Making the Most of Winter

It’s another blowy, blustering cool day, with a wind that is bringing down a few branches. Luckily, it was quite still yesterday evening, so we decided to burn off our pile of garden, orchard and vineyard prunings. We manage to assemble quite a pile of these prunings during the autumn pruning period. We pile them up to dry out for a couple of months and then burn off the pile at the end of winter, just before the spring fire bans come into force. In the past we have waited for a cool damp night after rain, but it just hasn’t rained at all for months, so the pile just sat there. 
Last night was forecast to be damp with the possibility of a slight shower. That was good enough, After dinner we went down to the burn pile site, next to the Pantryfield garden and lit it up. It was a very slow quiet burn that took 3 hours to get through all the sticks, twigs and branches. By 11 pm it was just a pile of white ash and a few glowing embers. It’s a good feeling to get the fire hazard out of the way before summer, otherwise it would have to sit there for another 8 months. Fortunately it started to rain ever so gently later in the night, just half a mm. in the rain gauge this morning, but enough to settle it all down.


 Today a fierce, gusty wind has settled in, so we are back inside, after doing all our jobs, collecting fire wood and stacking it inside ready for tonights fires, watering the small seedlings and cleaning up. Now the sun is fully up, we drove the car down to the high amperage charging station down by the kiln factory. The kiln shed has 3 phase power installed, so we placed the fast charger down there, as there is no electricity in the car port. The kiln shed roof also has 6kW of solar panels on its roof, so direct access to the solar power for charging the car and firing the kiln.
As we’re inside, we decide to deal with kitchen duties. We held our second marmalade making workshop at the weekend, so there are numerous small jars of marmalade to be washed and dried , then labeled and stored away in the pantry. We made 3 batches, each slightly different, but all of them centred on Seville oranges, of which we have a beautiful crop this year. Hard to fathom, as we are currently in a drought. But we have been watering the citrus grove regularly.


Each large boiler, makes between 7 to 10 jars of marmalade, depending on the size of the jars. Our very good friends Toni and Chris turned up and the afternoon eventually wound it’s way into evening and dinner.


The other job on the kitchen list is to make a stock out of the bones left over from a duck that we have in the fridge. I start by browning some onion in olive oil, then garlic and water. Our organic garden garlic is getting close to the end now as the winter peters-out. What we have left is stored, hung up, outside on the back verandah in long plaits. This is starting to sprout now, but it still gives us the good garlic flavour. The new crop of garlic is filling out in the garden, but is still 3 months away from maturity.



I add water, the bones, a lemon, chillies, the very last of our late season tomatoes that we picked 6 weeks ago when they were still a bit green, as the bushes had been burnt off by the frost, and some pepper. After simmering for an hour, I pass it thorough a sieve to separate the bones and mirepoix from the stock. I add a bottle of ‘fume’ wine and return the clear stock to the stove to reduce. It happens in among all the other jobs, slowly and steadily, filling the kitchen with a warm, delicious fragrance that is so welcoming on a cold windy day.
 Domestic jobs can be really engaging and fulfilling sometimes. This is one of those times.You’ll notice that I don’t write too much about cleaning the grease trap!
Our enigmatic friend Annabelle Sloujé sent me this image that she saw somewhere, after I wrote about making a beef bone stock last week.
Best wishes from Steve who is making the most of winter – while it lasts.

A sudden cold spell

We have just emerged from a sudden cold spell. We were glad to find a few jobs to do inside for a while until the cold winds blew themselves out. Our good friend Annabelle Sloujé lives a little bit farther south of here and a lot higher up, she had a low of -9oC, I’m glad we live here in Camelot where it doesn’t get so cold. My friends in Korea report a range of -35 to + 38oC. They probably think that I’m a wimp for talking about a winters day of -1 oC. They possibly think that -1 is quite warm, in comparison.

However cold or hot it is, we found things to do out of the wind. I shelled nuts and Janine made a cake from the last of last years hazelnuts that she milled into flour. It’s one of those recipes with reduced flour and usually almond meal. The Lovely down loaded it from the internet, but as we didin’t have any almonds left to shell, she used all hazelnut meal instead. All recipes are just a guide. Living where we do, we have learnt to compromise and use what we have rather than drive for an hour to get something specific. We save all our jobs and shopping list for that weekly trip.

