Fence Work and Garden Produce

We have spent the past week continuing to work on the new fence.

The fence is now finished the construction phase and we have been getting on with cutting up the dead trees that had to be removed to clear a straight line for the fence.

I had to have a few days off to rest my back and forearms that got a bit over worked.

I estimate that I have now cut and stacked 1200 to 1500 billets of timber. Enough for 2 years firewood, if not more. Of course some of them are only small, down to 50mm dia.

But some are up to 450mm dia. I cut up the whole tree. Nothing wasted.

All the felled trees that were within 50 metres of the house are now cleaned up, cut to stove lengths and stacked near the wood shed, ready for use in the winter.

The other trees that were felled are all still stacked along side the fence line. I may get around to getting out there, right down the back and cutting them up. 

However, experience has taught me that by the time I have used up all these stacked timber billets, All the logs laying on the ground will have been degraded by the white ants.

There are still so many standing dead trees within just a few metres of the gateway through the new fence that I will most likely be choosing to work on those trees.

Each morning we get up early and do a few hours work wheelbarrowing broken bricks down the back to fill in the deep gaps under the fence.

This is to stop animals from shinnying underneath the fence in the lowest spots. We have almost finished this job. Maybe just one more cool morning’s work.

Once all the gaps are filled with brick bats and rubble, I start carting some left over crushed gravel from the pottery site footings, down to the fence line.

This gravel and dirt mix will cover the crushed bricks and level out the surface to make it easier in the future to keep the fence line mowed and clear of re-growth.

After lunch, it’s too hot to work outdoors in the full sun for us oldies. So we retire indoors to work on other projects in the shade.

I’m currently working on welding up a set of 3 gates to complete the fence line securely. Our neighbour on the back fence line saw a full size stag in his yard the other day.

I really need to get this unscripted and unfunded crisis done and dusted as soon as I can, so that I can get back to my real work in the pottery.

In the evenings we make Tomato passata, Plum sauce and Onion jam. These all need to be made and stored away for later use to make the best of our excess produce.

Bottling tomato passata

Plum sauce bottled and cooling.

At this time of year every meal starts to take on a certain ratatouille aspect. Tomatoes, basil, capsicum, zucchini, and squash.

Summer garden Ratatouille with steamed fish and hand picked capers in a white wine reduction.

Garden beetroot, home made onion jam, and 2 cheeses tart.

Desert is freshly picked blueberries baked into a tart. We are picking 3 kgs every few days at this time of year. Some get preserved for later in the year. Some eaten fresh for breakfast, some are used in cooking like this and the rest are given away to neighbors and friends.

It’s a tough life, but we just have to work our way through it.

Sunday, Our Day of Rest :)

It’s Sunday, the day of rest. So I’m taking my rest in the vegetable garden doing a little bit of weeding and planting out some seedlings that I bought yesterday.

I usually prefer to grow nearly everything from seed, often from our own self saved seeds, but when we came home from our little break away down the coast, I found that the lettuce seeds that I had planted a few weeks before had mostly all dried up and shriveled in my absence from lack of water and too many hot dry days.

I gave in and bought a punnet of seedlings. I don’t like to buy seedlings unless there is a very good reason. In this case it is because we will run out of lettuces for our salads in a month or so if we don’t have a follow-on crop coming along. So I planted out the seedlings and sprinkled out a few more seeds alongside to come up in the same bed and take over the spaces as the seedling crop is harvested as sunlight and space allows the the new seeds to flourish in the same spot.

I often do a mixed planting of lettuce and radishes for the same reason, as radishes are such a quick crop, they mature and are removed as the growing lettuces need more space and light.

I also spent an hour plucking out small emerging grass seeds from the leek bed, the carrot bed and the beetroot bed. All these three beds were planted out at the same time about a month or so ago. But the grass seeds germinate so quickly and grow so much faster that if I don’t get down on my hands and knees this weekend and pluck the little buggers out now, with my finger tips, they will out grow and crowd out the vegetables. Pulling them out later, when they are bigger, isn’t an option, pulling them when they are larger and more established with a larger root system will disturb the soil and lift out the tiny, fragile vegetables seedlings in-between them. It’s a job that just has to be done NOW. So it’s done, early on, before the sun gets too hot. I also whipper-snippered the edges and mowed the centre of all the paths. I feel proud of my effort when it’s all done. It’s looking good and loved, well cared for and productive. A great way to begin summer.

We spent a bit of time before lunch picking blue berries and young berries. We will have the blue berries with our yoghurt for breakfast and I make a agreeable fruit tart with the youngberries.

