Outdoor Pizza Ovens in Niles, Ohio
Ward — Thomas
Home of the Niles Historical Society
503 Brown Street Niles, Ohio 44446
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ovens used in Niles years ago.
A long and colorful era in the history
of the East Side came to an end on Labor Day, September 6, 1976,
with the demolition of the last known outdoor oven in the city.
It has stood in the backyard at the home of Margaret
and Kathryn Marsico for more than 100 years. Built by
their father, Joseph Marsico, and George Rounds,
it was one of many such ovens which dotted the east Side where
most of the Italians lived. (The Marsico out-door oven was lined
with fire-brick from the Niles Fire Brick Company).
The Marsico family had used the
oven for decades to bake all the family’s bread, pizza,
Easter bread and Christmas delicacies. Like most large families,
they baked once or twice a week, turning out 15 to 20 large round
loaves and as many pizzas. Recognizing that the destruction of
the old oven was an event replete with nostalgia, the Marsico
sisters decided to mark the occasion in proper style, they had
a family reunion in their home, fired up the old oven and held
one last grand pizza party.
These old ovens usually stood on
a strong brick or concrete base. A wood fire was built inside
the oven until baking temperature was reached. The hot ashes were
then removed with a steel rake. Some women could tell exactly
how hot the oven was by judging the color of the “halo”
inside the oven, others would toss a sprinkle of flour on to the
oven floor to test its heat. One use of the long handled mop was
to dampen an excessively hot oven. Once the bread was baked and
the loaves removed with a long-handled spatula, the oven was allowed
to cool. It was then cleaned in preparation for its next use.
It was filled with enough wood for the next baking, while insuring
that the wood remained dry. Usually the ovens were covered by
a small shed.
Kathryn and Margaret Marsico sat
near the door of the old oven for the last time before the oven
was demolished. Women customarily sewed or did needlework while
waiting for the bread to bake. Kathryn is working on a hand made
A drawing of a typical hand-built
oven found in many backyards in the Niles East-end area.
Oven Heat Regulator – 1924
The first thermostatic controller
to be installed in a gas range was in 1924. This automatically
controls the flow of gas to the oven burner, maintaining any
desired baking temperature. Before the invention of the heat
regulator, a cook would open the oven door and wave their hand
inside to check the temperature before placing her cake in the
oven. If you were inexperienced, you could place a small amount
of batter in a tiny pan, put it in the oven, and if it burnt,
you knew you should turn the gas down. However, if it seemed
to cook well, you would put the rest of the batter in your prepared
pans and put them in the oven to bake.
Cooking in those days was a guessing
game. Many of the recipes would tell you the amounts as, a tea
cup full, pinch of , 10cent bottle of, or “a piece of
butter the size of a butternut”. You were pretty much
on your own to figure out how to put the ingredients together
in the proper manner, too.
Telephones were not installed
in every home, so you couldn’t call home and ask your
mother how to cook. One old recipe book in our collection was
compiled with “ingredients readily available” and
in those were, milk, flour, sugar, lard, potatoes and vegetables
from the garden. Nothing fancy, but it was home cooking.. Wives
of the early 1900’s couldn’t go to the corner store
and buy things for one meal as we often “run to the store
to pick up something” today.
Yes, things have changed in the
kitchen today and often when visitors enter the kitchen at the
Ward-Thomas Museum, they say “Oh, I remember…My
grandmother had a kitchen like this” We love to stir up
happy memories for people who visit the museum…
Covers of various cookbooks on display in the 1920s kitchen display
at The Ward-Thomas Museum.
Right: Close-up of the oven temperature
control dial as it appear on the stove in the kitchen display.