This weekend we fired the wood kiln again. The third firing in 3 weeks. One firing each Weekend. This firing went very well.
I’m starting to get the measure of this new kiln and my endless supply of pre-burnt wood fuel. For the first of these 3 firings, I altered the firebox and made it deeper, which helped. Before the 2nd firing, I changed the flues. For this firing I changed the setting and adjusted the flues slightly. more fine tuning than major change. All these adjustments have come together now and this last firing was even from top to bottom, with cone 10 over on each shelf, as well as the floor.
There is still an issue with the wood. The flame is quite short and although cone 10 was over on the front of the top shelf, we only got cone 9 over at the rear of that same shelf, just 400mm further back.
Still, everything is well melted and looks good. We have plenty of pots fired and ready for the two open Studio Weekends coming up.
It was a very foggy and misty dawn for the firing.
All of our specially developed home made wood firing clay bodies have taken the fire well and are flashing up with good toasty colour.
This is one of Janine’s bowls with her home made cobalt infused pigment brushwork and her ash glaze made from the ash out of our kitchen slow combustion cooker. This bowl has picked up a little bit of carbon inclusion around the rim. Janine doing her bit to remove carbon from the atmosphere permanently and counter global warming.
This is one of my bowls that I decorated by trailing Janine’s opalescent ‘jun’ style ash glaze over tenmoku.We have just harvested the first of our 3 garlic crops. This year I planted two different types of garlic, one breaks up just before it’s ripe and ready to harvest, sending up multiple new green shoots. The other variety continues to grow as normal. I planted these two varieties last year as well and they did the same for me then. Very odd. The cloves are perfect, just separated into individual cloves.
The multiple stem variety is on the left.
We lay it out to dry for a week, then Janine plaits it into bundles and we hang it to dry until we need to use it.
Our firing went as well as could be expected. I’m learning more all the time. The back of the kiln was under-fired, but 80% came out OK.
I ‘borrowed’ some of my friend and neighbour Sandy Lockwood’s wood. Sandy fires with wood too and lives only a few kilometres away in the same village.
Sandy buys all her fire wood in, so her stock of wood is totally different from ours. Our on-site burnt forest that has been left standing, but dead, after the catastrophic bush fires of 2019 doesn’t burn the way it used to.
We have been nurturing our few acres of eucalypt forest for the past 46 years that we have lived and worked here. Carefully and very selectively dragging out the dead branches and tree trunks from the bush for use in our kilns and home. Almost everything that we do runs on wood for fuel. We obviously fire the kiln with it, but we also have a slow combustion kitchen stove that cooks our meals, warms the kitchen and also heats the hot water for the house. Then there is the slow combustion heater in the lounge room that we use during the cooler months to keep us warm at night. We also have a slow combustion stove and room heater in the pottery shed.
I get a lot of sowing done repairing my worn-out clothes, sitting front of the lounge room heater during the winter. I wear the clothes out chainsawing, cutting, carting, splitting and stacking all the firewood. It’s a bit of a circular economy.
We have so much of this dead wood now, I have to find a way to use it creatively. I have another couple of firings scheduled in before the Australian Ceramics Assn, Open studio weekends of the 12th Nov. This overlaps with the Southern Highlands Arts Trail, Open Studio weekends on the first two weekends in Nov. We’ll be open for visitors on all 4 days of those weekends.
I will use these next firings to try out different approaches to solving my dilemma with this wood. If I can’t find a way of burning it successfully in its current form. I will have to change the fire box arrangement. But I’ll try all the easier options first. Side stoking the back chamber will probably work well, but I don’t want to do too much of that until I build an afterburner and flame tube with a spark arrestor on top. I don’t have time to build that until after the open studios in a few weeks.
So the next couple of firings will concentrate on fuel management, then packing and firing technique.
Here are a few of the roasty toasty pots that I left unglazed on the outside to pick up colour, fire flashing and a little wood ash from the one day firing. I used to fire the wood kiln for between 12 to 14 hours, but now with the change in the timber, I need to fire for 17 to 19 hours. Too long for an old guy and his hard working Missus. I was completely trashed the next day.
