Making a Crust

I was up very early this morning to put the bread on. I like to get it on early, so it can go in the oven during breakfast and be out ready for lunch.Everybody who makes bread has their own way or technique. We have been making bread for the past 45 years. My mother taught me how to make bread and she taught me what she knew, as she used to bake her own bread for us when we were kids.
I grew up on home made crumbly, stoneground wholemeal flat loaves. I have never been really happy with the results of our own loaves, there was always so much room for improvement. I’m always interested in learning from others how they make bread. Some years ago, I was told by a fellow teacher at an Art School where I was working part time that his wife made really nice bread, she had been a profession baker. He told that the best results came from baking the bread in a closed environment to get a good crust.
He told me that his wife used a cast iron camp oven to bake in. I didn’t own such an item, but googled it and they cost upwards of $100 at the time. That was way beyond my discretional expenditure budget so let it slip. 
Janine and I have owned a bread making machine for 20 years. Actually, we have worn one out and are now onto our 2nd one. They save a lot of time, but we don’t like the square loaves with the hole in the bottom, so we decided long ago to use the machine to only make the dough, which it does very well.

I like rye bread, but Janine finds it too heavy, so we compromise and I make a 50/50 mixed loaf of rye and wheat flour. The bread machine, or should I say the dough machine takes 1 1/2 hours to prepare the dough, which is OK for us. We can put it on and go out to work, then return to take the dough out and bake it our selves in our own tray in the home oven. Sometimes we make a platted loaf, other times we make buns or rolls, all free form just as my Mum did.


My son made excellent bread in his restaurant. from sour dough that they developed there over the years. They even went to the trouble of importing a special variety of wheat directly from the farmer in western NSW and getting it specially milled one tonne at a time for the restaurant. It was worth the effort. The bread was excellent. I even stopped baking bread when I could call in and pick up a loaf of yesterdays bread. A time that I believe caught the bread at its best. He made the dough in the evening after service, let it prove over night and baked it in the now cooling wood fired oven first thing in the morning, before stoking up the oven for the days service. That all ended when the restaurant closed due to Covid.
My grandfather told me that the best bread was proved over night, a slow fermentation. He also told me that in commercial bakeries they blow steam into the oven to help create a better, crispier crust. I don’t know if this is true, but I believed my grandfather, but couldn’t ever figure out how I might achieve that.
I spoke to another bread maker who we stayed with in Wales, He made fantastic bread at home. He even sold his bread locally to his various friends and neighbours. David made a sour dough in a rather fluid form, a very stiff liquid.  David made a bread with loads of seeds in it. I loved it and we even asked him to bake extra loaves for us when we left to take with us.
I’m really lazy about things that aren’t absolutely essential to my daily routine. I can buy a good rye bread in Bowral from the artisan bread shop, but I don’t always go to Bowral, and I won’t drive that far and back just for bread. That would be a crime against society in the form of wasted energy. So I have developed a system that suits me, my energy levels and my available time. We make our dough in the machine early in the morning, then bake it in the oven in a metal pot. I first experimented using a metal casserole, but instead of the usual loaf, I got a wide flat round sort of facaccia loaf. A little bit like the flat loaves that my mother baked. What I did learn from this experiment was that baking in a cassarole gives a better crust.



What I needed was a smaller diameter metal pot, so when I saw that a certain supermarket that has a garage sale down the centre isle, had a special on cast iron camp ovens. Under $20 if I remember correctly. Using this camp oven, I could bake a tighter, smaller, round loaf with a good crust.I recently visited one of my ex-students who I taught at the National Arts School in the late 70’s. He is long retired from making pottery, but still had some pottery gear that he hadn’t had the heart to get rid of, even though he hadn’t used it for years. He called me after the fire to ask if I wanted it. I did and we visited him recently to pick it up, as we are now in a position to accept bits of useful equipment. We actually have a shed to put it in now.
Tony told me how he made bread. He does an over night ferment and then bakes in a cast iron lidded pot. His bread was very good. He advised me to take the lid off half way through the baking to let the crust become a little bit caramelised and crispy – even a little bit burnt. The initial baking time with the lid on steams the crust a little bit and sets up the crust, then the 2nd half of the baking with the lid off gives a nice brown crisp crust. It does work. Or at least it works for me in our oven with our Aldi pot. I don’t know anything about the technology of fermenting flour and yeast, or even of baking. I haven’t studied it. What I’ve learnt about making home made bread, I was taught by my mother, then augmented by our own experiments and what i learnt from others. It’s all a bit hit and miss experiments. Mostly misses. But this seems to work best for us.



