Spring has Finally Arrived

Spring hasn’t sprung. It’s sort of crept in very slowly. It hasn’t rained properly since March, so all the dams are very low and as the weather slowly warms up, we are having to water the vegetable garden and potted plants every day.

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We have been harvesting the new crop of garlic for the past month as it starts to dry off and wilt. I planted over 100 cloves this year and we have harvest a very good strong crop. However, one of the varieties that I planted has turned out to be a bracing type, initially it grew as one stem, but as it matured, it separated into a dozen separate plants. One stem for each clove. I have no idea what the variety is called, as I bought 2 knobs of this garlic from the health food shop, as Australian grown organic garlic, and that is all I know about it. It has quite a mild flavour.

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Each batch of garlic has to be laid out to dry for while before it can be plaited and hung up for storage in the kitchen ceiling truss.

 

The Last Batch of Marmalade

We are almost at the end of winter now and the last of the citrus still on the trees are  the Seville oranges. We have been making marmalade steadily through the winter months – and eating it too. We have been only just keeping ahead of our consumption.

For the past few months, I have been working flat out everyday, hardly ever taking any time off to work in the garden and around the house. Only the bare necessities could be done. The garden was looking a bit neglected and there were some essential maintenance jobs that needed seeing to.

Now my big show is up and I have given my artists talk last Saturday, then run a wood fire weekend workshop on Sunday, Today is a day off. We allow ourselves to sleep in a bit, have a late breakfast, then it is into the garden to harvest the last of the  Seville oranges. I get a couple of baskets full, as well as a few lemons. We spend our ‘day off ‘ making marmalade.

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We make something of an effort to make nice marmalade. For us, that means using the orange juice as the only liquid. We take the time to cut away almost all of the white pith, using just the thin strip of coloured fruit skin, and that skin is sliced quite thin. Each of us has our own way of dealing with the process. I like it sliced very thin, as thin as possible, with as little white as possible.

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We squeeze out the fruit juice and pour it into a saucepan, all the pips are separated out to another smaller sauce pan and simmered with a minimum of water to extract the pectin. This is pushed through a small kitchen sieve and eventually back into the lager pan of juice and peel. The thinly sliced peel and juice is roughly weighed and about 40% of this weight is added as sugar, but we have experimented with as little as 35% sugar. I like it less sweet and a bit more bitey. I have heard of recipes that say 50% of sugar and even equal parts of sugar. I don’t think that I would like it that sweet.

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Janine has made a hand-thrown, glazed, pottery funnel to make the pouring of jams, jellies and marmalade easier.

As we only seem to eat marmalade on toast for breakfast through the winter, we will have enough now in stock to last us through the last of the cool weather and through into the next winter, when the citrus will come back on again.

 

 

Cold frosty nights, a good time to make stock

I have been sitting with my show at Watters Gallery each Saturday to ‘meetngreet’ and answer questions, if any, from the visitors. I spend some time with a few couples. I tell them stories, recount a joke, offer some insights into the work and its back history. They laugh, we chat, I explain the work, give details of its making, describe the provenance and importance to the overall story, of some specific pieces. I give them a brochure, a colour catalogue and then, after 45 mins., they walk out happily. I look to Frank sitting in the corner. He smiles at me benevolently. “welcome to the life of the gallerist”!

We have had a longish dry spell and the nights are again frosty. Cold evenings are an ideal time to make some stock. I buy a few beef bones and a pigs trotter. We roast them in the wood stove while we cook dinner. Then I boil them down over night on a slow declining fire along with a big boiler of mixed winter vegetables. Some parsnip, carrots, celery, parsley and a hand-full of mixed herbs, bay leaves, chilli, a star anise and a few pepper corns. All the usual suspects. The whole lot is slowly simmered and in the morning each of the big pots is decanted. The marrow extracted from the bones, which are then discarded, the vegetables sieved from the stock and sent to the worm farm.

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Both boilers and added together and re-simmered  the next night with a bottle of red wine. This is reduced down to 600mls of thick, gelatinous stock.

This is wonderfully flavoursome stuff. I keep it in the freezer and bring it out when I need a stock cube. This stock is so high in natural gelatine, protein and fat that it doesn’t really freeze. It just sets into a very firm gel that I can slice straight from the freezer. A chunk can be added whenever needed in just a minute. I’m sure that it would keep for a very long time in this frozen state, but it never gets the chance!

What is really good about this stock, which makes it so different from any commercial product is thatches stock is free of salt. Most commercially available stocks are loaded with salt. It’s probably their main ingredient.

