A brief History of Thyme

In the few days between workshops, we spend a day in the garden with Our Lovely Wwoofing Friend Kate. She is a good worker and keeps us going all day. She is full of energy and good ideas. No slacking off with Kate in charge. The two Lovelies go down to the pottery and make some 50 odd ceramic buttons for kiln building and repair work, while I take the truck down to the mushroom farm to get a load of spent mushroom compost to spread around the fruit trees and various vegetable plots so as to stifle weed growth. It works as a great mulch and weed suppressor, while it also has some fertilising effect as well. Best of all it’s cheap! Most plants seem to thrive with it around them. It is a little bit alkaline, so I don’t use it on any of the acid dependant plants like blueberries.

Janine harvests a couple of small rows of potatoes, left over from the late summer. With what we already have in store, this will be enough to see us through to the end of winter. She cleans them and dries them in the sun before she packs them away in a dark place.

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I’m back late morning and we clean out a few garden beds of frosted and dead late-autumn stragglers, like chillies and capsicums. Kate strips off all the freeze dried chillies. We thread some of them and hang them in the kitchen. These will keep us going till next summer, when the next crop will be ready.
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We’re ready for an early lunch. I cook stir-fried, green, leafy vegetables from the garden, 10th pick micro broccoli and firm tofu, fresh ginger and coarsely crushed and chopped, end of season garlic that has been hanging in the kitchen ceiling since Oct/Nov. It’s a little dry, so I add a slosh of white cooking wine from the fridge and a spoonful of garlic/chilli/tomato puree. It’s fresh, crisp and warming. While I am busy doing this, the girls are de-stemming very large mustard leaves and rubbing them with a little oil to make green leafy crisps that they bake quickly in the oven. They are fresh and crispy, but with a little bit of salt to spark them up a bit. They just melt in your mouth, they are so fine and delicate. Totally ephemeral, but delicious as an amuse before a meal.

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After lunch, we clean out a few garden beds ready for mulching. We start with the herb row. The thyme has grown out into the path and abandoned growing in the garden bed altogether. It has decided to migrate over a number of years. Progressing by layering itself bit by bit, metre by metre. We got our first rooted pieces of thyme from our neighbour, the famous Australian writer, musicologist and historian, John Meredith. He kept s superb herb garden, vegetable garden stone fruit orchard and apothecaries garden. Everything that he did, he did well. John was a fantastic mentor. He took us under his wing and educated us in ‘country’ ways and hospitality, folk lore, gardening, self-sufficiency, and bush music.
We were so lucky to find out that he was our neighbour. So our first sprigs of thyme came from him. I try explaining this to anyone who will listen. But no-one is, when the lovely comes over and explains to Kate that, “Steve’s hawking his brief history of thyme”. I know my place and I go back to work shovelling s%#t and spreading compost. I divide the thyme into a dozen small rooted pieces and replant them back into the herb bed. They’ll continue to grow there for while, at least until they start to migrate again.

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After lunch we make yeasted dough in the marmalade making machine. In the later afternoon we come in from our labours and I make 3 disks of dough and let them continue to rise in the oven while the girls come in. Kate is shredding the tiny leaves from the pruned and cropped thyme, collecting them in a small colander. It’s a labour of love, as the leaves are very tiny and it takes her some time. We appreciate it, as she is about to use it all to teach us how to make manakish ‘Zataar’ , fragrant middle Eastern herbed flat bread.

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Kate stripping the thyme leaves, sitting in the sun on the verandah.

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Kate starts with the fresh thyme leaves that she has just stripped from the stalks, then fresh oregano,These are all finely chopped up together, then freshly pan roasted sesame seeds, sumac. These are all mixed together with olive oil to make a fragrant paste. This is spread over the flat bread dough, with a little extra drizzle of olive oil over the top and placed in a hot oven at 220 oC for 10 mins. When it comes out we grind a little salt over it and sprinkle a few shredded olives on top. We try 3 different variations using dried tomatos and even yoghurt on top . They are all delicious and it takes no time at all to finish most of them off.  It’s a fabulously fragrant and energy rich carbohydrate hit to end off a day of working in the garden.
We send Kate home with 1/3rd of each one for her own family to try.

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I love this exchange. We give and we receive. It’s all good and everything is as it sound be. We consider ourselves so fortunate to have such great friends, mentors and associates to help us along on our way.
I am grateful!

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More of the days pick, potatoes, beetroot, carrots, parsnips, coriander. Abundance!
Best wishes from the Low GI, un-leavened Lovely and her dough-boy!

 

The completeness of it all

 

I love the completeness of it all.