Early this morning while I was preparing the dough machine. I noticed that there was a really good red sky, warning me about something?

I wonder what.

Autumn in the garden

Janine and I have just had our first Covid jab and it has knocked us around a bit. Headache and achy bones, a few cramps, not sleeping well. I’m still working, but going slowly and had to have a rest after lunch.

Although we are working full time as builders, trying to rebuild our ceramic workshop after the catastrophic fires, we have still managed to keep a bit of spare time for the garden, as it is our chief source of food. It’s late autumn and the trees in the orchard are loosing their leaves. The cherries start first in early autumn, as they are the first to bud and sprout leaves in the spring, they are the first to go dormant.

In late march their leaves were starting to turn colour as the tree slowly withdrew its chlorophyll from the the leaves, this is converted to energy and stored in the sap to support the new growth in the next season. not much is wasted, just recycled and reused.

By April, most of the leaves are gone from the earliest varieties.

now, in May they are all bare.

The vegetables that we are using in our meals now are mostly all the brassicas.

The spinach is growing very well, so we are having a few spinach pies.

I like to mix in at least 2 different cheeses, one of which is a blue cheese to give the pie a little piquancy.

We have also been having a bit of our own home made junk food with a high GM like pizza and pasta as comfort food during this stressful busy time.

Janine has been making puddings for desert. Often a baked fruit sponge pudding using our own bottled fruit from our summer garden.

Sometimes served with Janine’s home made ice-cream. Yum!

Easter is a Pagan Ritual of fertility

Given that this long weekend is the Northern Hemisphere’s Pagan ritual of fertility. We decided to have a few days off from the relentless building jobs and spend a bit of time in the garden to try and resurrect it from the dilapidated state that it has slowly fallen into, we need to restore some of its fertility. We have been so busy building every day that the garden has been a bit forgotten. Luckily Janine has been going in there every day to pick our dinner from the encroaching weeds, and doing a bit of maintenance at the same time. Otherwise it would all be so totally over grown that there would be little to eat. Thank you Janine!
I started by spending a couple of hours fossicking through the tomato patches, filtering out all those tiny little last ditch efforts of mini tomatoes. The effort paid off and I collected about 7 kilos of the little gems. They will keep us in salads for the next week or so. I made all the sub-prime ones into a tomato passata sauce.




There were just so many of the little buggers. I stated off with onion and garlic in good olive oil, boiled down to a pulp.

Ten added sweet basil and simmered again for a little while. Finally passing the whole lot through the moulii sieve, then reducing the liquid down to half its volume and bottling it.

Janine also made some lilly pilli jelly at the same time.

The lilly pilli tree is loaded again this year. The rain has done it good. We pick all the low hanging fruit and even the not so low hanging fruit. I use the 8 foot step ladder to collect what I can safely reach. a couple of baskets full.This will ad to our breakfast toast options for a few more months.
After I picked most of the last tomatoes off the early plantings. They have done well for the past 7 months. I then spend a bit of time pulling out all the old vines and then weeding the patch. 

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I also clean up the long row of garden that had all the summer veg. More tomatoes, Capsicum, egg plants, cucumber, chillies and pumpkins.Out they go and I dig over the bed ready for some winter veg.

In the new cleared beds I plant loads of garlic, about 400 cloves. I like to try and grow all of my garlic  for the year if I can. This is a good start. I should have got them in a month ago. But this will have to do. I can’t can’t do everything exactly as it should be. There just isn’t enough time. I may put in another 100 cloves later, if I can find the time. If half of them do well , we’ll be OK for garlic for another year.
While I was at it, I also planted out some lettuce seedlings and lettuce seeds as well as some radishes and rocket.