The colour is lovely and warm and the surfaces are very tactile.
Working with this rough, iron stained stoneware clay has been such a pleasure after the past few months of battling with the ground-up-sericite-stone bodies.
In preparation for the up-coming Open Studio Weekends on the first two weekends in November, we have been hard at work making and firing to get everything ready in time.
We are still working on the pottery shed, as it isn’t quite finished yet. So much to do, but it is almost there. We have to stop the building work to concentrate on making pots now.
There are so many little bit and pieces of the building that need to be cleaned up and properly finished. The team of shed builders who erected the frame for us were working very quick and rough and left a lot to be desired in terms of details. I’m still finding out the places where they didn’t finish off the flashing, or didn’t put enough silicon in the joints here and there. But their biggest crime was not using metal screws with rubber seals, so I had to go around the whole building and squeeze silicon rubber over all the external screws to waterproof them. It probably only saved them $10. Such is the state of modern building trades. Fortunately we didn’t buy a high rise home unit with cracks in it, so we couldn’t live in it, but still had to pay the mortgage. That is so unforgivable. With all this rain over the past year, I’m still discovering places that leak or just little annoying drips that need attention.
The framing crew did at least get the frame level, square and true. I’ll give them that much. The building inspector from the council who came and inspected our job, told us that this was one of the better frames that he had seen. Some were so bad, he had to call the builders back to straighten it up.
Janine and I have done nearly all of our building work over the years as owner builders here for the past 45 years, but this rebuilding job was just beyond us in our ’senior’ years. Especially the scale of it and particularly after working ourselves into the ground with all the clean-up work that we did after the fire. By the time it came to start re-building, we just didn’t have the energy. After the 6 months of cleaning up, we were ready to hand over to a team who supposedly knew what they were doing when it came to erecting a steel fame shed — sort of. They were certainly well practised at making short cuts.
This last weekend we fired the wood kiln. This was our 2nd firing in this new kiln and we are still learning how it works and getting to know its peculiarities and character.
We had Len Smith, Rob Linegan to help and Jan Kesby called in after her workshop at Sturt Pottery to give us a hand, as she was in the neighbourhood.
The kiln at full fire, burning logs on the hobs.
Rob and Len doing their bit.
Jan Kesby showing us how it’s done.
We will unpack later in the week after it has cooled down.
Janine has been crushing and grinding her beach pumice stones to make her sea-ladon green glaze. Made from just beach pumice and beach cuttle fish carapace ‘shells’.
She has also been making up her ‘Chun’ or ‘Jun’ blue opalescent glaze that she makes from the ash from the kitchen slow combustion stove.
They both require crushing and then grinding in the ball mills to get the best result. There are so many little steps that go into being a self-reliant artist that most people just couldn’t imagine.
Then there is the splitting and stacking all the wood for firing. Everything takes time. We only have pre-burnt logs to fire with now, as every tree on our block of land was burnt. So we have a few hundred tonnes of standing dead wood to use up for the rest of our lives, but regrettably, since it is already pre-burnt. It has lost a lot of its volatiles, saps, kinos and resins. This means that we have to invent new ways of using it up in the kilns, as it is a bit like firing with charcoal than fresh timber. It still burns, but with a short flame and doesn’t really crackle and roar like it used to pre-fire. One solution I’m trying is to split it finer, where that is possible, but the stringy back that grows around here has a very twisty, gnarly, well integrated grain, that doesn’t easily lend itself to fine free-splitting.
Another option is to re-build the fire box to adapt it better to this charcoal rich environment, larger and with more provision for burning charcoal and ember? That’s a much bigger job, so I’ll try all of the easier options first. Time will tell.
I’ve been reading a few books on French cooking. Not, cordon bleu, or bistonomy, but old peasant recipes for home-grown, self-reliant peasants cooking of the South West of France in the Perigord and Gascon regions.
I’m interested in how people manage their vegetable gardens to keep a steady flow of food coming all through the year. How they preserve their excess and particularly, just how inventive they were at creating wonderful and delicious recipes from some quite un-promising ingrediants.