We have had all our firing partners back again for the unpacking of last weeks woodfiring. A lot of nice pots come from the kiln and everyone makes a line of human-chain to pass them all the way to the top of the kiln shed. It’s a slow process, as each and every pot is examined and discussed all along the way. 

These potters have helped pack the kiln with all of their own work. They have stacked the wood and stoked the fire. Shared meals together and stayed up all of the night in shifts to see the firing successfully reach the bright white heat of stoneware temperature, then fired down to a safe state, where the kiln could be left to cool un-attended.
Now we are all back together again to experience the un-bricking of the door. Cleaning and carefully stacking all our home-made, hand-made, fire bricks, then carefully sorting, cleaning and re-stacking our kiln shelves and home-made props. Together, we share the delights and disappointments of the results. Fortunately, nearly everything comes out really well. There are so many beautiful pots here. We have experienced the completeness of the firing cycle together.
This isn’t ‘virtual’. It’s real, gritty, up all night, bags under the eyes and soot on the sleeves reality. It’s just one part of our attempt at a sustainable process here. The wood for most of this firing was cut just 20 metres away from the kiln site, where we are now growing potatoes, down below the pottery.
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Janine, The King of Glaze Testing has her own special moment, when her ‘StONeS of beaches’, glaze test tile emerges. The Princess of Pumice, she has tested the new pale ‘wild’ beach pumice with limestone in known and reliable recipes as a control against the same pumice fluxed with cuttlefish ‘bone’ from the same beach and mixed to the same recipes.
There is no discernible difference between the mineral ‘Whiting,’ calcium carbonate powder and the ground up cuttlefish bone powder. They have behaved identically, if anything the cuttlefish is purer and whiter than the limestone.
We are satisfied that cuttlefish bone is composed of calcium carbonate. We are also very pleased to see that the glaze is quite stable and a lovely mid to dark bottle green celadon. We will call it our Sealadon glaze. The third test on the tile is straight pumice and it looks like it will be quite good just by itself. So further testing is in order. I love the completeness of the idea that we can make a total stoneware glaze from the sea, just picked up off the beach in front of our friends house, like so much flotsam. I suppose that if the glaze needed some extra quartz, we could use the sand and fire the kiln with drift wood? I like it.
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Just to make it a complete series, the Queen of Quadaxials has mixed all seven test samples together and glazed one of my small coffee cups with it. It has turned out terrific, so now we have a new cup with added meaning in the kitchen. ‘StONeS of beaches’ glazed short black.
The beautiful potter is already back in the pottery making some pots to try this new glaze on.
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Although we only have glaze tests in this firing, I am feeling quite good about it. Isn’t it amazing how something so small can have such an effect? We rarely get out of the kiln what we packed in. We pack our pots in there to be sure, but we also pack in all our hopes and dreams, but all we get out are cups and bowls. So when there is something else that has that ill-defined promise of potential, then that is a real reward. I was interested to see what the effect of cuttlefish fluxed pumice would be and now I know. It has a completeness about it that is very sustaining and intellectually rewarding, not to mention frugal.
Meanwhile, in the orchard, the almonds have just burst into blossom. Spring is almost here.
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The over-winter trial of potatoes down in the ‘Pantry Field’ garden are doing well and have managed to avoid the frost so far. I’m hoping that we will be able to get away with it. Not that it matters. If they don’t thrive or even survive, then that is just the way that it is. They would have died anyway if we hadn’t planted them out. We’ll plant more in spring.
We are forecast to have more frosts this weekend, during our next overnight wood firing, brrrrr!
Where we have situated this garden, seems to be quite well protected in amongst the tall trees. There are also some remnants of the cottage garden flowers still lingering on down there.
A big surprise yesterday, was to find a few really nice, big plump mushrooms growing in with the potatoes. It isn’t all that surprising, as we used a ute load of spent mushroom compost to fertilise this patch of garden when we planted these potatoes in late autumn. There are more mushrooms emerging as well, with some other larger ones coming along as well. We picked four of them and had a mushroom risotto for dinner.
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Fond regards from the complete Mr cephalopod fluxed ignimbrite and his Regal sealadon glaze tester, who compliment and complete each other.

Bitter and twisted

Making marmalade on a sunny winters morning.

I’ve found the time to make some more marmalade. The citrus trees have fruit to be picked, so I make the time and manage 4 batches throughout the day. I use mainly Seville oranges, but I also like to experiment, we have tangelos, lemons, ruby grapefruit, nagami cumquats and Italian bitter chinotto.