I remove the blind-baking beans along with their crushed baking paper, and fill the pastry casing with the fruit mixture, then 20 mins or so in the oven @ 180oC. See recipe previously published here; <https://tonightmyfingerssmellofgarlic.com/2021/12/02/some-r-r-as-the-kilns-cool/&gt;

We now have our breakfast berries picked and in the fridge, our dinner of zucchinis and squash picked, and now desert is taken care of. Time for a little afternoon nap.

There are still loads of weeds germinating in the paths in-between the rows of veggies, but they can be dealt with using a hoe at a later date. That’s a job for another day.

Tiny basil seeds just germinating.

Small parsley seeds germinating and just showing their first leaves. Sown in-between a few purchased early seedlings.

We have new plantings of Sweet basil seeds, coriander seeds and curly parsley on their way. They all need to be precisely finger tip weeded to allow them to thrive. Just a bit of TLC goes a long way. We all need it to thrive. Even me.

The Birds have eaten all the Mulberries

During the week between the two Open Studio Weekends, I ventured out to check out the mulberries. The crop wasn’t good, but there were quite a few coming on. Possibly ready to pick in a week or so once they ripened up a bit more.

After the last weekend sale, when I found some time to get to the orchard again, I realised that the birds had eaten all the mulberries. ALL THE MULBERRIES!

Recently, we have had quite a good number of wattle birds, Dollar birds, Frier birds and the constant regiment of endemic bower birds

There were just a very few immature pale hard berries left. So no mulberry tarts this year.

Instead, I decided to make a youngberry tart, using last years Youngberries that I preserved and bottled on the 4th of December ‘21.

It’s a lovely tart. It isn’t quite so good as when I use fresh berries, as fresh berries retain a lot more texture and structure to the substance of the tart.

This years berries aren’t ready yet, but the pantry has a few bottles of last years berries that have survived the hungry gap. Principally because we are trying to cut down on our sugar intake.

I don’t add any sugar to the preserved youngberries. They are sweet enough, and every little bit of sugar adds up. But they are wonderful, so rich, so lively with that special mix of acid and sweetness. I love them. They are so special, really unique to this time of year. I really look forward to their season. They follow the mulberries and preempt the cherries.

I couldn’t net the mulberries, the tree is too old and too big, so they are all gone, but I can net the youngberries, as they grow on canes at ground level. 

I blind-bake the pastry first to cook it through and then add the fruit, and bake it again to set the fruit.

As soon as we could find the time, we were out in the garden and netted the youngberries. Safe for this season now.

The chickens come out to see the new Tesla Battery. Perhaps they want to know what it is like to be a battery hen? They don’t appear to be very impressed. Battery hens! What’s all the fuss about?

In the garden, we have picked the last globe artichokes. They are a bit past ‘best’, so need to be cut in half and have the ‘choke’ taken out.

I cut them and trim them down to the essential core of flavour and drop them in lemon juice acidulated water, eventually to make a pasta sauce out of them with our home-made tomato passata sauce from last summer and some little zucchinis and broad beans from the spring garden.

I stuff the zucchini flowers with broad beans, olives, cheese and some chopped gherkins. Not my filling of choice, but I am committed to use what we have in the garden and live with the seasons. We have a lot of broad beans at the moment, and

the last of the winters cauliflowers.

We eat the cauliflower raw with just a little bit of mayonnaise. It makes a lovely entrée.

Do Us a Fava

This time last year I wrote ‘Give Peas a Chance’. This spring it’s all about broad beans.

Peas and beans are the same family of plants, legumiosae.

Broad beans are also called Fava beans and have a long history of cultivation. My ‘Oxford book of food plants’ tells me that it is one of the most ancient of all cultivated vegetables, and traces have been found among Iron age relics. Fava beans have been found in Egyptian tombs, so we have been eating them for a long time.

Ezekiel mentions them in the Old Testament (Ezekiel 4:9) as Pythagoras (570BC) does also, he hated them. Pliny the Elder also talks about them saying that they are as good for the soil as manure. One of the earliest realisations of nitrogen fixing properties of legumes? He recommended ploughing them back in as a green manure crop.

Eating raw fava beans can be highly toxic to some individuals – even fatal! About 30 million people world wide suffer from a disease called Favism. They suffer a specific genetic trait where they are deficient in a gene that produces an enzyme called D6PD. Just inhaling the pollen without actually eating the raw beans, cause the rupturing of red blood cells. However cooking them neutralises the G6PD enzyme and other toxins that are present in the raw beans.

