Monday January 20, 2014 | 06:55 PM

Pizza cooking in Pat Manley's masonry oven at his home.

There are a number of reasons why people still opt for the centuries-old practice of cooking with fire over using a conventional stove - the process is more interesting, you can experiment with flavor by using different kinds of wood, and the results can be absolutely delicious. During the winter, it is also pretty darn nice to stand next to a wood-fired oven.

But for stonemason Pat Manley, who lives in Washington in a house he built out of salvaged wood and materials and contains an impressive masonry heater that has a bake oven built into it, cooking with fire is quite simply a pyromaniacs delight. For three decades he has built wood-fired pizza and bread ovens, amassing an admirable list of Maine clients including Black Crow Bakery in Litchfield and Cafe Miranda in Rockland. Manley has also built ovens for Matchbox in Washington, D.C.; Loaf in Durham, North Carolina; Spread Bagelry in Philadelphia; and Fitzpatrick Winery and Lodge in Fair Play, California.

As a founding member of the Maine Stone Workers Guild, he has run demonstrations at the MOFGA Common Ground Country Fair every year since it was first held in Litchfield in 1977. Generous with his knowledge, and wanting to share his passion for wood-fired brick ovens, he has taught two-day workshops on building one from scratch at the last several Kneading Conferences

A native of Connecticut, Manley first came to Maine in August, 1969 when his pilgrimage to Max Yasgur’s dairy farm in Bethel, New York went awry thanks to car problems. Rather than spend three mud soaked days listening to the likes of music legend Jimi Hendrix, he sat watching heat lightening from the porch of a bed and breakfast located down some old dirt road in Vermont and then riding in a VW bus – stopping along the way to swim in streams – to Maine with new friends who happened to be from Camden. A couple years later, still living in Midcoast Maine, he got his hand caught in an exhaust fan at a chicken farm and had to spend the summer at Maine Medical Center recuperating.

Manley's unused Woodstock Music Festival ticket.

Manley moved back in with his parents in Connecticut and got a job working for a neighbor who was a mason and taught him how to build stone chimneys, walls, and patios. In 1974 he moved back to Maine and practiced what he had learned until 1978 when he discovered masonry heaters and ovens during a trip that included visits to Finland and Sweden, both major producers of masonry heaters. After that trip, his present course was set. He learned more about masonry heaters, and returned to Finland to further study the design and construction of them.

“The idea behind a masonry heater is to build a cradle of wood in the firebox to burn a roaring hot wood fire, a pyromaniacs delight," Manley said. "It's much the same with a wood fired oven: cooking and eating the deliciously smoky food is only half of it, the fire itself, it's dance, searing heat, it's sounds and smells are the other half.”

In his book From the Wood-Fired Oven, Richard Miscovich writes, “Wood-fired ovens are supercharged by a thermal power trio composed of radiation, conduction, and convection. The combination of these three heat-transfer systems is what makes masonry ovens distinct, especially when used to bake bread.” 

A masonry heater or wood-burning stove is made up of a box most commonly made of firebrick (this is called a “firebox”) and smoke channels that run through the masonry mass. This design allows the heater or oven to hold an intense burn temperature (Manley recommends the top-down burn method - see instructions here). A small hot fire lasting no more than an hour or two can then radiate heat throughout a space over a period of 12 or more hours. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, masonry heaters produce more heat and less pollution than any other wood- or pellet-burning appliance.

In his book, Miscovich writes about using the various stages of heat in a masonry oven - there's the kind of heat that's made in wood-fired ovens and bakes flat breads (600 F), roasts vegetables and meats (600 to 500 F), bakes loaves of bread and braises vegetables (500 to 350 F), cooks a pot of baked beans (350 to 212 F), and dries herbs (under 212 F).

One of the many stone sculptures Manley has made outside his home.

Masons on a Mission
Once or twice a year Manley travels to Guatemala with Masons on a Mission, a humanitarian relief organization he founded with his wife, that works with the Calacyria Foundation, an American nonprofit, to fund and build vented cookstoves in the country. Currently, they are building safe masonry stoves to replace dangerous unvented wood heating stoves found in the homes of impoverished persons in the villages of San Juan, Santa Cruz, and Jabilito on the shores of Lake Atitlan.

“These open fires are the sole source of cooking and warmth for thousands of Mayan families, but also the source of much misery,” Manley said. “There are deadly and debilitating results from constant exposure to the toxic smoke from a wood fire while inside the dwelling. There are the obvious respiratory illness’s and the stunting of growth in children’s young lungs.”

Manley and a team of 30 volunteers will build 40 stoves for one week. Masons on a Mission also funds year-round building of new stoves. The cost to build a new stove is about $150. If you want to help contact Pat Manley at

Pat Manley’s Recipe for Uptown Pizza
Yield: 4 or 5 pizzas

1 package yeast
1 cup warm water
3 cups flour
¾ tsp salt
1 ½ Tbsp olive oil

Herb filling: ½ cup each: chopped parsley and basil, ¼ cup Parmesan, 1 Tbsp minced garlic, pepper
Cheese filling: 1 cup each: (40 oz) shredded Monterey Jack, Mozzarella, ¼ cup Parmesan
Topping: 6 slices prosciutto cut into then strips, ½ cup artichoke hearts quartered, 1 cup chopped walnuts

Want more creative ideas for pizzas? Chefs Melissa Kelly of Primo in Rockland and Sam Hayward of Fore Street, both of whom have Pat Manley masonry ovens in their restaurants, shared their favorite pizza toppings.

Melissa Kelly- “A la Norma” (with salted capers, eggplant, ricotta salata & basil) and “Prosciutto Pie (a white pie with provolone, fontina & mozzarella and garlic and chili flakes - after it's baked, it's topped with prosciutto, arugula and shaved Parmesan.)

Sam Hayward - Besides the Neapolitan original, the Margherita -- tomatoes, basil, olive oil, Reggiano -- I'd have to submit the following : Cherrystone clams (briefly steamed and shucked), excellent smoked bacon in torn slices par-cooked, small amounts of diced white onion, thyme leaves, and oregano leaves, plus extra-virgin olive oil, coarse sea salt, and a generous grating of black pepper. *Sam and his son Hutson refer to this pizza as “New Haven” style.

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Sharon Kitchens is a neo-homesteader learning the ins and outs of country living by luck and pluck and a lot of expert advice. She writes about bees for The Huffington Post and stuff she loves on her personal blog,

When she is not writing, she enjoys edible gardening, reading books on food and/or thinking about food, hanging out by her beehives and patiently tracking down her chickens in the woods behind her old farmhouse.

In her blog, Sharon profiles farm families, reports on farm-based education and internships, conducts Q&A's with master beekeepers, offers tips on picking a CSA, and much more.

Sharon can be contacted at or on Twitter @deliciousmusing.

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