Glazed with melted 85% dark chocolate and a few chunks of chopped crystallised ginger. It was just right for cold weather and didn’t last too long.

For my part, I made a beef marrow bone and vegetable stock over a couple of nights, using the free heat from the wood fired kitchen stove after we cooked dinner.

I make stock like this a few times each year, especially during the colder months when the stove is always on. I have come accustomed to always having our own personal, giant, frozen stock cube in the freezer. We don’t own a dedicated freezer, so we only freeze what can’t be preserved by other means like vacuum sealing ‘Vacola’ jars. The special conditions required for safe preserving in vacuum jars is that the food must be boiled in the jar to seal it, so that counts out pesto. Also, it is best if the food is naturally acidic like fruits and vegetables like tomatoes. Meat can be preserved this way, but it is recommended that the vacuum sealing be done twice to make sure that it is perfectly safe. A bit of a bother.

After the cold spell blew itself out, we have had a few glorious cloudless sunny days with no wind. I took the opportunity to move my chair out into the sun and get a little vitamin D and finish decorating my last few pots doing scraffitto, carving into the surface with a sharp tool. This will show the pooling character of my local granite blue celadon style glaze when fired in the reduced solar fired electric kiln.

Spring is almost here

When the poppies arrive, spring is almost here!We still have 2 weeks before spring is officially here, but we have been enjoying a nice steady display of the red Flanders poppies for a few weeks now. The night time frosts are still continuing, but the poppies don’t seem to mind.

They brighten the kitchen breakfast table. The shaft of early morning light illuminates their semi-translucent fragility. They only last such a short time in the vase, but they make us happy while they are here.As it is still winter, we have been enjoying all the varied brassicas that are maturing in the garden. We picked a gigantic cauliflower and had to think up a variety of ways of eating it. Fresh picked, we like it best cut into small florets and dipped in a little mayonnaise and eaten raw. We also add it to stir fry and risottos, but the classic has to be cauliflower au gratin. I have to make it at least once each winter. 
I melt a little bit of butter and add in some flour, for us, that happens to be wholemeal. I make a roux using approximately equal parts of each, but I only cook it to thicken it, I don’t want it to colour up, so I only cook it off on a gentle heat and soon add some milk a little at a time. The first few drops instantly thickens it to a stiff paste. I have to work at dissolving the first few drops of milk into the mucilage, as it is adsorbed, and the mixture loosens, I continue to add the milk slowly while stirring to avoid lumps. I only want a pale sauce for the gratin. I think that it looks most appropriate with the pale cauliflower.

I’m a lazy cook, I don’t have any bread crumbs and I’m not about to start making some, and I certainly won’t ever be buying any ready-mades, so as soon as it comes to a slow, gentle bubbling boil, I add in my steamed cauliflower and I stir in a little grated cheese, with a little more added on top, and the whole lot then goes under the grill.

It’s a lovely warming veggie winter dinner.
We have been in to have dinner at our sons restaurant, Bistro Sociale in Bowral,  <http://www.bistrosociale.com.au>

Always a lovely time, good, interesting food and not too expensive. We almost never eat out in restaurants, but we make an exception for our son. He made a beautiful desert for Janine and our friend Annabelle Sloujé.
A prune creme brûlée with fruits and flowers.


Geordie managed to get me a fresh black French truffle recently. The weather has been so dry here. We are in drought, and this has affected the truffle harvest this year. It turns out that the Southern Highlands is a very good place to grow truffles, but not in a drought. Our own truffle trees have not shown any inclination to produce a truffle as yet, but we live in hope. Maybe in the future, if it ever rains?

We managed to get just one small truffle. Since Ted retired and sold his truffiere, we have been cut off from our supply. Geordie has contacts though! So we had truffled eggs for breakfast. You can’t be mean with a truffle. They may be expensive at $1.40 per gram, but it’s best not to think about the cost and just inhale deeply and enjoy. We made scrambled eggs with a little cream whipped in and some fresh grated pepper, and then grated the whole truffle over the top. No point in rationing it out over several meals, such that you never really get the full flavour experience. Just go for it and enjoy it to the max. You only live once.