Thousands of years of careful plant selection by farmers have reduced the levels of the more harmful toxins, so todays crops are less toxic. I love eating them raw out in the garden as I work, just as I can’t resist shelling a few peas while im walking past them.

Apparently, there is a genetic recessive disorder known as ‘Glucose-6-Phosphate Dehydronase Deficiency’ that causes favism, and it is the result of an evolutionary development in some humans for resistance to some types of malaria. Which may be why it is most commonly prevalent in people from countries where this disease is endemic?

Maybe Pythagorus suffered from this disorder, such was his distaste for them. There is an account of Pythagoras being pursued by his enemies, who were out to kill him. He had the chance to run through a crop of broad beans to escape, but instead decided to turn and face his attackers and was slain. Bad bean!

Maybe his attackers were the first fauvists?  🙂

I love to eat them raw straight from the pod with a glass of chilled dry white wine while I prepare dinner. The season is so short that I can’t help getting stuck in and enjoying every last little bit of them while they last. This year I planted two types, ‘Windsor short pod’ and ‘Early long pod’. The flavour doesn’t vary much. I try and plant at least two different varieties of vegetables each season just in case one of them isn’t suited the vagaries and challenges of the climate.Who can tell if we are about to get huge deluges of rain or a hotter, dryer spring 4 months in advance? Right at the moment I’ve planted out 6 different varieties of tomatoes for the same reason. Some will do better than others. I’m just maximising my chances of getting some sort of crop in return for all my efforts.

Tonight we had tiny 3rd pick shoots of broccoli, sauteed in a little olive oil with ginger and garlic, served with a dash of fish sauce and lemon juice, along with pan fried flat head fish fillets dusted in a little semolina to crisp up the skin. But the star of the meal for me were the broad beans quickly stir fried just until they were warmed through, but not really cooked. If the skin starts to break open, then they are over cooked. I dress them with a pinch of our dried, powdered chilli. A tbsn full of last seasons dried sweet basil and a grind of black pepper. This is my absolute favourite way to eat them – after raw in the garden or course. I used to cook them in butter, but with my advancing years and rising cholesterol levels, these days I use EV olive oil.

Fish and two veg, quick and simple, couldn’t be better.

4 wood kiln firings in 4 weeks

We have been hard at it in the pottery preparing for the Arts Trail – Open Studios and the TACA Open Studios weekends coming up very soon. It starts next weekend.
We have just managed to squeeze in one last wood kiln firing. But this will be the last for some time. Mainly because I’ve just about run out of dry glazed pots, but also, because from now on the weather will be getting too hot for safe wood firing over the summer.

This firing seemed to go very well, just 11 1/2 hours to cone 10 down, not quite so hot on the top back shelf with cone 8 over, but cone 10 just starting to bend. Probably cone 9, close enough.
I changed to pack again this firing just see if I can get a better understanding of how this kiln responds to subtle changes of setting. Life is endless learning.

I got a very good control of the ember level with this firing. I’m pleased about that. We have been getting rather too much ember build-up towards the end of the firing in the last few firings, so I opted to open all the mouse holes right from the start. I can’t remember ever doing this before, but it was just right and worked well, kept everything under control. I’m a slow learner, but I get there in the end.
I recon that this wood firing lark is quite good fun. I’ll probably have another go at it 🙂
We’ll see how it has turned out in a couple of days.

We have also lifted the 2nd planting of garlic. This bed of garlic was planted at the same time as the previous batch that had split into individual cloves. This variety has taken a few weeks longer to mature and has stayed as complete bulbs. This bed of garlic has delivered around 50 knobs. The last bed lifted out 45 split knobs. We still have one more double sized bed to go, maybe in a few more weeks? It may have up to 100 plants, but we’ll have to see what matures and lifts and dries successfully. Not all our garlic plants mature to a full supermarket size. We get quite a few small knobs that are a bit tedious to peel, but the flavour is still all there.
We can get through up to 300 knobs of various sizes of garlic in a full year, and that isn’t always quite enough to see us through till next years harvest. This year we ran out of our own home grown organic garlic about a month ago and had to buy 4 or 5 knobs to get us through to a time when we could start to ‘snaffle’ or ‘steal’ a few very early plants from the edges of the first bed.
I love fresh, wet, early, fragrant garlic. I have to have a couple of cloves sliced on my homemade rye bread, with a twist of fresh ground black pepper and a tiny sprinkle of salt. Tonight it’s just not my fingers that smell of garlic. Keep your distance!