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 The Sweet One has already made the tangelo/seville mix. She does everything so properly, measuring out the ingredients to a recipe. Her marmalade always works. She is so sweet, she even adds the correct amount of sugar. I tend to make mine with a little bit less sugar, as I find some marmalade far too sweet for my taste. I have reduced the sugar to 300 grams to 1kg of whole fruit. I juice the fruit and add it into the pan,  and that is the only licquid that I use. Then I scrape out all the pith from inside and discard it to the compost. i havent weighed this pulp, so Im not too sure what the final balance of sugar to peel ends up being, but it works. Next I slice the peel finely, add it to the pan and lastly weight out 300g of sugar and toss it on top. I bake it in the bread maker, set to ‘jam’ setting. I know that it doesn’t sound like the sort of thing that I’d normally do. I’m usually so hans-on. But it works so well. I don’t use the pips, nor do I soak the peel overnight. The machine does a perfect job of it in one hour, while I get on with other things.
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This next batch, I decide to make a straight seville orange batch, then another one with seville orange, ruby grapefruit and lemon.  Lastly I add some of the bitter Chinotto

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 The ruby grapefruits are on at the moment so we are having one each morning before breakfast to cleanse our pallets and freshen us up to start the day, beautiful glowing colour and sharp astringent sour/sweet pulp.
After we have had our ruby grapefruit for breakfast, which The Sweet One has peeled in one long twisted strip of peel. I see that it looks so great. I don’t want to waste it, so I decide to add it to the next batch of marmalade. I will mix it with Seville orange and Myer lemon, with the addition of the finely sliced up twisted grapefruit skin from breakfast and a bitter Italian chinotto.

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In this way I can call this batch of marmalade ‘bitter and twisted’.
I like it.
With best wishes from The Sweet One and her bitter and twisted marmalade maker

 

A special moment

A precious friend drops by quite unexpectedly.
We get a call. “just passing by on route to help an ailing relative, will be there shortly.”
It’s a big surprise and a wonderful one. We offer coffee, tea? What about green tea? “Yes. Lets have green tea”.
Whisked in beautiful bowls.
We don’t often get out our really beautiful tea bowls very often. It’s a special occasion. So lets celebrate.
We share tea and a few sweets. It’s good!
We are both stimulated, enriched and enlivened by the shared experience.
We examine, share, appreciate and discuss the bowls, the process, the taste and the experience. We are uplifted by each others company.
It’s a special moment and I am grateful.
Life goes on.

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Defying Entropy

I’ve been out all day way down south, doing a repair job on a kiln. Not one of mine. Fortunately most of the kilns that I have built have not needed repairing — so far. They seem to last a very long time. I’ve made it my business to build out any chance of obsolescence. Everything is so over specified that it is my intension that they out-last me. This was a repair job as a favour for a friend. I don’t do repair work generally. I prefer to custom build from scratch. However, I’m also committed to the concept of reducing waste and not throwing anything out until it is really worn out and not able to be repaired any more. There is so much embedded energy in all our modern ‘stuff’ It is a crime against society to throw ‘stuff’ away.
Our parents generation had an excuse, in their time there was a place called ‘Away’ and things could be thrown there. But now that we have taken an interest and gone out looking. We have found — or not found, that place called away. It isn’t anywhere to be found. Everywhere is some where and what’s more, it’s someone else’s backyard, and they are not too happy to have everyone else’s junk dumped there. We don’t have our parents excuse. We’ve been told. We know. So we can’t go on doing it. Pretending that we can just throw things ‘away.’
This is why I will do some repair work on other manufacturers kilns. To forestal waste and preserve the embedded energy a little bit longer. But everything has a time, and that time has to come to an end at some point. Life is terminal and all flesh is grass. I’ve spent my life so far trying to defeat entropy. I know that ultimately I will fail, but like King Cnut (Canute) I’ll give it a good try.
So as a special favour to my friend, I spend the day re-furbishing this old kiln. I’ve taken along a lot of new furbishes to replace all the old furbishes. So now it’s totally re-furbished. Actually it’s still an old piece of worn out junk, but it will keep on going and working for a few more years now. I can’t make a silk purse out of it, at least not for a few hundred dollars, I can’t. Still, everyone is happy with this outcome it seems.
When I return home. I find that that my very own lovely Mrs Beaton of garden, kitchen and household management has our friend and garden helper Kate here to do some work in the garden and pottery, but the weather is so windy and unpleasant outside, that they have spent the day in the kitchen, making marmalade, candied peel and other culinary delights, like spinach and ricotta cheese pies. She has also been baking Ethiopian cabbage and mustard greens, rubbed with a little olive oil, so that turn crispy and delicious, add a little salt and they are just like crisps. This works well with all sorts of other firm green leaves as well, especially the brassicas like kale.

