The Beautiful Simplicity of Baked Beans

We have jars of dried beans in the pantry cupboard. Many different types. We also have dried tomatoes and dried mushrooms in there too, alongside jars of tomato passata saurse. I decide to take some of our storred summer produce to make the simplest of dishes, Baked Beans.

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I soak the dried beans overnight, then boil then for an hour or two until they are just cooked. I sweat off some onions and a whole knob of our home grown garlic in the best quality of local olive oil.  I add fresh thyme and marjoram from the garden, a whole knob of our garlic, along with some local bacon. I add in a couple of jars of preserved tomato puree along with a couple of chilli and capsicums. It all comes along nicely. When the herb and vegetable mix is well underway, I add in the pre-cooked bean mix back into the pot and let it all meld in together.

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I’m tending the dish, when My Lovely arrives and comes into the kitchen. She exclaims, how delicious the smell of the dish is as she comes in through the door. I’m pleased, I want it to be. There is a lot of work storred in all these summer-time ingredients. It ought to be good.

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If I was making a more traditional baked bean style dish, I’d probably blitz the whole lot. But this is not an issue to me. I’m happy to eat my more chunky version. If I were to do it again quite soon, I’d probably add in some duck breast and some pork sausage along with carrots and celery. But that would be a very different dish. Then I’d call it a French cassoulet.

This is just a simple beans and tomato meal with no frills. All grown, dried, preserved and cooked locally. What else can a simple post-modern peasant ask for. The natural rewards of hard work and forward planning.

It’s delicious, warming and very nutritious. whole pulses and tomatoes like this, combine to favour healthy gut bacteria and good health.

Funnily enough, I’m not thinking of my guts as I eat his beautiful meal. I’m just so pleased that it so filling and delicious.

Sure to Rise

Janine spent some time in New Zealand when she was at school as an exchange student and it was in New Zealand that she learnt to spin wool and also got deeply interested in making pottery, something that has stayed with her for the rest of her life. Another thing that she learnt about in New Zealand was the Edmonds CookBook. She bought, or was given her first copy over there. She still uses it or refers to it often, mostly for cakes and puddings. It has been one of the constants in her life.

We recently got the latest version, when a relative visited New Zealand last year. I had tried to buy a copy by online direct from Edmonds, It was meant to be a surprise for Janine, but the online option didn’t seem to be available, so I sent an email requesting information on how to buy a copy and have it sent over here to Australia.

I filled out the contact info page and waited. Nothing happened for a day or two, then when I was out. A very nice lady from Edmonds rang directly from New Zealand to inform the bewildered Janine that she couldn’t buy one in New Zealand and  have it posted out to Australia, but rather, all she had to do was go down to the local ‘Dairy’ and buy a copy herself. The ‘Dairy’ in New Zealand is a bit like a small supermarket or local shop. They are everywhere in New Zealand, but not here in OZ.

Janine tried to explain that we don’t have a local ‘Dairy’ here. But the Edmonds Lady wouldn’t have it. She insisted that all Janine had to do was to ask. “They will have it!” “Everybody stocks it!” We don’t see Edmonds baking products for sale here in Australia. At least, not where we live anyway. Janine explained that we live in Australia and that the lady must have dialled ISDN to get through to us in Australia. She must know that we are located in Australia. She told her that we just can’t buy Edmonds Baking Products here. All to no avail. So the surprise was lost and we still didn’t have a new Edmonds cookery book. We laughed about it a lot though, and we do now have 4 editions of about 10 to 15 years apart.


When Janine’s relatives turned up here with the intension of travelling on to New Zealand and back again, it was an opportunity not to be missed. We now have our new copy, along with the other 3 older editions. It’s quite interesting to look through them and see what has changed. In the 60’s edition, all the recipes are detailed on how to make the item from scratch. The biggest difference between the old copy and the new one is that now it is more likely to say something like, open a can or packet of this or that and add something to it. it’s an interesting record of changes in cooking habits over 50 years. Certainly the latest edition has very much more up-market descriptions of the recipes.