The first lifted crop is now all dried, plaited and hung in the kitchen ready for use.

Mustard Pickles

Because there has been absolutely nothing worth watching on the idiot box for the past week. It was like ground hog day. So I have spent the evenings cooking.I have been using our vegetable excess to make a batch of mustard pickles. I make pickles like this almost every year to use up our excess and preserve it for later.

To preserve the vegetable mix, I first need to make up a pickling vinegar using 1 litre of cider vinegar with 13g of sliced of ginger, 13g of salt, the tip of a tsp of cayenne popper, 3 tspns of whole cloves, 3 tsps of pickling spices, 13g of whole pepper corns, and 1 tsp of mustard seeds. I also add 1/3 cup of sugar.

I boil this for 15 minutes to bring out and meld all of the flavours, then sieve out the spices and keep on ‘mijoteur’, at a very low simmer.

While this is boiling, make up a paste of turmeric powder, mustard powder, etc.

I use half a cup of flour, 2 tsp of powdered mustard, I tablespoon of turmeric powder, tip of a tsp of cayenne pepper, 1 tsp of mustard seed and 1 tsp of curry powder.

I add in some of the pickling vinegar slowly while stirring, bit by bit, until I can work up a smooth paste. Then I mix them both together and bring the mix to the boil for a few minutes.

Drop in the vegetables and stir well to cover them all in spiced vinegar. Keep at a low simmer for 5 mins to amalgamate the flavour into the vegetable pieces and until it thickens.

Spoon into sterile glass jars, and seal. Over the next 10 to 15 minutes, you will hear the metal lids ‘pop’ as the mix cools down and vacuum seals the jars.

Great with cold meats, strong cheddar cheese or just as a side pickle.

You can start to eat it straight away. I do. But it will also keep for a couple of years if you have sterilised the jars properly. 

However mine never gets a chance to wait that long. It’s pretty yummy.

Wood fired baking dishes and duck egg soufflé

This week I have been making baking dishes in 3 different sizes and latté cups for the wood firing kiln. All this is leading up to the Australian Ceramics Assn Open Studios weekend, which also coincides with the Southern Highlands Arts Trail Open Studios weekends, so pencil in the first two weekends of November 5th, 6th and the 12th, 13th. We will be open for visitors on both days of both weekends.

If you can’t make it on any of those 4 days, just give us a call or email us and we can arrange to be open by appointment any time up until Xmas and over the summer.

Janine packed and fired the little portable wood fired kiln with some of her work a couple of days ago. It was the first time that we have fired this portable wood kiln since the fire. This kiln was burnt in the fire, but survived only because I fabricated it out of good quality Stainless steel sheeting. Spot welded together into a monocoque frame. We had to replace a few broken anchors and fit new wheels, find the stainless steel firebox grate, then build a pyrometer system from a broken thermocouple, that I cut the end off, shortened back to clean metal and re-welded back together. This kiln has only 100mm thick walls, so a short thermocouple is ideal.  It was a first experimental firing to test out new settings, kiln shelfs, T/C, glazes and timber fuel. It was only partially successful, but good for a first firing, so many ‘firsts’ in combination. We will fire it again next week to build on what we have learnt.  4 1/2 hours to stoneware in reduction, cone 9, she got a little nice flashing on the exposed clay and nice glaze melt on her ash glaze and pumice glazes. Next time we will try a slightly longer firing, maybe 5 or 5 1/2 hours?

Because she was dedicated to the kiln all day, first packing, then collecting the wood and finally firing, I made her lunch, delivered to the kiln. Home grown smashed avocado on home made rye bread toast. We already own our home, so can afford to eat such luxuries. I put sliced tomato and home made mustard pickles on some and served it with a side salad of home grown lettuce leaves. The other half of the avocado I filled with lemon juice and sprinkling of ground black pepper and served it as an entrée, with a tea spoon for scooping it out.

I got no complaints.

We have finished picking all the red cabbages, both the first large cabbage, and then the 2 or 3 heads of secondary cabbages that follow. Now the plants are going to seed, so I don’t want to waste the mini red broccoli-like flower heads. They are picked, washed, blanched in boiling water for 2 mins, then pan fried in sesame oil, with slices of garlic and ginger and served with a little freshly ground black pepper and a squeeze of lemon.

This was just a side dish to Janine’s main event – a duck egg soufflé. 6 duck eggs couldn’t be put to a better use.