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Kate makes the pastry from the recipe that we got off Marta Armarda from Spain when she was visiting here. It’s so quick and works a treat. I don’t know how we got through life to this point without knowing about this simple recipe. I suppose that it was because we were always so head-down and butt-up everyday, that we just didn’t get out enough. It’s so simple. Just 1 tablespoon of oil, and another two of water and wine each, then firm it out with enough flour to bring it to consistency. It couldn’t be easier or quicker. We don’t chill it or leave it to settle, just roll it out and cook it.
We dine on hot pie from the oven for dinner.

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A full tummy and a glass of wine makes entropy all that much easier to defy.

Kate and Janine crush pumice (ignimbrite) that we collected on our mid-week, weekend down at the coast recently. Pumice is such an amazing rock. It’s an aerated volcanic glass composed mostly of felspathic minerals. These minerals (magma) are very viscous when hot and when forcefully ejected from a volcanic explosion, the trapped gasses in the rock, created under the intense pressure of the volcanic process are suddenly released. They can’t escape from the viscous magma quickly enough and so expand rapidly exfoliating the rock as it cools. Fluffing it up, like aero chocolate, Not unlike the way that grains of rice are ‘exfoliated’ into rice bubbles in a similar synthetic process.
My very own Mrs Beaton of household and pottery management grew up at the beach on the far North coast. Back in the early seventies, she collected beach pumice from the wild beaches up there to make her own local celadon. This recently collected ‘weekend’ pumice is rather paler than that which we are familiar. We hope that it will make a paler glaze.
We also found cuttle fish on the beach, so I have this crazy idea that cuttlefish ‘bone’ is possibly made of calcium? It’s possible. Many sea creatures utilise calcium from sea water to create their shells and carapaces. It occurred to me that it might be possible to make a sea-blue celadon glaze from the products of the sea? Sealadon?
Janine Beaton has just the recipe in her cornucopia of “The Woman Potters Big Book of Useful Recipes and Techniques for Every Glaze Situation,” No doubt soon to be serialised in 24 convenient monthly instalments. She fills a grid-tile of possible recipes and ‘control’ reference tests.
I’m keen to try her drift-wood, salt glaze, wood ash recipe!
Thanks to her stirling efforts, the ‘StONeS of beaches’ glaze tests are all made up and ready for the current firing.
I feel compelled to play something by Elgar to celebrate!

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The pumice is quite damp from its journey across the sea. We have been told that this current appearance of pumice has come from a massive underwater volcanic eruption somewhere in the Pacific near Samoa or Tonga, and has spent the last few years floating it’s way here, driven by wind and sea currents.
It passes through the big ‘jaw’ crusher OK, but needs some encouragement, as it tends to stick to the jaws because it is so fresh and still damp. We try it through the other crushers, it won’t grind well, it jams up the small jaw crusher and will only passes through the Cornish rolls with some persuasion, as it packs into a damp ‘clag’ and binds up the milling process. It really needs drying well first. It packs to the wall of the ball mill and I have to switch it off and break up the mass, then add water and do a wet milling. This works OK but, no butts, it’s a pain in the butt. It mills down well, however, now it will need to be settled, dewatered and finally thoroughly dried out before we can use it for weighing out the glaze tests that we need to do to find the best recipe for this particular batch of unknown mineral. Mrs Janine Beaton, manages this one evening on the side of the wood stove after dinner.
To get things going we put the remaining rough crushed granules from the primary crushing into the electric kiln, packed in bisque-fired bowls and fired up to 400 oC to thoroughly dry it out, prior to dry milling. Pumice is a very soft rock and is very easy to dry mill, but only when it’s quite dry. In the past, my lovely Mrs Beaton of sea-side glaze management, would dry it in the sun and wind for a few weeks or months before milling, as there was no real rush, it was just a constant flow of material that was well understood. A job that needed doing to keep ahead of her usage. This time it’s something new and we want to see the results of this new material and what it will do. So Mrs Beat-on gets the heat-on.

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We have just had a weekend wood firing workshop with another 10 potters working with us to make it a great success. All very enjoyable, but hectic. Everyone enjoyed roasting marshmallows for breakfast over the firebox towards the end of the firing. Janine has Beaten the rush, worked so very hard to get everything ready for this latest workshop. There is so much prep to do, but Mrs Beaton can’t be beaten when it comes to workshop management.
We have our sea glaze sealadon/celadon tests in this firing now thanks to her, so we are keen to see the outcome next weekend and just like everyone else, it will be like Xmas for us too.

