One Thing Leads to Another

I’ve only just finished repairing the slow combustion heater in the Old School classroom in preparation for the coming winter, when Janine points out that the fire brick in the wall of the wood fired kitchen slow combustion stove is all cracked and spalled away. The metal casing of the cabinet is showing through. We can’t light it again like this. Being over 40 years old, there are no spare parts available. I will have to improvise – as usual.

I have no real options here. I don’t want to take the stove apart completely to re fit a new home-made fire brick into the wall, so I do a patch job. I use some of my homemade ceramic fibre glue and fill up all the cracks and spalls with ceramic fibre high temperature insulation.

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This will have no chance of surviving the intense battering of logs thrown into the fire box. But I have a cunning plan. I find an old piece of kiln shelf down in the pottery that is just about the correct size. So I cut it and shape it with the angle grinder until it fits the bill.

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I wedge it into place with a few off-cuts of similar ceramic kiln shelf material and it all locks into place. Only time will tell how long it will last? However, I am confident that it will protect the fibre insulation stuffed in behind until it cracks or breaks.

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On close examination, I see that he curved fire brick just inside the stoke-hole door is cracked in half. This is a home-made, hand-built, custom-shaped fire brick which we made from a hand-made mould that we cast back in the 70’s.  I made 3 spares at the time.  I can see that I will have to make a few more now, as we have used them all up over the 40 years of constant use. It needs to be special shape, with recessed corners that interlock with the other fire bricks, so that it can just slide into place and be held securely, but not too tight, to allow for expansion.

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Janine finds the mould after almost 25 years, stored away in the third chamber of the climbing kiln that we don’t use anymore. I knock one out with a rubber mallet to get good compression. One down two more to go. The first three that I made lasted 25 years or so. So this lot should last me until 2045! I’ll be well into my 90’s and won’t be cutting too much fire wood by then.

Last year I repaired the other side of the fire-box, the heat shield that protects the oven from getting too hot. That cast iron plate had completely disintegrated. I replaced it with a home-made kiln shelf that we made in 1976. We still have a lot of them left. I didn’t think that it would last very long, but gave it a go. It has one crack in it after 18 months of use and still going strong. Very pleased, but.

Nothing is ever finished, nothing lasts and nothing is perfect.

Peasant Food

I have been doing a bit of reading lately about the life of peasants. Mostly in the recent past as you would be hard pressed to find a peasant these days. I call myself a Post Modern Peasant and have a keen interest in living a sustainable life style in this modern and very complex first-world situation.

I am rather interested in the self-reliant nature of the life of peasants. Some of the books that i have read are by Philip Olyer. His best in my opinion is ‘The Generous Earth’. recounting his life among the French peasants in the Dordogne Valley, early last century.

 

His second book on the subject wasn’t very good, or at least not as good as the first. It struck me that it was all the rejected anecdotes that were edited out of the first volume.

I’m not saying that I didn’t enjoy it, just that the first volume was so much better. I learnt quite a few things about the way the French peasants of that time prepared and preserved food.

 

Pig Earth on the other hand has a lot less about the growing, preparation and preserving food, but still a reasonable read with some gritty insights into the harsh reality of their lives.

By far the better of these two is Patience Grey’s Auto-biography ‘Honey from the Weed” the story of her life of living with her stone-carving, sculptor-husband in and around the Mediterranean in Spain, Italy and Greece.

They have no money and learn to live with the locals, like the locals, in small, isolated hamlets, way off the beaten track, up in the mountains, close to the marble quarries. Living so close to the local peasantry and quarry workers, in particular to their wives and grandmothers, gains her particular insight into the intimacies of their daily existence.

The writing is a touch clumsy in places and isn’t particularly sequential, more of a series of vignettes strung together under particular headings like cooking with pulses. Here are  several recipes all involving dried beans of varying origins, sizes and form, from fresh to dried. This section is followed by a long passage on farting!

I was moved, pun intended, to cook up a meal of our own dried beans from last summer. We grow a lot more beans than we can ever eat fresh off the bush from the garden. We let them all go to seed and dry on the bush or trellis. This years crop are starting to dry off now and will soon be ready to harvest.