Served in one of my wood fired baking dishes. A perfect combination. Thanks to our garden, eat well. We live on a low income by choice, but we enjoy a rich life due to our hard work and creative endeavours.

Young People Today!

I had to go to the service station yesterday. 

I needed to put some more petrol in my car. 

Because I only go to the petrol station once every 3 or 4 months to put a small amount of petrol in the plug-in electric hybrid car. I always forget where the switch is, to open the petrol cap cover.

In our old petrol powered car, I used to go the garage and get petrol almost every week, so I knew where the lever was. It was on the floor next to the drivers seat.

Now, because this car is so different — all electric everything. I have to remember to look for the special button to do the job.

Previously, I was only putting $20 in to last 3 months, but with the recent outbreak of war in Ukraine, the petrol company has been forced into ‘Putin’ the price up. 

I put $30 in this time. I’ll see how long it lasts. This is only the 3rd time I’ve been to the petrol station this year. It remains a quaint and unusual event for me.

This electric car is beautiful to drive. So silent, but with heaps of torque. All you hear is some faint tyre noise, depending on the road surface. On the newer, smooth road surfaces, it is silent.

I’m pleased to be able to drive home and plug it in to the solar panels for a re-charge. If the sun isn’t shining, we still plug it in, and charge it off our Tesla battery. In this way we can use yesterdays stored-up sunshine.

I’m very pleased to say that even during winter, with shorter days and a lot of rain so far this year, we are still over 95% self powered. We can run our house, charge our car, plus run the pottery and even fire the small electric kiln on our 6 kW of solar PV. 

So far this year, we have paid just $75 for electricity from the grid, and this was our first power bill in 16 years since we installed the first 3 kW of PV panels. This bill was largely due to the fact that the feed-in tariff has been reduced to just 7 cents per kW/hr this year, while the cost of green electricity has increased. The feed-in tariff won’t be going up any time soon, if ever. So we have to cut our cloth accordingly. Up until recently, we were getting 20 cents per kW/hr for our electricity, and getting the best part of $1,000 per year in rebates.

However, because I have been doing a lot of regular firings in our electric kiln, we have therefore used a lot more electricity than we normally would. This is becauseI have been working on my Show at the Sturt Gallery. It has taken a lot of research and testing to get this new body of work completed. I haven’t made pots like this before. I haven’t decorated my work with brushwork like this before, I haven’t used most of these clay bodies before and I haven’t fired this wood kiln before. Almost everything is new and therefore un-tried. It was a lot of work to get it all together in time, involving a massive amount of glaze and body testing and test firings. Hence the large power bill. So this is why it is so rewarding to realise that we were able to cover over 95% of it with our own self-generated power.

All this testing also has another more important purpose. I need to make the specially commissioned work as my part of The Willoughby Bequest for The PowerHouse Museum. My original idea all went up in the flames, so I have had to find a new approach, and this new work is my way into that place.

The show at Sturt gallery has been well received. It’s been open for a week now and they have sold 17 out of the 23 pieces. So that is a very good result and I’m very happy with that. I’m very happy with the work and I think that it stands up well. It expresses both my angst and trauma, but also the terrible beauty and energy of intense fire.

We have passed the shortest day, but the weather is still getting colder, as it does. There always seems to be a bit of a lag from the shortest day to the depth of winter. The reverse is also true for the longest day and the hottest weather. So it is now time to do the winter pruning of all the grape vines and deciduous fruit trees.

This was always such a big job in the past with all our stone fruit trees being over 40 years old. They had grown quite massive. Now, post fire, and all new dwarf fruit trees planted in the new orchard, it will not be such a big job, as the trees are still quite small and should remain that way. No more ladder work for pruning.

The first, earliest, peach tree has suddenly broken into flower. This is a strong reminder that I need to get on with it, stop lazing around, and get all that pruning done.

All this cold weather, frosty nights and chilly mornings has inclined me to make a few curries. They are a good comfort food, warming and filling, without being too bad for you. Veggie curries are great, I have been trying to use mostly what we have growing in the garden, which at this time of year must include broccoli, cabbage and even a few Brussel sprouts. I even managed to used most of our own spices.

This Asian influenced meal had the last 9 small tomatoes from the garden, our garlic, chilli, lime leaves, curry leaves, coriander and the last two small capsicums. All from the garden. I had bought a few pieces of fresh ginger, galangal and turmeric from the green grocer because we cant grow these plants in our garden here, even in summer. We had 3 curries over the week. Each one was slightly different, from Thai to Indian. Curry seems to be more warming than other meals.

