Does anyone know the purpose of the stone chamber with semicircular access hole surmounted by a vented cupboard to the side of a Charentais fireplace?
This may not answer your 'Charentais oven' question but interesting site (in English) to understand the workings of a 'potager' in the majority of rural 'paysanne' buildings.
Why not take a photo of it and call into a local architect's office and ask.
I's suggest that your best bet for a comprehensive answer to your question will be Maisons Paysannes de France. No doubt you can contacrt them through the local association website (q.v. http://poitou-charentes.maisons-paysannes.org/)
It's so frustrating that there'e no facility to edit replies on this website. If there was, my previous post would now open with 'I'd suggest ....' and continue with '..... contact them .....'!
Charlie, I can not be definite but think this is probably a bread oven.
I have a full bread oven in the entry to my old farm house here and your description sounds like a smaller version set beside the main fireplace.
Yes, it is a bread oven although I wouldn't suggest you use it if your chimney has been lined, you'll be smoked out.
We have one and it's a lovely piece of social and architectural history.
Hello Charlie-Bamber - we were told it was for making soup and keeping it hot all day. The chamber beneath was for a charcoal fire for the heat, and usually there were two pots that fitted into the two square holes above the chamber. In those days soup was the main source of nourishment for the paysannes. A sort of medieval slow cooker ... not a bread oven, which requires a big mass of stone/brick to retain heat imparted by a fierce fire.
Our Charentaise fireplace has two glazed pots set horizontally into the stone back, one at each side. Are we correct in thinking these were for storing salt, to keep it dry?
Hello perusia - it would probably work - but a massively costly affair for such a purpose! The name of the entire device is a 'potager' which is construed as a 'soup maker' much as is its namesake, the potager - vegetable garden, which provided most of the constituents for the soup - 'potage'. I remember my Gran always had a big iron pot on the back of the range into which all the leftovers were put - this provided a bowl of warm soup whenever required. So not only in France ...
Thanks for that Rollerboy, obviously ours is just a bread oven
The small glazed pots were for salt.
Thanks for all the replies. Certainly not a bread oven. No chimney, not deep enough (front to back) and no thermal mass. I'm most inclined to believe that it is a potager. I have heard before that these existed and it seems the most likely explanation. Just interested to know where all the smoke from the charcoal went but I guess with an open fire and a massive fireplace what little smoke came off the embers would just have gone up the chimney.
Yes exactly what would have happened hence no good for a lined chimney. That would apply for the bread oven as well as they didn't have their own flue unless they were in an independent building.