On the Radar: When Everyone Had Stoves, But Not Ovens

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In Le Val-d’Ajol, Vosges, France, 1934.

Called a four banal (common oven, sometimes called four à pain), the history of this oven’s practice spanned from medieval times until as recently as World War II.

French seigneurs provided their serfs with a communal oven, run by a fournier, to meet their baking needs. Every house could build a fire over which they could cook “stove-top,” but this did not allow them to bake the important staple in every Frenchman’s diet–bread. After feudalism came to an end, this practice continued, as the many rural areas of the country did not have the access or necessarily the funds to frequent large boulangeries.

Delivery of bread via bread bags on the door or hung outside the window helped bring this practice to an end, as did an increase in population, public transportation, and further access roads (often as a result of war to help troop movements). Many fours banals still exist, sometimes used during communal celebrations. These ovens also helped reduced the risk of fires in a village by containing one very large portion of cooking to one place removed from the many thatched-roof houses in a town.

 

Source: Image by Jacques Boyer.

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