This being the case, I thought about the last couple of jars of dried beans in our pantry cupboard from last year. I used half of them and soaked them over night, changing the water every few hours, or when ever I was passing and thought about it. I boiled them for an hour. The time it takes to boil dried beans varies with their age. One year old beans like these take about and hour. fresh picked and dried beans only take 20 to 30 mins.

After 15 mins I changed the water again. Patience Grey recommends boiling with a pinch of salt or bicarbonate of soda for the first 1/4 hour. This then requires the change of water, she also suggests boiling the beans with bi-carb helps loosen the outer skins, such that they can be rubbed off. This she says that this reduces the ‘fartyness’ of the resulting meal.

Our son is a Chef and has worked in some very high-end restaurants with ‘Chef’s Hat’ awards. He also told me this, that when cooking chick peas for example, pre-boil them until you can rub the outer skins off between two tea towels. then replenish with fresh water and finish the cooking. This is worth the effort, because it results in happier customers the next day, or later in the week!

I don’t have customers, so left out the bi-carb and the de-skinning. While the beans are boiling. I make an aromatic oil frying a finely diced onion and some fresh herbs and bay leaves in olive oil, finishing with a few smashed garlic cloves. I add in a small amount of diced, dried, smoked, nitrite-free bacon.

I avoid using ‘ordinary’ bacon where possible as the sodium nitrite that is commonly used is a known carcinogen. I can only find one brand of nitrite free bacon on sale anywhere around here. I’m not recommending this product. I don’t do that. It is just the only one I can find here locally.

Adding a little bit of bacon, speck or porcetta, like this adds heaps of flavour. I don’t use very much. You don’t need to. One slice is enough, it’s only for flavour. Once this is cooked off, I add a couple of spoons of my home-made marrow bone reduced stock to fill out the flavour profile and create a creamy smooth texture. I add the beans in and a cup or two of my home-made tomato sugo concentrated sauce.

The last step is to add a dash of local gold medal winning merlot red wine and let it simmer for a few minutes to meld.

Enjoy.

 

The Old Wood Heater

As the cooler weather and winter approaches, it is time to have a good look at the slow-combustion wood heater in our Old School Classroom. This is the only source of heating in the Old School. We also have a wood fired stove for cooking in the kitchen, it cooks all our meals, warms the kitchen and heats our hot water over the winter months when the solar hot water panels are less efficient.

We have owned this old heater for around 25 years, This is the 3rd time that I have had to replace the fire brick lining in the firebox. This time however, I am in for a big overhaul, 25 years is a long time, the stainless steel flue has rusted out. I can see that it has splits and cracks in it where it leaves the heater. It takes a long time and a lot of heat to rust out a stainless steel flue. The stainless steel flue pipes that I use are pretty long lasting. I use them on my kilns as well. It’s the first time that I have ever seen one this badly deteriorated, just rusted away like this.

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While I’m at it, I replace the latest flue baffle too. The metal plates are prone to rust out like this with constant use. I’m not surprised though. This heater is used 6 months of the year constantly. That’s over 12 years of constant heating. So the fire bricks ate all spalled and cracked, the flue pipe rusted out, and the flame baffle has a huge hole rusted through it. It’s long over due for a bit of maintenance.

I replace the melted flue baffle with a used and recycled ceramic kiln shelf. The crumbled fire brick lining with new bricks. I regret that the original ones were Australian made, but there isn’t an Australian alternative available any more. I bought new ones made in China. They are a simple plain brick, so a replacement is easy to find.

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The kitchen cooking stove is another matter entirely. It was made in Scotland last century and was already out of production when bought it 2nd hand in 1977. No parts were ever available, so I have kept it going for the past 42 years by making all our own, specially shaped, fire brick replacement parts.  I have also made a new fire box door. new fire box door locking device, new fire box heat baffle and several new cast iron grates for the ash pit. These I cut down from cast iron gratings that were readily available in the hardware store. These days they are all made of aluminium, which is useless for a fire box. Luckily, I bought half a dozen spares before they disappeared off the market. I’m pretty sure that I have the skills needed to keep this cooker going for the rest of my life.