We have had absolutely no mushrooms come up in our garden this winter. It is just so dry. There is still just enough time, if it rained in the next couple of weeks, we could get lucky.


After storing the truffle in the fridge for a few days with the eggs and rice. We used the rice to make a risotto for dinner. It’s amazing that when I opened the container and poured the rice into the big pan to roast it a little before adding the wine. There was a very noticeable smell of French truffle wafting up to me. Beautiful! It became a winter vegetable risotto.


I added a bottle of our preserved, concentrated, summer tomato, sugo as well. It really fills out the flavour like no other vegetable can.


We are lighting both the wood fired stove in the kitchen and the fire in the lounge room to keep the place moderately warm at night. As the kitchen stove also heats our hot water tank in the winter, it is a necessity. But most importantly, its carbon neutral, as we collect all our kitchen stove wood fuel off our own land, from our own forrest. However, it’s also a beautiful way to cook.

The Winter Garden

The garden can look a bit barren at this time of year, but there is still plenty to eat. We have all the brassicas doing very well with the frosty nights. Cabbages, cauliflowers, Brussels sprouts, broccoli and kohlrabi all bountiful and gorgeous. We also have leeks and celery, and we have just finished off the last of the autumn/winter crop of carrots. 

Of course we always have spring onions and lettuces for salads when the days are suitably sunny and warm, as is often the case these days in the global emergency. Winters as we knew them in the 70’s are over. No more snow and many fewer frosts that are much milder in intensity. Fruit trees are flowering now just past mid winter and not in spring. Everything has advanced about 4 to 6 weeks earlier over our 43 years here.

peaches

almonds

blue berries

At this time of year, the days are getting longer and the soil temperature is just starting to warm up a little with the soil just starting to hit 10oC. The asparagus is responding to this minuscule change and starting to sprout. We have our first couple of spears poking their heads up.

Although the beds look barren under their winter mulch, there is the beginnings of spring growth.

There may be some benefits to a warmer climate, but the down side for us is the prolonged drought, with only one significant rain event of 30mm over winter. We are preparing our selves for a long dry and very hot summer with July breaking many records for the hottest winter month. This past July being the 3rd hottest July ever recorded.
On the positive side, there are lots of people starting to wake from their media/Murdoch induced stupor, and starting to take action. I am seeing a lot more positive articles in journals indicating creative, affirmative thinking.

The Flasher

25 or 30 years ago. I can’t remember exactly. I built a new wood fired kiln in the then new, kiln shed. Now half a lifetime later the chimney has had 4 different kilns attached to it and currently has two. One on either side. I don’t want to waste all that potential energy in a good chimney, two kilns using it seems hardly enough!

It takes a lot of bricks and a lot of effort to build a chimney, especially as you get farther from the ground. It involves a lot of climbing up ladders with buckets of mortar and loads of bricks. On that occasion, I had two good friends to help me. Bernd Weise and Jim Black. With such great help, we were able to get it built it in one day. One person making mortar and cleaning there 2nd hand fire bricks, another passing bricks and mortar up and me doing the brick laying.

We eventually reached the roof and had to cut a hole in the corrugated iron for the chimney to pass through. I then had to move up onto the roof, and continue the brick laying bending down from the 30 degree pitched iron roof. Thirty degrees as it turns out, is just about the critical pitch angle where you automatically slide off the roof if the corrugated iron is new and shiny. Fortunately for me, I had used 100 year old and slightly rusty, 3rd hand, iron for my roof that I had been given for free, to just get rid of it, and take it away.

A bargain! But all the sheets were rusted through where they had been overlapped. I just cut off the rusted section, shortened them and cut others in half to make the new roof. 30 years on it’s still working well, but does have a few more newer holes that I continue to silicon up every few years.

What hasn’t lasted so well is the clay mortar that I used to lay the bricks. I usually use a small amount of cement in the mortar mix for the last few courses. But for some reason, I didn’t do that on this chimney, probably because I didn’t have any at the time. So todays job was to take the top 4 courses off the chimney and re-lay them to make them secure again, as the rain had washed out all the mortar over the years.