In the evenings I made bread, a flat focaccia loaf from rye flour and a few bread rolls for lunches.

They didn’t last long.While I was doing all of this Janine was harvesting out potato negra spuds.

She called out to me. She was cock sure that she had found something interesting, I pricked up my ears!

You can’t beat a good root crop!
This was our long weekend. All we have to do now is to think of some sort of pagan ritual involving a potato and a knob of butter.


A well constructed arch is a beautiful thing

When the weekend comes around, we spend time playing catch-up. There are so many jobs that don’t get proper attention during the week, just a cursory glance. I get stuck in and pick tomatoes, Zucchinis, pumpkins, etc.

Janine has been doing all the garden harvesting during the week while I’m flat out being builders labourer to our wonderful, sensitive and highly skilled, couple of brick layers.

Saturday is the time for washing, sorting and chopping all the sub-prime tomatoes. The best ones are put aside for the weeks lunch time salads. All the rest are chopped up and boiled down into passata, starting with frying brown onions in good olive oil, then adding a knob of peeled and chopped garlic. This batch, I’m adding lots of capsicums and chilli, as well as the usual bay leaves, a sprig of thyme, some sage leaves, and loads of sweet basil. The sweet basil is trying to go to seed just now, so I have to continuously pay attention to pick off the flowering heads, with a couple of leaves. Back in the kitchen, I strip all the useful leaves from the somewhat woody stalks and florets. I eventually get about 3 hands full of leaves and my hands smell divine for an hour.

I usually bring the chopped fruit to the boil and then continue for an hour longer on a low simmer. Once the vegetables and herbs are well and truely reduced to pulp, I put the pan aside and let it cool. Later, I come back to it and pass the boiled pulp through a moulii sieve to extract most of the stalks, herbs, seeds and skins. I choose not to use the very fine screen in the moulii. I usually use the medium screen. This lets a few tomatoes seeds through, but it also passes some of the herbage. I like the rougher texture. It somehow feels more honest and real.

This time, I also add 2 teaspoons of salt to the pan, just for that little extra savoury hit. I generally avoid salt in my cooking, but tomatoes and eggs, both really comer alive with just a little of the poison. I do this because salt is in everything that you buy, and in excess, it isn’t good for you. As nearly all processed foods are loaded with the stuff. I think that it’s best to keep my consumption of self-inflicted salt as low as possible. The result of this self-imposed restriction, is that Janine and I both have blood pressure that is at the lower end of normal. 110 over 60.

The resultant puree is again brought to the boil to reduce it by about 1/3 and then bottled. My 5 litres of original chopped fruit, is reduced to 2.75 litres of tomato sugo or passata.

This stuff is magic. It’s so hard to describe a combination of aroma and taste, but trust me it is amazing. This ritual of making tomato sauce every summer is the closest that I come to having a religion.

We chopped up one of our big greenish grey, glaucous ‘Queensland Blue’ pumpkins and Janine made pumpkin soup that will last for a day or two. Even feeding our two brickies.

We have been supporting our brick laying brothers by mixing lime mortar, stacking bricks up onto the high scaffold, passing up queen closers and snap headers to them and generally being helpful and supportive in whatever inept way that we can, whilst staying mostly out of their way. It can be a bit dangerous working below a scaffold, with occasion objects falling down at times. The odd trowel, but mostly brick spalls.

I had to go into town and buy us two safety helmets to keep us safe. Appropriately identified as belonging to the King and Peasant.

The work on the southern facade progresses this week with the home-made double story scaffold including safety rail. The arch is now completed, fitting the two keystones that close the archs. A ‘keystone’ is the last brick that fits in the arch, joining both sides of the span securely. The key stone is no more important than any other brick in the arch, every brick is equally important, it’s just the last one to be placed. Once the arch is secure, the wall is closed over the top, requiring me to cut a few special tapered ‘wedge’ bricks to bring the coursed brickwork back to level over the arch.

A well constructed arch is a beautiful thing. I built over 300 kilns over the course of my kiln building career. With the assistance of my good friend Warren, who was my right hand man for over 25 years, we prided ourselves in creating perfect arches in our brick lined pottery kilns. I know the whereabouts of some of these early kilns, and they are still working well after a very long life of untold firings over 30 years and more.

