Teaching from Home

A letter from the garden, pottery and kitchen.

 

It’s late April and passing into May, we are very busy as usual. Every month is busy of course. But autumn is a time of the extended Indian summer for the last of the tomatoes, capsicums, egg plants and zucchinis. There is still a lot to pick until the cold nights bring it all to an end. In years gone by, we would be starting to have frost by now, but with global warming, they don’t come as soon as they used to and are not as severe. This warmer climate means that we will be experiencing a lot more bugs in the garden, as the frosts won’t burn them off like they used to.

 

Autumn is well and truly here. We are now starting to eat the peas that we planted a month or two ago. We’re also starting to eat the earliest broccoli, along with carrots and spinach, all coming along nicely. We have harvested the last of the beans, to dry for the winter soups.

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The lovely and I  have been making compost for the garden, for the winter mulch. Shredding up all the old corn stalks and other past-their-best veggies and weeds. It all goes int the compost ring with a little manure, the mixture of dried leaves, shredded stalks and soft wet weeds seems to get fermenting pretty rapidly and drops to half its volume in a few weeks. I know that we ought to break up the pile, mix it all up and re-instate it all back into the wire bin to get it fully rotted really fast. But this is real life and we just don’t have the time. It all seems to rot down well enough without the extra effort.

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We’ve also been collecting the pine mushrooms, the saffron-milk-caps, from under the pine trees, for our risotto . They appear with the warm weather after the rain. We have also been harvesting feijoas for our breakfast fruit. They are full-on ripe at  this time of year. And starting to fall from the tree.  As we have far too many at this time of year to eat them all fresh every day. The Lovely has started to use them to make a very nice, moist feijoa fruit cake.

 

This is very moist and tangy. Lovely with morning coffee. It’s a great way to use up lots of feijoas when they are in season.

Here is The Lovely’s recipe.

Feijoa, date (or pear, or prunes) and ginger loaf

Ingredients

▪   1 cup feijoas, peeled and diced

▪   150g dates, though since Janine is not a fan of dates, I used chopped dried pears the first time, prunes the second time and a mix of the two the third time.

▪   100g crystallised ginger, chopped

▪   250mls boiling water

▪   150g brown sugar

▪   50g butter

▪   1 egg, beaten

▪   1 teaspoon vanilla extract

▪   270g flour

▪   1 tablespoon ginger

▪   1 tablespoon baking powder

▪   1 tsp baking soda

Method
1. Pre-heat the oven to 180°C for baking and grease a loaf tin.

2. Place the feijoa, dates, ginger, water, butter and sugar into a saucepan and bring to the boil. Lower the heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and cool.

3. Sift together the flour, ginger, baking powder and soda and add to the fruit mixture once cooled along with the egg and vanilla. Do not over mix (this mixture is quite thick).

4. Spoon the mixture into the greased tin and bake for 45 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean

 

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Basically it’s a variation on the old boiled fruit cake recipe and It’s really nice.

 

We have decided to take on some private teaching of weekend workshops lately, as a way to bolster our ever decreasing income. We have been having groups of 10 pottery students come here to pack and fire the wood kiln. Both workshops  that we have proposed so far have been immediately, fully booked out, so we will offer a few more in the coming months. The students come on Saturday morning, pitch their tents, then we start to pack the kiln, this goes on all afternoon, until it’s full and then we start the firing in the evening. We fire straight through the night in shifts and finish on the Sunday afternoon/evening. The firing varies between 16 and 20 hours. Everyone seems to enjoy it and the pots come out pretty well, with nice wood flashing and some delicate ash deposit. It seems that everyone is happy, and so therefore so are we.

We have 2 more booked for the autumn/winter, with the possibility of a third to come.

Teaching from home will be our alternate income source since the casual/part-time teaching we had at the art schools has dried up with their sudden closure by the conservative government.

 

The first few days of the week are taken up with the cutting, splitting and stacking of the wood for the kiln. I have to fill the end wall of the shed with cut and split seasoned wood. It sounds easy to say quickly, but all this work begins a year or two earlier, when we collect the trees and start to season them, so that they will be dry and ready in time for the firing when it comes a year or two hence. Everything has to be thought through, to keep a flow of milled and blunged clay, rock glaze powders and wood fuel continuously in the pipeline so that there won’t be any shortfall.

