Although not all aspects of our family vacations are oriented around baking – I feel that it is important to try the local bread and other bakery products where I visit. Last year, in early June 2015, while on a family visit to Kefalonia, I had been asking around about whether there were any wood-fired bakeries on the island. Indeed there was – I was told of an old wood-fired bakery in Agia Efimia, which is a little port town on the Eastern seaboard of Kefalonia, facing out toward the Southernmost tip of Ithaca. Being popular with sailboat tourists, without port industry, the town may have lost some of its individual character in adapting to the needs of a homogenous class of middle-class European consumers, which differentiates it negatively from more residential Ionian ports of call.
However, the historic wood-fired bakery is Agia Efimia’s saving grace – making our two hour drive from the South coast well worth the effort. We arrived in the mid-afternoon, toward the end of a typical long day in the bakery. The husband and wife bakers were readying the bakery for the following day, in heat of around 30ºC, and yet still made the time for me to take a look inside the cavernous oven – with a pretty cast iron exterior.
A couple of notable features were the height of this old oven was low even for the current generation of bakers, it was lit by an electric lamp during baking observation, and has a simple ash grate to dispose of the products of combustion. The loaves, one of which is pictured below, appear to be baked in close proximity – and are of a sufficient quality that little variation in bread product are required. The oven appeared to be fired with one barrow of wood per day, which in daily use may be all that is required to reach heat.
I had noted in other Kefalonia towns bakers mentioning the use of wood, oil and gas to fire ovens had ceased, for various reasons – including Health & Safety or government directives. Let’s hope this wood-fired bakery continues the tradition – as its the only reason I will return to Agia Efimia! For those visiting Kefalonia, there is also a wood-fired pizzeria on the seafront at Poros, being Bello Pizza – purveyors of the finest pizza on the island in the opinion of a food fascist who has eaten there!