, wheat berries, soft whole wheat all purpose flour, soft wheat pastry flour, whole spelt, rye and oat flours, and a 10-grain stone ground chops mix. Right now Wild Hive sells mainly wholesale to bakeries, but the discerning home baker can order smaller amounts of flour through their mail order service. Adams Fairacre Farms in Kingston sells the flour as well. And Lewis plans to open the facility at Clinton Corners to the public after renovations are complete.
To entice you to give homemade pizza a try, I offer this simple and delicious recipe for pizza dough. Don’t forget to go to your farmer’s market to buy local ingredients for your sauce and toppings!
Yummy Pizza Crust
• 1 package active dry yeast
• 1 teaspoon sugar
• 1 cup warm water (110 degrees F)
• 2 1/2 cups bread flour (from Wild Hive, if you can)
• 2 tablespoons olive oil
• 1 teaspoon salt
What to Do:
Preheat oven to 450 F.
In a medium-sized bowl, dissolve the yeast and sugar in warm water. Let stand about 10 minutes until bubbly and creamy looking.
Stir in flour, salt and oil. Mix until smooth. Let it rest for five minutes or so.
Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and pat into a ball. Flatten into a crust and transfer to a lightly oiled pizza pan, dusted with cornmeal. Spread with sauce and desired toppings—whatever’s fresh at the farmer’s market! Bake for 18 to 20 minutes, or until a nice golden brown. Don’t burn your tongue! Let pizza cool 10 minutes or so before serving.