See older post on repairing this stove;

Zen and the Art of Maintenance – Theres a catch to it

Posted on 04/12/2013

A couple of hours of work, a little bit of tinkering and the stove is good for another few years of faithfuls service. It might even see me out. I hate to throw anything out that isn’t really worn out and past repair. Re-use, re-cycle, re-purpose, and re-pair.

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The same old stove, but with its new stainless steel flue and a completely renewed lining inside. It’s not perfect, but it will do.

Nothing is perfect, nothing lasts and nothing is ever finished!

Preserved Capsicums

Even though the summer has long passed now, we can still pick the best part of a ratatouille to fill the garden harvest basket.

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We have plenty of capsicums just now, so its time to preserve a few as a roasted capsicum salsa. They need to be roasted over an open flame and then left to sweat in a bag for 15 mins. This releases the skins where the bitterness is. The resulting strips of sweet flesh are then de-seeded and coated with an olive oil and vinegar dressing.

Pretty yum.

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Autumn Activities

Here we are in the first few weeks of Autumn and all the usual jobs raise their heads for attention.

First, we spent a couple of weeks in Adelaide for the Writers Week where we finally managed to make good our promise to our selves to buy less than one book per day. A difficult ask when you consider that there are 2 tents to choose from with a new set of authors each hour all day and this goes on for 6 days, that’s 72 sessions and at least half of them are very interesting to me.

We sit under the shade sales and let the ideas and philosophies drift over us and through us.

In the evenings we frequent the Fringe festival, for a meal and a small show. We don’t often buy tickets to the main Festival events, as they are very expensive, but this year we went to see Tim Minchin and the was very good.

WOMAD follows right on from Writers Week and we have been doing here for this combination of events for the past 15 years. It’s alway good. We never know what is going to happen or who we are going to see. Whatever turns up is always good, and with 7 stages, 12 hours day over 4 days, there are over 300 combinations of performances to catch our attention.

I will mention just a few.

5 Angry men, The manic bell ringers, they put on a high energy, entertaining show. Fatoumata Daiwara was excellent, as was Mambali, an aboriginal band from the gulf of Carpentaria. They were really good. Each evening there was a troupe from India throwing coloured dust around. I kept well out-of-the-way of that one, well up wind. I’m sure that breathing in that coloured dust can’t be good for your lungs.

As soon as we are home, it’s time to get stuck into the ‘Clean-up Australia’ Weekend. This  has been organised for the past few years by our neighbour Elizabeth. We get stuck in and drag a couple of ruined tyres from the road side gutters, along with a mass of fast food wrappers and cartons, mostly from MacDonalds. We end up filling a few sacks with rubbish, and that is just from one small section of one road.

Welcome home.

Just Another Day

We share our last meal of stuffed Zucchini flowers. This time with a somewhat asian flavour profile, less cheese and more tofu. Ms. Kang feeds the chickens, we say our goodbyes and deliver her to the train station. There is a train service, more or less direct to the airport. We come home and start to shell todays harvest of hazelnuts. Just another day with so many jobs to do.

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I spend a bit of time weeding and watering in the garden, then harvesting the endless procession of ripening tomatoes. Another batch of passata is on the way. I take the time to grab a handful of bouquet-garni from the garden along the way.

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I finally get some free time to sort out my glaze tests from our recent glaze firing in the solar-fired, electric reduction kiln. They are all quite good, actually very good. These are all glazes made from my local stones, collected around the shire where I live. I’m very pleased with the latest version of my Kangaroo Blue glaze (see earlier post, Kangaroo Blue. 12/12/18) and the Bindook Porphyry pale limpid celadon. Not too bad for a 5 hour solar-powered firing.

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Ms Kang has left the building. We’ll miss her.

From Garden to Glass jars, Preserving our Excess

Our international guest and pottery/environmental living intern, Ms Kang from Korea, is about to leave us. We spend our time in the pottery, garden and kitchen. We put in a big day from early morning through till late night, a 14 hour day. There is a lot to get done at this time of year.

