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Pierre family cooks outdoors in earthen oven

Dawson Lewis preparing pizzas to an outdoor earth oven on Dec. 28 that he built for his home in Pierre. The homemade oven, with an interior of fireplace brick and sand, traps heat inside, allowing it to reach temperatures as high as 1,000 degrees. (AP Photo/Capital Journal, Joel Ebert)

PIERRE (AP) — A Pierre family is making the best of a cold winter by cooking outdoors in an earth oven, which bakes food by trapping heat inside a clay or dirt-covered dome.

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Dawson Lewis used a book to learn how create an interior of fireplace brick and sand. The sand interior traps heat inside, allowing the oven to reach temperatures as high as 1,000 degrees, he told the Capital Journal. The exterior is a mixture of sand and clay, which helps retain heat.

Lewis has hosted several earth oven parties, but he admits he's still learning the art of cooking with it.

"The first few times we didn't know what we were doing," he said. "We are at the point where we can put bread in there reliably."

Lewis' most recent cooking venture in outdoor temperatures of about 20 degrees featured cider, mulled wine and earth oven-baked pizzas. Lewis, his wife, Anne, and son, Michael, gathered around a small fire and their oven last weekend along with several locals.

"We seem to have a talent for bad weather days," Lewis said.

Lewis acquired salvaged chunks of concrete and cinder blocks to build the walls for the base of the oven. Above the base, the walls are a mixture of mud and clay from Pierre Street after the 2011 flood. The total cost was about $40.

"One of my goals was to be sustainable and frugal," Lewis said.

Lewis anticipates hosting another earth oven celebration in January.