I was introduced to organic back-yard vegetable gardening by my grandfather and mother. But didn’t take sufficient interest in the details of it all at the time, as I was quite young, and kicking a ball around the yard was more fun.
When Janine and I moved into our first own rental property in 1975. One of the first things that I did was to dig up the back yard, start to plant veggies and build a compost heap. It seemed so natural to me. It was just what you did if you wanted to live cheaply and frugally. Planting vegetables went hand in hand with building the first little kiln, both equally important.
A year or so later, after we were burnt out in the first of 3 bush fires that we have lost potteries to, we bought the Old School building here in Balmoral Village, we started a vegetable garden as soon as we got the key, even before we had the title deeds. Long before we moved in. We would come down on weekends and plant and then water the seedlings, so that there would be food for us when we arrived permanently.
We were lucky to meet and become very close to a couple of the local residents, John Meredith the writer, musician and folklorist, and Dot and Roger Brown, who were the village’s longest residents. Dot’s mother was still alive then, she lived till she was 103 years old. Both of these older residents had extensive vegetable gardens and small household mixed orchards. They were a great inspiration to us and were so supportive in each passing on either chickens or ducks in breeding trios to get us up and running. We set up a pottery throwing room in the front room of the 2 room school classroom. We also cleared the land, fenced off the area for the stone fruit orchard, all in the first few months and had 30 fruit trees planted that first winter.
A few years later Sally Seymour came to visit us from Wales. She and her husband John Seymour wrote books about their life of living off the land in a small scale, self-sufficient way. She was so knowledgeable about everything that we needed to know. She was also a potter. Sally returned a couple of years later and lived here with Janine for a few months, while I was away in Japan studying.
We had already bought and read both of their earlier books before we met Sally. Sally is still alive and living in Wales with her daughter and son-in-law. You can check out how they still live and work creatively and sustainably at their web site. <https://www.pantryfields.com/sally-seymour>
‘The Fat of the Land’ is still in print and available from their website.
I enjoyed reading about Kate Hill’s life and travels on a barge boat in Gascony. I didn’t learn very much that I hadn’t already read elsewhere, or already learnt to cook myself, but it was a good read.
I picked up this book for $2 in a 2nd hand book shop, an interesting read by an American food writer about his one year sabbatical spent in Gascony learning to cook.
Peter Graham was a professional writer who lived in France for 40 years. He died recently. He was ‘The Guardian’ newspaper’s food and restaurant critic for 20 years. The book is a list of recipes linked by anecdotes, and has less story line to support it, more in the vein of Patience Gray’s ‘Honey from a weed’. However, I actually preferred the book ‘Extra Virgin’ by Annie Hawes, which is all amusing story and no recipes, but she has humorous descriptions of the local wives preparing food and cooking. All described in a very lighthearted manner.
Jeanne Strang’s book was interesting mix of personal story line and recipe book. I learnt a few things that I have incorporated in to my cooking. On and Off.
None of these books are your typical recipe books. None of them have full page glossy photos of luscious food. You’ll need Jamie Oliver or the English food porn lady for those. These are all black and white, text based books, printed on cheap, pulp, paper by people who love cooking, and living in France. They have all lived and worked in Gascony and collected their anecdotes and recipes over extended periods of time living the life in amongst the locals.
Having digested all that these other books had to offer, I tempered my appetite for goose fat and foie gras, by reading Norman Swan’s latest on how to live a healthy life for longer.
Basically his recommendation is not to eat all those fatty, rich, calorie loaded foods, instead he recommends to intensionally starve yourself – albeit with moderation. He recommends following the ‘Mediterranean diet’, based on pulses, vegetables, a little lean meat or fish and to avoid preservatives, salt and smoked or saltpetre treated meats. He also says to put in at least one hour of vigorous exercise each day. YES, one hour vigorously, each day! To stimulate metabolism and burn off calories to keep your weight down.
I think that I might probably be OK, even better off, to just eat those French cooking books listed above. Paper is fat free, high in ruffage and low in calories, just right.