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With love from Mrs Capability Beaton and her workshop assistant, Mr Furbisher, The Kiln Whisperer, who are attempting to be so well organised — defying Entropy.

The Talented Ms Rippley

Have kiln will travel and unexpected visitors on our return

In between our hectic schedule of 10 weekend workshops in a row, we have managed to fit in a brief visit to the coast for a little break. Surprisingly, it takes us most of the week to prepare the kiln, props and shelves, cut, split, cart and stack the wood. I also want to slip a couple of rock glaze and woodash tests into the firing for my own interest. Weighing out glaze tests also takes a lot of time.

We are very lucky to have friends who own a part share in a holiday shack down the coast and we are extra lucky to be invited down to spend a couple of nights down there. We get to see the sea and it’s good!
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We get away for a couple of days and as it is a potters holiday house, we take one of Stefan Jakob’s brilliant little Ikea rubbish bin kilns with us. It fits in the car with all our bedding, clothes and other travelling parafinalia, plus a big esky of produce from the garden. We know that there will be oysters down the coast, so we take a couple of bottles of cider along as well. Dry cider has to be my favourite accompanyment to go with fresh shucked oysters – maybe a little pepper too.
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We enjoy the best sunsets and walks along the beach and a time spent in among the rock pools.
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After settling in, we spend the day firing the little kiln with brushwood from around the site. It burns well, and the kiln fires quickly and easily all day with good results. We’ve brought along a bucket of glaze and some gloves, tongs and oxide etc, so we idle the day away sitting in the sun, looking at the view and occationally stoking the kiln. It’s a perfect pottery busmans holiday.
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A fun day, good company, a nice meal and a bottle of wine and all is well with the world.
We return home to find a couple of unexpected visitors using our place as a short cut from the back gully up to the disused train line.
They are wondering what we are doing in their yard.
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Our workshop students return to unpack the wood kiln and take their pots home. They all seem to be happy. I gave them a talk about the periodic table of the elements in the early hours of the morning during the firing. Something to fill the deadly hours of midnight to dawn. Lucky I didn’t put them all to sleep! They ask me if I have studdied science. I haven’t, but I’m an enthusiastic amateur. To make pots the way that I’m trying to do it, from a few buckets full of soil and some burnt plants from the garden, you need to be able to find your way around a little bit of everything. Chemistry, geology, engineering, maths. Even a bit of artistic talent would come in handy, but it’s The Lovely that has all the talent. Now that she has seen the tide marks on the sand, she’ll probably start making rippley textured pots. I find that hard slog and determined commitment gets me where I want to go. There is no substitute for hard graft.
I get to see my new woodash and local granite rock glaze tests come out of the kiln.
I get a lovely new version of my pink/mushroom ash glaze with a flat, dense, matt crystal surface. There’s a good mustard yellow with grey carbon inclusion where it’s thick. A very clear bright apple green and the usual runny chun, milky opalescent and white crystal glaze amongst others.
All in all a very good result. New buckets of all these can now be made up again. As wood ash varies from tree to tree and from limb to trunk, not to mention season to season. I always have to test every new batch for consistency before commiting to a bucket sized batch. It can take several days to a month to collect, crush, grind, mill, sieve, dry and otherwise prepare these rocks and ashes. I can’t aford to make any mistakes. But I always do. No batch is ever the same as the last using the same recipe. It’s the continual natural variations that make this kind of research so interesting.
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fond regards from The Talented Ms Rippley and her Busman.

 

Pugging our Way Through Life

There is nothing quite so meaningless than pugging badly de-aired clay through a 4″ Venco with poorly fitted or leaky seals.
No matter how many times we re-pug it doesn’t get any better.
It is a beautifully rewarding example of futility, Sisyphus tried to tell me.
I’ve rolled a few stones up a hill or two, but I usually end up crushing them into glaze powder.
Preparing clay can fill our meaningless days in an endless cycle of pugging and re-pugging.
I’d better fix that seal.
But how can I fix that seal when there is so much pugging to do?
Pirsig tried to tell me in Zen and the Art of Venco Maintenance.
Still, everyday comes to an end.
.
Nothing lasts.
Nothing is ever finished.
Nothing is perfect.

The Gautama tried to tell me.
.
The Lovely is busy washing up. Washing-up like clay prep never ends, there is always more
The Lovely One tried to tell me.
.
Is this my beautiful wife?
Is this my beautiful House?
How did I get here?
Even Brian Eno and David Byrne tried to tell me!
 
.
Same as it ever was.