We bought a small flimsy aluminum stove-top oven for RM80 from Long Bawan in east Kalimantan more than a year ago, and promptly forgot about it after using it twice. It went into the bottom shelf of the furthermost cupboard in our Ba Kelalan kitchen, and dwelled there undisturbed for months.
Sometime last December, I fished it out. I felt like baking a cake. We didn’t have an electric mixer or weighing scales, or any cake-making equipment nor a recipe. But I had a vague recollection of the process, and winged it. And of course, cake number one fell apart, literally.
I turned the tin over, and the cake fell out in a zillion pieces, each one tasting like cake, though. Ah, what happened? My mum-in-law said I used too few eggs. The bright side was that the crumbs tasted like cake.
Okay. Onto cake number two after I recovered from this disappointment. I doubled the number of eggs this time, and voila! Cake number turned out great. It was a real cake, and it was baked in that aluminum tin set on top of our gas stove! Needless to say, I was chuffed.
We have an oven that works. Nevermind that there is no temperature control (I test the temperature by sticking my hand into the oven to see if it’s hot enough), and no light to peer inside its depths. From then on, the oven never went back into the cupboard. I used it all the time.
Cakes are popular in our household, and so I baked one every few days interspersed with cookies. Once, I baked curry puffs but it was really tedious work to make them one by one, and I didn’t repeat that experiment.
The oven really got a workout when Pat and Sus came for a visit, bringing with them an Italian flair for cooking things in ovens. The number one hit was pizza. We had pizza twice, and I made it the second time around. It wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be, and it tasted really, really good. Well, that’s probably because of the cheese that came from a small farm in Ostuni (southern Italy) but definitely, pizza is our menu now.
Then, I experimented with grilling wild boar ribs. It was good but a tad tough as I didn’t boil it long enough to soften the meat. Next up will be bread.
It’s amazing, really. It’s such a basic tin of an oven but clearly, it was designed with some knowledge of how hot air circulates within an enclosed space. The heat spreads all around the oven, and there are vents to let hot air and steam out. It’s very light and portable, easily cleaned, and not fancy at all. It just works.
It’s true, as they say, that necessity is the mother of invention. Necessity encouraged enterprising people to invent this oven from low-cost material and made it simple to work without any need for maintenance. Being so used to my fancy oven, cake mixer, digital weighing scale and so on in KL, I was seriously doubtful at first if this oven could actually produce cake and cookies, much less pizza. But it did, and it showed me that we don’t need fancy tools to make things work. Just a spirit of experimentation and an ability to fail.
Now, what else can I make in this oven?