We have recently been given 8 truck loads of pine trees from the clearing of a house block in a nearby village. I don’t know how much wood this is, possibly 6 to 8 tonnes per load x 8 loads = about 50 tonnes? It will dry out when seasoned to half of this weight. Whatever it is, it will be enough wood to fire the kiln for another 3 years or so. Pine isn’t my favourite timber, but it’s OK and it is much better for us to burn it productively in the kiln and save other fuel, than to see it burnt off in a huge pile. Pine trees are considered weeds in this shire and are recommended for removal to be replaced with native species.

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The next thing that you know, our back yard becomes a camping ground with tents of all descriptions and camper vans all around. What a lovely bunch of potters. We have a great time and the firing goes well, the results are great and we make a lot of new friends. There is too much food, as everyone seems to have brought enough for everyone else as well. There is lots of laughter and good will all around. It’s a great vibe!

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Janine will be offering some low temperature firing workshops in the coming weeks as well. Taking small groups through the whole process of packing and firing a small wood kiln to low temperatures in one day.

Teaching a few workshops from home might be the way that we subsidise our income for the coming few years? There are so few opportunities for modern students to fill in all the enormous gaps that are left in the new ‘free-enterprise’ model of ceramic education. Workshops like these might be one of the ways that professional expertise can be transferred from us to the new generation of potters.

When ceramic training was handled by Technical and Further Education. There was full syllabus including the technical subjects of Glaze technology and kiln firing. The new privately run par-time classes that have replaced them are only a few hours of practical instruction with no structured instruction that follows a full syllabus. The result is an incomplete experience. This probably suits most of the clientele, but for those wanting more…… We will be back to the 50’s and 60’s, where, if you wanted to learn something more fully and completely, you had to go to an artist and work with and for them, most likely as a volunteer. I got my early start with Des Howard at the Argyle art Centre and Nicholas Lidstone at the Berrima Pottery as a volunteer. Later, I worked for Mike Pridmore as a paid labourer. Good times! However, I soon realised that if I wanted to learn all the technology that I realised that I was going to need to be an independent and self-reliant potter, then I would need to go to Art School and later to do an apprenticeship.

This journey worked for me. I was lucky. I think that it is a lot harder now to access all that I was able to get involved in. For a start, life is tougher and far more mercenary. Rents are higher and the cost of living seems to be greater.

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packing the students glazed pots into the kiln.       The fired pots ready to unpack

 

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So we are starting to teach from home. I don’t think that all this is quite as mercenary as it might seem at first glance. Sure we are interested in earning some money, but we are also providing a service that is not all that easy to access in any other place. Certainly not in a place as interesting, sustainable and carbon aware as this with access to our organic gardens and orchards as a backdrop.

 

In the gap between the two workshops, the Lillipillis berries are getting ripe in the garden, the birds are very keen on them and we have to be quick to get some of them as well.

We keep a keen eye on them every day as they ripen, and as soon as the birds become active, then we have to get the ladder out and get up there and start to pick, otherwise, there will be none left in a day or two. The tree is 6 or 7 metres high, so I can’t reach them all. I collect all that I can reach from the ladder and leave all the rest at the top for the birds.

We manage to get them picked between episodes of wood gathering, sorting, cutting, splitting and stacking for the next firing.

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The Lovely makes a few jars of Lillipilli jelly for later on in the season, but we start to eat one of them straight away, it’s just so nice, and all from our garden.This is the result of our two partial days work, picking, washing, boiling, straining, adding sugar and reboiling, then dripping the strained jelly. What wonderful colour and flavour, and from an Australian native fruit as well.

We are so lucky!

 

Our red-meat meal for this month, was lamb shanks. Browned in olive oil, onions and garlic, then simmered gently in one whole bottle of local red wine – merlot, and two large  table-spoons full of marrow bone jelly stock. (see earlier email) Simmered down to 1/3rd its volume over an hour or so makes the most delicious and intense sauce and served with garden vegetables.

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It’s hard to believe that anything this simple and effortless could be this delicious.

 

With love from Mammon, the pantry-raider and garden mercenary