I also needed to re-make the flashing to keep the water from getting into the shed down the sides of the chimney. The old flashing was made very hastily, from old used and already rusted, galvanised iron. It matched the roofing sheets! Consequently, it had rusted out in places too and also needed to be replaced.

All I have to do in get up there and do it! Easy when you say it fast. As i’m now more than twice as old as I was then and approaching 70. I though that I had better work out a way of doing safely on my own this time. I started by making a table that would sit on top of the ridge capping and roof ridge, so that I could stack all the bricks on-site to save me clambering up and down the roof with just two bricks at a time.

  

  

With the new roof top table made the day before, the un-bricking was done in no time. There was also a side table for buckets of mortar and the necessary tools. So convenient. Just a couple of trips up the roof and I was ready. The bricks soon re-laid up to the point that I needed to make the new flashing. This time I was able to use stainless steel off cuts for the job. This time it should out last me. If it lasts another 30 years it certainly will. I don’t fancy getting up here and flashing in such an exposed place in the future!

I finished off the last couple of courses above the flashing with a cement enhanced mix of water proof mortar. That should do it. I rather like the view from up here as well. You can see so much more from the elevated position. Maybe I should leave the new roof top table  up here and we can have small intimate soiree up here in the future?

Winter Wood Firing Workshops

We are very busy all this month with our winter wood firing workshops. We run these every winter, and it has become a reliable part of our income. We will be doing 4 firing workshops this month. We are currently half way through the series. 2 down and 2 to go.

So far we have had some of the best workshops that we have ever held. Excellent results keeping the students very happy. AND a zero rate of losses so far. Pulling red hot pots from a kin at 1,000oC can be challenging. The clay has to be of the right kind and the firing just right. Fortunately, we have a stock the very fast firing and fuel efficient small portable wood kilns that we build in our kiln factory, on-site. We have a number of these at our disposal these days. They work remarkably well, they are a joy to work with. We take about an hour to fire them up to top temperature from cold for the first firing. The work is unloaded using metal tongs. All the participants must be wearing flame resistant clothes, such as woollen material and leather boots or shoes to take part. they must also be wearing long leather gloves when working around the kiln. The hot pots are placed in a bed of damp sawdust to reduce cool slowly. This reduced atmosphere within the saw dust bed causes the clay body to be reduced to charcoal black colour that gives the fired work a distinctive contrast look between the shiny coloured glazes and the matt black clay body.

3 to 4 of these little amazingly fuel efficient kilns are sufficient to fire the work of about 10 students, as the kilns cycle through the day. I have built a few different shapes and sizes , so that we have a taller chambered kiln and a wider setting kiln as well as a cubic  chambered kiln, we manage to get through all the different shaped work in the day.

The kilns are reloaded with new work and left to sit in the residual heat of the kiln for 5 to 10 minutes. This allows the barely warm pots a chance to assimilate the residual heat from the kiln structure, before we start to fire the kiln up again. The subsequent firings only take 30 minutes, as the kiln is already hot, usually around 400oC when the recommence stoking. There is usually just a few small embers left in the base of the fire box, just enough to rekindle the flame and get the kiln going again. As the day progresses, the residual heat in the kiln is increased and there are more retained embers in the fire box. It makes for a very intense series of firings and unpacking. As each kiln and its firing crew work at different speeds with different loads of varied ceramic objects, all the firings and unloadings become scattered in to a series of repetitive, rhythmic ins and outs.

The day ends with a period of pot washing and scrubbing to get the work clean and shiny before packing back into their wrappings, stacked back into their vehicles and heading home.

It’s a very busy day for us starting at dawn, wheeling out the kilns in to the open and getting them ready for firing, stacking wood into wheel barrows, setting up pyrometers, preparing kiln shelves and wads, collecting kindling and setting up the outside coffee and tea table with electric jug and urn, etc. Its intense, we are glad to be back inside by dark, with everything packed away safely and all the surrounding ground watered and raked over to make sure that there are no stray embers allowed to start to smoulder. After dinner and again before bed we make our way back down to the firing site to check for any thing that might have managed to evade our watering can.