One particular recipe that is all the books is the sponge fruit pudding. The name changes a little, but the recipe remains pretty similar. It’s a lovely, warming, comfort food pudding for cold winter nights. Janine has developed her own particular variation, depending on what is in season or in the preserving cupboard. Tonight it’s preserved young berries that are going into the pud.

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This is Janine’s half-size recipe. Good for just two people. Double it if you want to feed more people

Take a 750 ml. jar of home made preserved youngberries. Pour into baking dish. Make a sponge topping as per your favourite Edmonds recipe, spoon it over the cooked fruit and bake until springy and golden. the recipe says from 35 to 45 mins at either 180 or 190oC, but My Sweet is cooking in the wood burning stove, so all the temps are a bit of a guess for us. She knows her stove now after 40 years and gets a wonderful result out of it. Cook until done!

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Harri (son) Potter and The Three Headed Cabbage

We are in that time of the seasons at the end of winter and just before the beginning of spring. I heard someone call this period ‘Sprinter’. The early peaches are out in full bloom now and the almonds are just starting to burst bud and show their first flowers.

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Janine knows a secret place just behind the stone wall of the citrus grove. A sun trap in the mornings where the last of the self-sown tomatoes were growing wild. The frost has burned off all the leaves, but the last of the fruit has hung on and turned from green to yellow and red over the past month and a half. It’s amazing, but Janine comes into the kitchen triumphant with a small bowl of tomatoes in mid winter. We have them for lunches over the next few days. On toasted rye bread with some blue cheese, or in a salad.

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We have learnt over time that when we cut a cabbage and then leave it in-situ. The cabbage will re-shoot new cabbage heads, usually three smaller cabbages will replace the original one large head. The total volume of the 3 new cabbages is almost the same volume as the original.. If you cut these three heads off, then the plant will keep on trying to head up to seed and reproduce. The 3rd generation of multiple, small, cabbage heads rarely amount to much. They put out new shoots, but these rarely manage to form firm heads. They are however still good shredded up for stir fry and salads.

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We have also found that brocoli responds in this way, giving a larger number of progressively smaller Brocolinis with each picking. We have kept a few plants going like this for months. They don’t seem to mind growing through into the hotter weather. Cauliflower on the other hand doesn’t seem to react in the same way. I think that it might be because they take so long to grow, that by the time they are cut and harvested, the weather is getting too hot for them to continue growing?

The peas are looking good at the moment. In full flower and starting to set a nice crop.


I love sprinter. It is loaded with promises of warmer weather to come. I think that I can just start to feel the days getting longer.

A Potters Floor

It just occurred to me as we swept some sand into the cracks in our new/old shed floor, that is made up of a mix of fire bricks and house bricks, that this is very much a potters floor and very appropriate. As I look down at the bricks and admire the patina of age and use, with all the varying hues and textures, I start to see the brand names of the various manufacturers.

Here in front of me under my feet is a brief history of refractory brick making in Sydney in the post war period. It doesn’t escape my attention that everyone of these companies that made these firebricks all around the Sydney region are all now gone and defunct. Everything is made in China now. In fact, I believe that I am probably the last refractory fire brick maker left in the greater Sydney area, if not all of New South Wales. I can’t think of any others, and we only make fire bricks for our selves, for use in our own kilns.

All of the old brick makers were bought out by the big multinationals and closed down. The sites were sold off for re-development and all the new stock of bricks were then imported. We don’t manufacture anything here anymore. We only operate warehouses for foreign multinationals to distribute imported product.

As the last Australian refractory brickmaker, perhaps I can look forward to being bought out by a big corporation? This might provide the superannuation that  I don’t otherwise have ?)

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Some of the above bricks are; Newbold General Refractories, Dive (Matraville), Illawarra fire brick Company, Waterloo Fire Brick Company, Woodall Duckhams, Vulcan, Bulli, Darley, Grit’A’, Ordish and Booths Medium Refractories.

This is in no way an extensive list, it is just the ones that came out of that small kiln that we dismantled, and the ones where the logo was laid upwards, so that I could photograph them.

We have lost so much in the past 4 decades.