A well constructed arch is a beautiful thing!

We have spent two days on it and there is still the best part of a day to go the get the gable facade complete. It will require another small centre section of extra scaffold to allow the ridge to be reached comfortably and safely.

As the rain has started to set in, and is forecast for the remainder of the week, we finish the day by wrapping the new brickwork with its soft, freshly laid, mortar joints and covering it with black plastic to stop the rain from washing the joints out over night. If we are lucky, the rain will be very light or hold off for another day so that we can get the wall finished.

If the rain persists, we will be working under the verandah area and try to finish off the front wall around the door and windows instead.

A weekend off

We are having a weekend off from the brick wall. We need to get into the garden, as there are tomatoes and chillis that need to be picked and preserved.

There are also capsicums, cucumbers and the sweet basil is always wanting to go to seed at this time of year, so it needs a good trim, taking all the flowering tops off to encourage it to put on new leaves and shoots.

I picked a 3kg basin of small egg shaped tomatoes. I didn’t select these plants, they were given to me as an unknown variety. I wouldn’t bother with them again. Too much work for so small a return. But they will make good passata sauce.

8 litres of rough chopped tomatoes, in two boilers, gets reduced and concentrated down to just 3 litres of sauce. But its really nice and intensely flavourful sauce. You can’t buy concentrated, intense, organic home made , small batch passata like this. Or if you could. I couldn’t afford it!

The kitchen smells so good. Especially when I come back in from working outside in the fresh air. The intensity of the fragrance hits me. You don’t notice it as much when you are working in amongst it. It becomes common place. You need a break away from it to realise/recognise the true intensity. Just like so many other things in life. Home made passata is concentrated life in a jar.

We need the weekend break to catch up on other jobs too. We have been collecting timber planks to use a scaffolding. There isn’t a single stick of timber that survived the fire here. I used to have loads of stacks of re-cycled lumber, all stacked under cover, just waiting for a time when they would become useful for some job or other. They all burnt.

We have managed to scrounge enough – I think, to do the job, but it all needs to be de-nailed.

It’s all a bit tough on our wrists, elbows and lower back, so we spread our attack over the weekend, a bit each day. It’s all done by Sunday lunch time. We are taking part in the ‘Clean-up Australia’, so need to be all done before that.

I also picked a load of spinach from the garden, so Janine made a couple of spinach and 3 cheese pies for dinner. Ricotta, feta and gorgonzola, extra yummy.

While I finished the de-nailing, Janine was inside milling up the red and green chillis into chilli paste with a little salt and olive oil. This will keep us going for a another year.

Then finally she stews up some pears for breakfasts, later in the week. This is self-reliance.

The Old Feed Mill striped bare

I returned to the old feed mill today to finish stripping all of the old grey weathered galvanised iron sheeting off the sheds. I was joined by my son Geordie and we finished the job of taking the walls off in intermittent rain. I’m so glad that Andy and I took the roof off yesterday when it was mostly dry. I wouldn’t have gone up there today. Far too slippery in the wet.

We loaded the truck with another full load that flattened the springs. Another good tonne of steel. This load was mostly all the long 5.3 metre long sheets. Altogether we collected over 150 sheets of old corrugated iron, totalling over 530 linear metres of roofing.

Not too bad for 2 days work! I shudder to think what this would cost new. of course I couldn’t be buying any of it new! I’d find something different to scrounge and re-cycle, or up-cycle, as it’s so trendy to say these days.

I’m very lucky to find such lovely old weathered, matt grey and slightly rusty material. It’s just what I really like. Most of these sheets will line the walls of my metal working workshop, which is over 4 metres tall, just right. Some of the other rooms will benefit also with the kiln room and the gallery getting a wall or two also. I’ll have to wait and see how far it all goes, as there are always losses in cutting the sheets to fit the size of spaces required.

It’s important to me to use these old recycled materials in this new shed. It would look awful if it was all shiny and ‘off-the-shelf’ new. This shed needs the sabi wabi feeling that this weathered old iron will give it. It needs softening and ageing in this way to make it ‘fit’ in this creative and sustainable environment that we envisage for ourselves here in our new post-fire future.