Maybe it’s all that chilli?

On Sunday I was up before dawn and drove up to the North side of Sydney, a few hours drive away. Up to Oxford Falls. A place where I used to live. I grew up and went to school there. I used to live at number 41 Oxford Falls Road. This time I went to the far opposite end of that long road to collect some old and rusted galvanised iron roofing so that I can rebuild my wood fired kiln’s wood shed and finally create a new and hopefully permanent home for the rebuilt big hydraulic wood splitter.

It was a really lovely sky at dawn with the horizon turning from grey to pink for those precious few minutes. 

I had been given a tin roof off an old chicken farm shed. I was told about it a couple of years ago, when we were casting about looking for old re-cycled roofing iron to use as cladding on our new pottery shed. I wanted to use all old, grey, weathered and slightly rusty re-cycled gal sheeting on this new building to make it look more in keeping with all the other old buildings on our site. Our home is the Old School building from 1893 and we also have the old railway station built in 1881. I managed to save both of these buildings from the fire. We wanted to keep the heritage look and feel of the place and a brand new shiny corrugated iron pottery shed would stand out like dogs balls, I managed to find just enough old, weathered roofing to complete the job while I was still waiting for the roof to be taken off the Chicken shed in Oxford Falls.

That roof was finally replaced this year. Too late for me to use in the new pottery, but just in time for me to use to re-build the dedicated wood shed for all the large billets of timber that are required to be split, stacked and dried for use in the wood fired kiln. I’m quite fond of the old heritage buildings and their ‘settled-into-the-environment’ look, so it is appropriate for me to build the new wood shed out of old and slightly rusted stuff.

When I drove into Oxford Falls Road, the road I grew up on, but where I left to find my own way in life in 1972. I found some old memories flooding back. I remembered that we used to walk down the road a few miles to get to the creek at the bottom of the hill and go yabbying. A yabby is a fresh water crayfish. This time, instead of turning to go up the hill to where my parents old house was. I turned the opposite way and crossed over the ford just above the falls and went West.

I hadn’t been here since I was in my teens and used to drive the family truck down here with my grand father, to collect chicken manure from his friends egg farm. My Granddad was a very committed organic gardener, health food devotee, and a strict vegetarian. He brought my mother up that way, and she me. In fact, my grand parents lived behind our house. The two houses back to back, on different streets but with a common back yard joining them. This back yard was huge, as land sizes were very generous in those post (WW II), war days. That shared back yard was dedicated in the most part to a huge vegetable garden and a few fruit trees. And, of course two massive compost heaps.

It was a regular chore to go with granddad and shovel chicken manure from the deep litter floor of the chook sheds when there was a change over of birds and the various sheds were empty for a short while. We had to take it in turns either holding the bag open or digging the manure and wood shaving mixture into the hessian bags, then lugging them out and up onto the truck. I shared this job with my older brother for a few years until he eventually left home and I was old enough the get my drivers licence and took over the driving. Old man Rigby, who owned the farm and my granddad were great friends. They were about the same age and shared the same interest in ‘health foods’, as they were called back then. Old Mr Rigby baked his own bread. As did my grand mother and she taught my mum. She then taught me. I still make most of our bread, as well as grow my own organic vegetables. Family traditions are passed down in this way. Give me the boy till he is 7!

Well, you can image my surprise, when I turned into the driveway of the site to collect the old roofing iron to find that it all seemed strangely familiar. I recognised the old shed with the hand split stone walls. It all came flooding back. I’ve been here before. Almost everything is different now, but the old shed is the same, just more dilapidated, but I remember that Old Mr Rigby lived in there. The first room served as his kitchen and his office, it’s now the pottery studio. The remaining bigger part of the old shed was his machinery shed. It’s now got one of my wood  fired kiln designs in there. Who could possibly imagine that !

I remember sitting in that room waiting while Mr Rigby and my Grand Father chatted on about compost and other organic gardening stuff. I was bored. I wanted to get going, so that I could go to the beach. I didn’t take sufficient interest in their healthy organic gardening and wholemeal bread baking chat. My Granddad was probably thinking…

Young People today!

Turning 70 and Turning Pots

I turned 70 last week. So, on the spur of the moment, I decided to invite all the local creatives from around the village, plus Len and Warren and their partners, who have been so incredibly helpful and supportive over the past two and bit years since the fire.

I was born on the cusp of Pisces and Aries. Not that I hold any interest in, or find any significance in this sort of thing, but it gave me a handle to organise a menu focussed around fish and goat.