This is entirely home made, flavoursome, free of preservatives, insecticides and is almost healthy by comparison. It is also a much better use of my time than watching the idiot box.

 

Marmalade and Mushroom Sauce

I’m home and it is mid winter. Everything is dull and bleak. The sun is low in the sky and the days are short. The trees are bare and there isn’t a lot of variety in the garden. I can pick a goodly sized parsnip and carrot. A hand full of broccoli and some Brussel sprouts. This will be dinner with the addition of some potatoes from the kitchen store.

We have the basket of goodies at the sink ready to wash when our neighbour John drops in on an errand. He sits down for a chat and we share a beer. He tells us that his favourite butcher has just given him a kilo of eye fillet in exchange for a favour. He asked what we will be eating for dinner. I show him the garden bounty, all freshly picked at the sink.

He looks quite concerned. “Are you really going to eat that! That’s it for dinner?”

Yes indeed. That is what we are going to eat. “Why?”

He mutters something along the lines of “You poor hapless bastards!” “for f*%$#’s sake, don’t you have any real food in the house?”

He tells us that we should come to his place and he’ll feed us up. He adds, “Bring your veggies, I’ll cook the steak.”  We do, and he does. He has a special sauce for the steak. It’s delicious. He asks us what we think is in it. I can see mushrooms. I can taste a soupçon of ginger, there is pepper and salt, all the usual suspects, but there is something else that I just can’t guess. It turns out to be a spoonful of our very own marmalade that we gave them the week before. It’s a really interesting and delicious sauce.

Welcome home

We arrive back home at the end of Autumn. The pistachio tree has turned red in our absence and the liquid ambers are loosing their leaves. We head straight to the chook house to see how the girls have been faring without us. Perfectly well it appears. They have changed their allegiance to Annabelle Slugette, because she has been living here, working in the pottery and feeding them treats for the past few weeks. Hens live for food! I know that it is only cupboard love, but I do feel a little bit abandoned. I’ll need to find them a few snails or other special treats to win their hearts ( and stomachs) back.

 

We head to the garden to see what there is for dinner. We find our selves in that special period of the year when there are just a few summer vegetables hanging on, while the winter crops are just starting, so we pick the last zucchini and the first cauliflower. There are only a couple of weeks when you can eat this combination of garden produce. The chillis have ripened a lot more while we have been away, so we pick some and dry them.

 

The next day I’m back at work in the pottery. I have  to slake down all my turnings that have dried out while I’ve been away. Clay slakes down so much faster when it is bone dry. I have lots of small batches to deal with. I have been working on my collected samples of porcelain stones from all around the world and I have to keep all the turnings from each batch of pots made from each special rock completely separate and well-marked, so that I don’t get mixed up or confused about which is which. I have 10 buckets marked with masking tape and felt fen, so as to keep it all under control.

I start with the first 5 batches. I slake, blunge and sieve them all through a 100# mesh screen, then flocculate them and decant the excess water, it takes a while to get its all done. Eventually, they make it out onto the plaster drying tubs that I use for small batches of re-cycling like this..

 

I’m not just dealing only with turnings here. Many of my pots don’t even get to the turning stage. These ultra-fine, ground stone bodies, with virtually no real ‘clay’ content, based solely on mica and quartz, with just a little illitic material. Consequently, they have no dry strength. They sometimes just split as soon as they are placed on the chuck, some don’t even get to the chuck, as they split during drying. Other decide to part company with themselves after the first turning at the ‘roughing out’ stage.

 

Some others tear themselves apart after the second trimming. Only a few make it to the final turning and bisque kiln. The only good thing about pots cracking during drying, is that at least I can re-work the material and have another go at making something that might survive to the kiln. What happens in the glaze kiln is another matter. I’ll find that out for these samples soon enough!

 

Environmental fellowship

We have had a Danish potter staying with us for the past month. He won the Environmental Ceramics Fellowship for for 2016, but for both of us it was just too difficult to complete it last year, so we postponed to this year.

He is a potter from Denmark who is interested in sustainability and new ways of exploring how to make a living in this new digital age. He has his own web presence in Denmark where he markets Potters wheels, kilns and clay bodies, as well as making his own work. He is a digital native. Whereas, I am, on the other hand, a dig-it-all-native. Making everything myself from the ground up – and that is what he is here to learn.