In the evening Janine makes a fabulous dinner of garden veg with a little bit of feta. She was watching A TV show about cheese making and the presenter explained that this was a local recipe from Greece. She thought that it sounded interesting, so wrote down what she remembered after the show. So there is immediately a little bit of interpretation and creative adjustment going on. Whatever was originally intended doesn’t really matter, as this works aa treat.

Spinach, capsicum, zucchini, onion, garlic, and potato slices baked in the oven in a tomato passata sauce. We just happen to have all these ingredients in the garden and a bottle of home made passata in the fridge just now. The only thing that is purchased is the feta cheese.

It was totally yummy, and absolutely local with the exception of the feta cheese, mostly zero kilometres of carbon debt, just 30 metres of travel carbon debt, expended on foot.

Janine also made red grape jelly jam.

And we picked our first apple from the the new trees in the new orchard. It’s a beauty!

A busy day of getting on with all this self reliance stuff.

Like Father McKenzie

Finally, a post that isn’t about building!We have been working hard every day. We work outside until dusk, but that isn’t the end of the day. We have to deal with the days produce from the garden. 


Summer is always such a busy time, but this year it’s so much busier with all the building work taking up so much time. Janine has put in nearly all of the garden harvesting work this last few months, as I have been up the ladder, on the roof, or in the ground digging trenches.
The tomatoes keep on coming, so before we cook dinner, we slice and dice the red globes and simmer them down to pulp, while we prepare dinner. The following night I push the pulp through the moulii and then re-cook and simmer the passata down to half it’s volume, concentrating the flavour, before bottling it while it is still hot.


I start by browning onions in olive oil with pepper corns and chilli, then as the sauce pan fills, I add in the herbs and bay leaves.
When the pan can’t take any more it is left to simmer all the aromatic sauce down to pulp, so that it will pass through the moulii easier.


The grapes have started, so we are making regular batches of grape juice, grape jelly and red grape ice cream. As the citrus trees are still producing, Janine also made batches of juice from navels and sevilles, using some of that juice to make a seville orange ice cream.



Geordie called in, so he helped us roast and bottle peppers in oil, cucumbers in saline, while Janine made orange juice.Then stuffed capsicums for dinner, with marmalade for breakfast.


If there is nothing on the idiot box, which is most nights. I sit and do a few repairs to my worn out clothes. I added another patch to the arse of my old jeans, as they slowly fade away into a threadbare riot of tears and patches. Finally I sit quietly and darn the holes in my woollen socks. Janine made a lovely porcelain darning mushroom a few years ago. It works a treat. I do these repairs to save waste, prolong use and preserve the embedded energy in the items. I don’t like to throw anything out until it is really beyond repair, but like Paul McCartney’s Father McKenzie. Nobody cares!

But I do!

It’s all part of this busy self-reliant life.

Our Summer Evening Ritual

We are in the middle of a few days of high temperatures now. The real summer heat has set in and the garden is showing it. Everything is looking droopy and tired already at 11.00am, even though we watered everything last night and again this morning. By lunch time it was 42 oC in the shade.

We were up early at 5-ish and were out in the early morning cool to clean our quota of 100 sand stock bricks before breakfast at 8.00am. We knocked off as soon as the sun came up over the pottery roof and took our shade.

Yesterday we had our friends Ami and Kate here for the day to give us inspiration and encouragement. We managed to work most of the day, out under the portable gazebo shade cover, and got 200 bricks cleaned. A good effort for a hot day. We worked slowly and steadily with watering breaks, lunch and finally a treat of ‘Splice’ style ice creams at the end of the day around 4.00.

5 girls working. Ami, Kate, Janine, Edna and Gladys
We have started to make a dent in the brick pile.

We now have a very modest pile of 300 bricks in the ‘clean’ pile. Just 10% of the total, but a good start. Thank you Kate and Ami!

After our breakfast this morning, we went back out and watered the garden and picked the produce. We are just past peak tomato. We started the month picking a couple of baskets full each week, then it was every 4 days, then every 2nd day etc.