I made an amuse of slow braised onion jam, served on narrow flaky pastry fingers, with a single anchovy laid across the top. That was a pretty nice start. I got this recipe from Simon Hopkinson and have had a couple of goes at it. I like his gentle approach to cooking. He has written two books, ‘How to cook roast chicken’ and ‘The good cook’. I liked them both and have tried recipes from both of them at various times.

I had filleted a whole snapper the night before for our dinner, so had the fish frame to make stock with. I also bought a salmon head at the fish markets while I was buying all the seafood for the bouillabaisse. These two fish heads and frame made a great start for the stock.

I started the stock with a bouquet garni of fresh garden herbs and onions fried in olive oil. Added the fish heads along with carrots picked freshly from the garden, some very young celery stalks, capsicums and parsley.

As we have a lot of capsicums at the moment, I roasted the excess over the open flame on the cook top, sweated then out in a bag for an hour and when cooled, I pickled them in a little oil and vinegar. Preserved for later.

The fish head stock was cooked out the night before and when cooled, passed through a sieve to make the clear stock for the bouillabaisse style fish soup. This was to be the first course. A bouillabaisse for the Pisces component of the meal. Just before the party. I added the diced octopus, and boiled it for half an hour to make sure that it was tender, then completed the soup with the fish fillets, prawns and mussels in that order, just before serving. 

No one complained and some even returned for a second helping. 

The main course was the baked, boned and butterflied leg of chevon to represent Aries. I had put it on earlier in the day for a slow roast and had it ready for the main course.

I made two versions of this course. One baked with home grown and preserved quinces in a light sugar syrup with sweet aromatic spices like star anise, cloves, and cinnamon.

The other baked with wine to stop it drying out with a rub of aromatic savoury herbs, fried onions and garlic.

The big glazing room in the pottery was converted into our dining room for the night and comfortably seated the 12 of us. 

We didn’t finish till 1 am. so it must have been a good night.

The rest of the week was spent turning porcelain bowls in the pottery and continuing the work of paving along the back of the pottery.

I dug up a line of pavers that we had already laid behind the kiln chimney. I waited until all the pavers were laid, so that I would have all the levels correct and the fall just right.

I removed one single line of tiles, dug down into the gravel substrate and positioned a cheap plastic drainage gutter in the space and then cemented it in. When we have another rain event of biblical intensity, I want the water to flow away from the kiln and be easily removed instead of soaking in.

Now that I almost have a wood fired kiln built, it’s time for me to re-start the stalled research I was doing just before the Black Summer Fires interrupted my work. I have started to make the early tests for my commitment to the PowerHouse Willoughby Bequest. I have been processing some new porcelain bodies from Australian Halloysite, I ball milled them a couple of months ago to allow a bit of time for them to ‘age’. Two months is next to nothing in the broad scheme of things when it comes to single stone porcelains, but every little bit helps. I have also been working with sericite.

Both started off badly!

The halloysite cracked almost instantly as it stiffened up. It is as plastic as wet goats cheese ricotta. Actually, the cheese is much better!

It has so little plasticity that the act of cutting it through with a wire tears it apart underneath. I’ve been working with my local Mittagong halloysite/mica porcelain for almost 20 years now, and its been a difficult relationship. When I do get the pieces off the wheel successfully,  I find that they have a desire to warp in the early stage of the firing. Nothing worthwhile ever comes easily. At least not to me anyway. However, I persist, because when I do get a lovely pot out of the kiln successfully, it is really uplifting and rewarding.

I have also started off badly with the sericite pieces. Any single stone porcelain with such a wide, flat base is going to be problematic, but 100% loss was a bit much as a starter!

I put it down to being out of practice and being distracted, with so much else on my plate. I pugged up this first batch of pots, re-worked the clay and threw it again the next day. The second batch, I cut off with a very fine wire and dried very slowly in the damp cupboard for two weeks. Cutting them off the batt again every 2 or 3 days, to allow them to separate from the base and shrink evenly without too much stress. This has worked. I am amazed how easily this strange stuff sticks itself back together again so easily. I have found that if I use a thicker twisted wire, they stay separated, but almost all of them crack against the line of the cut.

I have tried cutting straight across while the wheel is stationary, and alternatively, cutting off while the wheel is still turning. It has made no difference. They both cracked equally.

I had virtually no trouble with the smaller, narrow footed pieces. and the larger narrow footed bowls.