We have glazed our pots and packed the kiln previously, so while we wait for the sun to get up in the sky so that we can start the firing. I get up on the roof and wash the solar panels. We live on a dirt road which is quite dusty in dry weather. We recently had a good rain storm and collected 75mm. (3″) of rain, but then we had 150mm. (6″) of wind and dust, This means that I need to wash the PV panels so that we achieve maximum efficiency. At this time of year, the shadow from the trees doesn’t pass off the last of the panels until 10.00am.

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By 10.00am the sun is up in the sky and we are generating good energy, it’s a good time to switch on the electric kiln. I wait until the PV panels are generating enough power before I start the firing. I like to start about 10-ish and finish by 5-ish, thus making the most of the sun. The kiln is very powerful and can easily fire straight through to Stoneware 1300oC in 5 hours if needed. Once the kiln gets to 1000oC, I start reduction with 2 small pilot burners running at 5 kpa. I can’t set the pressure any lower than this and expect it to be reliable. This takes the kiln through to 1300 in reduction using just 300 grams of gas. I’m still experimenting with this kiln.

If we want to fire longer, or on cloudy days when there isn’t enough direct sunlight, we have the Tesla battery to fill the gap. We can, if needed, fire the kiln and charge the car as well on the same day. On a good sunny day, we can charge both car and Kiln, fill the battery and still sell a little to the grid. On the off days when we don’t fire or drive the car, we sell everything to the grid. We sell our excess at 20 cents per kW/hr. occasionally when it is cloudy for a few days we buy back power from the grid. We chose a 100% green power contract and pay the premium price of 35 cents per kW/hr for the privilege. However, we are connected to the grid by a net meter, so we only have to pay for power if our imports exceeds our exports in any given month. It never does.

Once the kiln is on, It fires itself in semi-automatic mode. I only need to check it occasionally. Then its back into the garden to continue the harvest of more tomatoes, chilis, capsicums and aubergines. We are at peak tomatoes now, as we dealt with the last of the late-season plums last week. They are all safely vacuumed sealed in their jars, in the pantry, waiting for later in the year.

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While I harvest the tomatoes et al, in the vegetable garden, the ladies, Ms’s King & Kang collect hazel nuts and quinces from the orchard. We are all soon very busy in the kitchen, by the time the heat of the day sets in. All the tomatoes need to be washed and sorted. Even though we have set fruit fly traps all around our garden and orchards, we still get some fruit fly stings in the very ripe tomatoes in this late summer season of hot and damp weather. All the tomatoes are cut open, checked for fly strike and then sorted into two separate pans. A big boiler for the good fruit and a small sauce pan for the fly struck fruit. The spoilt tomatoes are all boiled to kill the grubs and then fed to the chickens, with the remaining skins and detritus composted or fed to the worms.

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While I’m cooking, Ms Kang is shelling the days pick of hazelnuts. This batch of tomato passata will be cooked with pepper corns, bay leaves and a bottle of good red wine. It looks great and tastes delightfully sweet and sharp, sort of tangy, with just a little bite and lingering heat from a few chilli peppers in the mix.

The quinces are washed, peeled sliced and then boiled with a little sugar, 300g in the big boiler + a couple of litres of water to cover them. I add a stick of cinnamon, a few cloves and two star anise. After they have softened. I transfer them to baking trays, pouring the sweet boiling liqueur over them and add a little bit of Canadian maple syrup into the mix I give them 45 mins at 180 and this reduces the liquer to a sticky gel and turns the fruit to a lovely red colour. I choose to cook them with a minimum of sugar. If I added more sugar, they would turn a deeper/richer shade of claret red. I love that colour, but don’t like the saturated sweetness.

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We preserve everything in our antique ‘Fowlers’ Preserving jars. We bought this old boiler and a few boxes of glass jars, 2nd hand at a garage sale over 40 years ago and they are still giving good service. We have only had to replace the rubber rings.

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It still surprises me that a basket full of quince fruit can fill the sink when being washed, then fill 2 baking dishes in the cooking and finally be reduced to just 3 jars of concentrated sunlight, colour and flavour after a days work. Two baskets of tomatoes fills two boilers, then makes only 4 jars of passata once it has been reduced on the stove for an few hour.

Such is the business of summer.