We crushed porcelain stone in the big jaw crusher to make single-stone porcelain body. We made clay tests to investigate unknown clays. We worked in the gardens and orchards. Ate all our own produce. Cooked up some wonderful meals. Lauge is a great cook, so that helped. We went on a geology excursion to look at some of the local stone deposits. Harvested the shiraz grape crop and made dark grape juice from the grapes.

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All in all, the month flew by and it all went too fast, leaving so many things un-explored. A month just isn’t enough time to experience everything that we do here.

Janine and I are planning to do some volunteer aid work overseas soon. So we are working towards this by making clay tests out of the local clay that has been posted over to us to process. Our Guest lends a hand in everything that we do.

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We decide to go exploring and looking at a few rocks for making glazes. Then, to complete the true ‘Australian’ experience, we take him to the local micro-brewery and have a meat pie with tomato sauce, accompanied by a tray of the brewery’s sample beers for lunch. Fantastic! I haven’t eaten a meat pie since I was a kid, so it was an experience for me too!

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You have to look closely at the image of the analcime basanite deposit above to focus on the small figure in the foreground.

We cook and eat what is in season in the garden this autumn equinox. An autumn garden risotto, a fresh garden salad of shaved beetroot, cucumber, raddish, quince. Served with wasabi rocket, lettuce, beetroot tops, chilli and crunchy pan-roasted almonds.

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We also make an alternate version of okonomiaki, using some very firm, third pick, red cabbage, our own home grown eggs, garlic, chilli and shiso. Everything from the garden. Red cabbage is too slow to cook straight off as a cabbage pancake. So I pre-cook the cabbage to soften it down before I blend in the pancake mix and all the other ingredients. It’s not really a traditional Japanese okonomiaki. It’s an improvised Aussie OKA-nomiaka. Served with mayonnaise and Japanese okonomi sauce. Topped with bonito flakes and some Japanese pickled ginger.

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We finish the meal with fresh figs and soft white cheese. We do this desert a lot at this time of year while the figs are coming on. We try it with all manner of different soft cheeses. Boconcini isn’t the best, but you don’t know these things until you try them out. We’ve tried it with blue cheese, fetta and soft white goats cheese which was best.

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Lauge helps me finish off the internal fittings for the 8 little dalek kilns. These are now  almost all delivered, leaving space for me to start welding up my 2nd kiln job of the year. There is just enough room to get both jobs in the factory at the same time, but it takes a little bit of planning and maneuvering to get everything into the tight space.

Now the shed is almost empty, with the big new frame gone off to be galvanised and all the little ones gone to good homes:)

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We Are Cooking in the Heat

This last few days of heat has really set the garden back. We are out early and late watering. I watered for an hour, early this morning, but by lunch time everything was drooping with this blast of oven temperature air.

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Because it is so baking hot, I have been out cutting bracken fronds and sticking them into the seedling beds to give some shade to the young transplanted seedlings. I transplant them in the evening when it is cool and give them overnight to settle in before the next hot day. They seem to be surviving OK so far.

I have been harvesting the summer excess. A bucket of beetroot, a bucket of cucumbers a bag chillies and another red cabbage.

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I decide to make pickles, I wash, chop and thinly slice the cabbage, then soak in a brine of 2 cups of salt to 1 litre of water. The cabbage collapses over night and in the morning it is completely submerged. I rinse it twice to get a lot of the salt out, then pack it in hot sterilised jars from the oven and cover with hot pickling vinegar, then seal down the lids.  I hear them ‘pop’, and vacuum seal themselves when they cool, as I go about dealing with the cucumbers. They have been sliced and soaked in brine too. I rinse them and pack them into hot jars, cover with more of the pickling vinegar.

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While I’m at it, I stuff another large jar with whole chillies, that I have sliced open on the side to allow the pickling liquid in. My final job is to peel, then slice a big boiler full of cooked beetroot. They are a really wonderful colour. I bring them back to the boil for a minute or two in their original juice, I get 4 jars packed tight. I fish out a chilli, some cloves, pepper corns and a small piece of cinnamon bark to add to each jar. Then cover with the last of the vinegar.

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I have to go back to work tomorrow in the kiln factory. I have 7 kilns ordered, so far this year already. I’m booked out till September.  I have to get busy. My summer break is over. I started back a couple of weeks ago to get an early start on all these orders, but then I sliced my knuckle open. So that was that till now. With the scorching heat, I don’t fancy working in the tin shed that I call the factory. But needs as needs must. I think that I’ll be running the sprinkler on the roof during the hottest part of the day.