Now to get them fired successfully…

Flashing, Fowlers and Food preserving

This week I finished the chimney and flashed it into the tin roof.  Then took it up 5 more courses clear of the roof. That gives me 3.5 metres of chimney. Just the right amount of chimney volume to create a good draught for the firebox of this small kiln.

I still need to build a flame tube, smoke combustor and spark arrestor, for the top of the chimney.

That will need to be fabricated out of stainless steel and lined in refractory blanket.

The kiln is designed to be a very clean, low smoke emission kiln, but the addition of the flame tube will make it even more so.

We have a glut of tomatoes this last week. The picking got ahead of our ability to consume them, so it was time to make up another big batch of ripe tomato passata.

Starting with onions and garlic, fried in good Australian EV olive oil.

9  litres of tomatoes with the addition of a few capsicums, chillies and basil from the garden then a few whole pepper corns.

Boiled together and then all passed through the mouli sieve and subsequently reduced down to just 5 litres of concentrated garden goodness. I filled 7 x 3/4 litre bottles.

That’ll come in handy over the coming winter months.

I also made a big batch of preserved quinces. Quince has to be my favourite fruit. Coming later in the summer season as they do, after all the thrills of the first peach and first strawberry, the first youngberry etc. They really stand out as the most fragrant and delicious fruit if you give them a bit of time and effort. By them selves, they are not really very edible in the natural raw state, but once cooked with a little sugar and a few spices, they can really shine. I love it when they turn that red/orange colour. The fragrance pervades the whole kitchen and into the rest of the house. Any left over juice is bottled and kept in the fridge as a cordial to be added to water as a summer thirst quencher.

I have made 3 batches so far. I vacuum seal them in Fowlers “Vacola” jars. Every country had their own proprietary company that made food preserving systems in the past.

Our very own version was founded in 1915 and is still going.

Janine and bought all our ‘kit’ of glass jars, metal lids and rubber rings along with the metal boiler from a garage sale near Dural in 1975, where we lived at the time. We have since been given extra jars and another boiler from friends who no longer use them. We now have more bits and pieces than we can ever use. Every few years, we have to buy another packet of rubber rings. They are washable and re-useable, but eventually wear out and don’t seal properly.

This smaller size boiler takes 7 x No3 jars (3” or 75mm. dia) in one go and has served us well for the past 47 years and still has plenty of life left in it. It’ll see us out. 

I assume from the label that it was made in 1969? I don’t know how to read the code. S69/8093. 1969 would probably fit the time line, and they were still numbering them individually.

A time when we still made things here in Australia and those things were made to last!

I recently found this very old Fowlers sterilizer at the local markets for $20. Regrettably it doesn’t have a lid, but it is made from pure copper, so it is worth fixing up. This one is from the first series production. Possibly from 1920’s? This is ever so slightly smaller than the current models, so the current lids don’t fit. I will just have to make one. I have a small sheet of copper off-cut, so I’ll see what I can do when I get some spare time?.

I have never seen another copper boiler like this one. all the old models that I have seen were all galvanised versions. I’m assuming that this one is a very early model. DeLuxe 3080

We were recently given a larger size model from some lovely friends that have stopped preserving. It is a more recent model and has a plastic lid – modern cost cutting in manufacturing?

Model D2 78. There is no serial number issued any more. Possibly from 1978? So by 1978, they had stopped numbering them individually?

I’m really glad that Fowlers are still in business, as although we don’t preserve a lot of food, we still use their system a few times every year in the late summer to can our excess.

It’s so nostalgically old fashioned, but ever so practical. The most important part for me is not the preservation of our excess food from the garden. That is of course important, but there are other methods that we also use. What is so important is that once the energy is applied to the food to sterilize it and vacuum seal it during cooling. It is preserved for many years with absolutely no more energy required to ‘keep’ it. So different from freezing food, where there is a constant need to apply energy to preserve it. 

We only have an ordinary sized, low energy, fridge with a very small freezer compartment on top, so we can’t use it for very much. I keep the freezer space for things like our ‘pesto’-like basil pulp in olive oil, that are not cooked, so are best frozen.

We have been very careful in our selection of appliances over our lifetime to only buy the lowest energy consuming appliances. This fridge uses less than 1kW/hr per day. It’s our biggest energy use in the house. In this way, choosing very low energy hungry appliances, and not too many of them, we can run our house off one and half kW/hrs of solar generated electricity per day. I think that this is an achievement. As the average 2 person household in Australia uses around 17 kW/hrs per day. We are more efficient by a factor of 10!

I should also mention that this figure of 1.6kW/hr per day average, also includes the solar charging of our electric car as well.