This first early planting of 8 bushes were planted in September. The second planting of a dozen bushes were put in in November and are just flowering now, so will take over in a few weeks as the older bushes slow down.

Every few days we make a batch of passata. Before I cook dinner, I fill a 5 litre copper boiler with chopped tomatoes after first frying off a brown onion in olive oil with half dozen cloves of our garlic. I add in a sprig or two of fresh herbs from the garden, always a big bunch of sweet basil, but then a couple of bay leaves fresh off the tree and perhaps some thyme or sage, depending on how I feel on the day. Pepper corns and a little salt, just a tea spoon. As I want to keep my salt intake to a minimum.

Sometimes I add in a zucchini, or some artichoke hearts, other batches get a good dose of capsicums, a chilli, whatever we have in excess on the day. Sometimes, it’s all the above.

I simmer this for 20 mins or so until it all softens and then lid on and put it aside while we cook dinner, and leave it to cool overnight. The next day, before dinner. I pass the whole lot through a mouli sieve and then re-heat it to reduce the sauce to concentrate it down to half its volume.

After dinner, we pour the concentrated passata into heated and sterilised bottles straight from the oven and cap straight away while everything is still almost too hot to touch. As the bottles cool, we can hear the lids make a loud ‘POP’ noise. They are then sealed and safe to put away in the pantry for use later in the year.

One 5 litre boiler of fresh tomatoes reduces down to make just three 750 ml. bottles of sauce.

Last nights passata bottles and this mornings pick of zucchini flowers, this will be dinner. Plus baskets of more tomatoes, chilis, capsicums, artichoke hearts and cucumbers.

We’ll be making more passata again tonight as well. Every alternate night and new batch and every other night the simmering and concentrating, then bottling. It’s our summer evening ritual.

Every bug in the garden wants to attack and share our tomatoes, slugs, snails, caterpillars, but as yet no fruit fly. I got in early in the year with half a dozen Dak pots and lures. so have managed to keep them at bay for the time being. Fingers crossed.

Self reliance is a lot of work, but it is the most rewarding work. I wouldn’t work this hard for a boss!

Clay water/grey water

On Wednesday afternoon, my neighbour Mitch called in with his excavator after he had finished work on another job.I had asked him to come when he could just a couple of days earlier.
We needed a seepage trench for the pottery sink to be dug 10 metres long and at least 600mm wide and 600 mm. deep. This will be for clay water/grey water seepage.I felt that as the weather is getting hotter and I’m wearing down. I copped out and got the trench dug. But it is money well spent.  Mitch dug the trench in just 10 minutes. It would have taken me all day – and then some.  3.5 cu.m. of crushed stone gravel is about 7 tonnes of material.

Yesterday I was in town, as I had a favour to repay and then I was off to Moss Vale to the plumbing supplies to buy all the parts for the seepage trench. 
Today, with everything in stock, we lined the seepage trench and built the stop ends/access/inspection ports, then filled 5 of the 7 tonnes back in again. A big day in the hot sun. We still have a couple of tonnes left over to deal with. 


I’m so glad to see the end of that job. It was over 30 oC here today while we did all this digging. After we finished all the earth works, we watered the garden and I picked all the days garden produce.


I picked tomatos, zuchinnis, capsicum, cucumbers, chillis and artichokes. This will be dinner. Janine cooked a vegetable risotto for dinner, while I made a big 5 litre stock pot full of tomato passata. We had our risotto with a small piece of fish, fresh off the south coast fish truck yesterday.

It’s a good life if you don’t weaken!

First Tomatoes of the Summer

We harvested our first few tomatoes on Friday, 4th December. That is so early for us, reflecting on our more than 40 years of history here.

This variety is all folded wrinkly and is called Rouge de Marmande. It’s one of several different varieties that I planted this season. There a many more on the way just turning colour now. I’m really looking forward to cooking up some of our summer garden ‘passata’ or ‘sugo’ sauce.

The thing that I really enjoy most at this early stage of the season, is just brushing past the tomato bushes while weeding or watering and getting that distinctive smell, that the leaves give off when touched. That’s the promise of summer. My mouth is watering at the thought of it.