The Horno – Part 1

One thing you’ll learn about Adobe is that it has a big tie to the kitchen.  It’s a recipe-driven technology and uses a lot of kitchen-sized implements and tools.  It also has that air of secrecy associated with cooks.  Some builders have always guarded their alleged secret recipes.  I say alleged, because after about 1970, most of the ‘recipes’ were being published in how-to books.  But today, a new brand of green builders do jealously guard their sauces, even if the general ingredients are known.  W really see this with builders who are trying out friendly chemical additives, especially those related to green building.  But when it comes to the horno, less is more.  You really don’t need anything that outgasses or could negatively affect the bread of dishes you will be preparing in it.  In fact, to be sure, you are likely to make your own adobe blocks and prepare you own mud mortars when building your horno.

The adobe horno (pronounced “or-no”) was  introduced to New Mexico back in the mid-1500s by the Spanish explorers and colonists.  Evidence of them has been found at Coronado’s first large encampment at Bernallilo, north of Albuquerque.  I will have further details about their history in a coming article in Adobe Builder, but for reason that are diverse, the horno traditions today is largely maintained by the Pueblos or Native American tribes located along the Rio Grande Valley in New Mexico (and also at Acoma and Zuñi Pueblos in NM and Hopi Pueblo in AZ).  For example at Isleta Pueblo, just south of Albuquerque, over 30 families are horno bakers.  If you know the places and times, you can pull up to a bread stand, and drive away with a tasty loaf ($3 to $3.50), still warm from the adobe oven.  Some bakers bake every day, and then take their product directly to a roadside stand location and to some store outlets.  If you’re in the area, call Tim or Jenn Lente at Isleta Pueblo (505-450-8756) to discuss their oven bread, pies, sweet breat and Dough-2-go services for special occasions.

Next week, more about the horno…

Welcome to the world of adobe

Click on the image to see more adobe at SWSA.

Years ago, when I first penning pieces about Adobe for a magazine devoted to earthen construction (, a friend warned that I’d soon run out of material to write about.  After all, its just dirt said he, adding that “once you teach people how to make the blocks and stack them for a wall, there’s not much more to say.”  That was in 1973 when I’d already been drafting for adobe since 1965.  Now, after 47 years, revelations about adobe and its cousins just keep on coming, even if I only consider our local traditions here in New Mexico.  As a Basque friend pointed out, “Adobe by itself is nothing; it’s what it does for people that counts.”  Of course, many adoberos or adoberas* (adobe makers and builders) would disagree with that nothing word, for there is so much lore, tradition and even new technology wrapped up in an adobe block.  It can just be earth and water in the making, but which earth and what if you need to stabilize it against water damage?  Suddenly, the world of geology become valuable as we start considering clays and kinds of clays, sands and kinds of sands, aggregates and kinds of aggregates.  Stabilizers also open a Pandora’s  box ranging from old folk recipes as yet unproven to code-approved standards that may be mandatory in your area.  Then we can talk about sizes of adobes (there are many), chopped yucca fiber (SW U.S. and Mexico), pine needles (Honduras), or no fiber al all, just mineral soil.  We can also talk about holes or grooves made in the blocks and their varied shapes, such as for domes, vaults and hornos, which are often trapezoidal in shape.

My idea for this blog is to pass on some of the interesting stories and pieces of info about Adobe and its cousins that are often purposely omitted in our finished pieces for the magazine due to space and time constraints.  There, we must follow a kind of guideline more related to instructional writing and technical illustration.  Here, I can loosen up and add some color and spice about just how Adobe does work for people, adding a lot of value to everyday living experiences.

Stay tuned for my next post; I can’t think of a better place to start than with the horno or adobe oven.