The Accidental New/old Shed


I am preparing for a new research exploration project, but while I plan and organise, we decide to take a week off from the pottery to catch up on a few outstanding jobs. The weather has been beautiful all this week. The best winter days are like this with frosty nights followed by sunny days with no wind. Glorious days for working out side. We breakfast on marmalade and toast with coffee, and then the Lovely spends couple of days burning off all the orchard fruit-tree prunings to make ash for glazes, while I start working on the new shed.

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We decided to build an addition to the kiln shed to create some extra storage space, while at the same time it allows me to create some space for a new chicken coop. We raised chickens and ducks here for 25 years, but we had a rather traumatic event with a pack of local village dogs that killed almost all of our birds in one savage attack. The old chook shed was somewhat degraded over time and the wire somewhat rusted and frail. It offered no real protection from the frenzied pack of dogs. I decided that I wouldn’t get anymore chickens until I built a stronger, steel-reinforced chook run.

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The time has come now and it is done. 25mm. square, welded wire mesh with 6mm dia steel weld mesh dug down into the ground 300 mm. We now have 3 brown chooks at point of lay and are looking forward to our own fresh organic eggs again. The chicken run is quite small, but we only want 3 hens. One or two chickens would be enough for us, but I’m told that a trio is a better number for their own comfort and companionship. Once they are settled in we will let them free range all day, just as we did in the past. Only locking them up at night to protect them from foxes. Chickens are very resourceful at finding their own living out in the orchards and paddocks. Only the vegetable garden is locked up and out of bounds to them. They can be very destructive in a garden, digging up seedlings and excavating large dust bath holes in the soft, moist composted soil.

The other two thirds of the shed is a storage space for all the stainless steel sheets and other kiln building paraphernalia that I have to keep in stock, plus a small space for garden tools and the wheel barrow. We decide to pave the floor with bricks. This wasn’t in the original plan, but it seems the right thing to do to make the shed floor moisture proof and flat, so that I can wheel my brick cutting bench in and out easily.

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We dismantle a couple of old, early wood fired kilns that have been in the garden for over thirty five years and are no longer used. The used bricks have a lovely patina of use and age about them. We lay them over a sand and black builders-plastic membrane substrate to keep the shed dry. 500 bricks later, it all comes together rather well. A good days work to dismantle, clean, stack, transport and lay all these bricks in one day.

This shed is built from nearly all recycled materials. I only had to buy a few sticks of hardwood for the rafters, nearly all the green poles were recycled from vineyard trellises and the iron sheeting for the walls and roof were all given to us when friends re-roofed their house. To complete the build, Janine suggests that we use some french doors and a solid timber single door that a friend found on the side of the road at council clean-up day and delivered here to us thinking that we might be the kind of people that could find a use for them, and we have. We get stuck into it and don’t seem to be able to stop until it is really formally finished. We hadn’t planned for such a proper shed. It started out as just a lean-to roof to keep the rain off the mud brick wall and an excuse to re-build the chook shed.

5 days later we have a beautiful dry, flat, level and secure, well-lit shed. It’s a thrill and a novelty to be able to let an idea go for a walk and have it end up so beautifully. Just using what recycled ‘rubbish’ we have collected here from what others have thrown out. It is almost too good for just storage. I didn’t intend to do this project, this week. I have a lot of other things that I have to do, but here it is and I’m really pleased with how it has turned out.

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We put a bit of effort into restoring the old doors. I need to replace a broken sheet of glass in one french door, which Janine organises and putties into place beautifully. There is one broken sheet of gold-red glass in the single door. We don’t even bother to get a quote on that. It will be too expensive to justify for a shed door, so I cut a small piece of perspex and we paint it with red poster colour – you can hardly tell. Once the doors are cleaned and painted, we end the week with a new/second-hand, recycled shed built for just a few hundred dollars and using a modern combination of old and new tools – because I can.

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We dine on steamed kale from the garden with our own home dried tomatoes and mushrooms, all softened with a little ricotta and some diced feta for texture.

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All suitably self-reliant for a hard-working couple of amateur builders.