Sericite Journal – Seoul Searching

I have arrived in Korea to spend some time refining my interest in sericite porcelain stone, researching and making a few pots too. I am spending the first few days in Seoul to begin with to catch up with a few friends.

I spend the first day wandering around to get my bearings and just seeing what turns up. I spot a very narrow door tucked into a small corner between a department store and a clothes shop. I investigate and it turns out to be a tiny restaurant .

Every little space is utilised!

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I meet up with my friend Ms Kang and her partner, she takes me to a part of Seoul that I haven’t been to before. It’s the trendy ‘hip’ part. There are a number of streets full of eateries. In the evening, after work, all the restaurants spill out onto the streets in fine weather. It’s May and the weather is balmy, so every space is utilised. We spend the night walking the streets looking for a ‘cool’ wine bar that she has read about, but don’t find what we want. We walk down many laneways, dingy small alleys and descend into dimly lit basements or up flights of stairs to single darkened rooms, windows blacked out. Rooms that might once have been small office spaces, and presumably very cheaply rented. They masquerade as ‘hip’, ‘cool’ night spots now.

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We find three wine bars. But they are all up-themselves with too much ‘cool’ and not enough wine! The wine is priced at a ridiculously expensive rate, for unknown cheap Chilian or South African quaffing grade vino, you have to buy the bottle, there are no tasting notes, or a price by the glass. We are in a group and against my better judgement, the consensus is to buy a bottle. The owner goes to great lengths to decant the wine into an airing flask. It’s all so pretentious. This wine has nothing to loose to the air, it doesn’t need airing, no aroma. In fact the sulphates are the only flavour it has. It has no nose, no taste and no finish. It’s completely flat throughout. I’d rate it as a $3.00 ‘Aldi’ cooking wine. Pity we had to pay over $60 to find out. I offer to pay, as these people are my friends, But Ms Kang is very generous and covers the bill, speaking in Korean to the bar owner, telling him to ignore my plastic card and take hers.

Lesson, don’t bother going to a Seoul wine bar. We are so spoilt in Australia with so much affordable, good wine to choose from. I’m guessing that wine tasting is new to Seoul. The next day I find some Australian wine for sale in a small local convenience store, so I buy a bottle that I recognise from home, I buy it as a present for my friends. It is not top notch, but I know it and know that it will be 10 times better than the ‘vin ordinaire’ that we were meant to appreciate in the bar. Had the wine been OK, the ambience was quite interesting in a retro kind of way. All candle lit, it reminded me of the beatnik clubs of the late 60’s.

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The next day, I’m off to the Ewha Womens University, where I’m to meet a professor of Ceramics. We are organising for me to do some teaching to her students. Ewha is the oldest university in Korea, as I understand it. It’s a nice campus with a mixture of new and old buildings. Open and seemingly spacious, as the most modern example of its architecture is entirely under ground, leaving a large space above for gardens and greenery. Every little space is utilised! I like it. I am invited to give a presentation of my research to the students. 

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In the afternoon, we wander the old market district. I seem to find myself in what feels like a kilometre long avenue of dried fish stalls. It goes on and on and on! I’ve never seen so much dried fish.

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Then it’s the chilli isle.

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Though the dried vegetables whet my appetite, I don’t buy, as I have nowhere to cook. Then through the food hall isle and into the fashion lanes.

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I find some very nice open-weave natural ‘ramae’ fabric, and although I’m tempted, I resist. I find a ready made, long sleeved, ramae shirt, but it costs a lot more than I can afford. Over $150. If it were my last day here and I still had some money on me I might be tempted, but this Is only my 3rd day and I haven’t done any work yet, so I need to make my budget stretch.

The next day, Ms Kang takes me to icheon, the potters village, to visit my friend Lee Jun Beom. It is the May Ceramics Festival time and all the studios have their stalls out. There are some very impressive pieces, some less impressive and some amazing miniatures .

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I was quite taken with the ‘fake’ irridescent blue oil spot tenmoku. I imagine that is was made by painting on the dots with something like a bismuth lustre?

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It is a really interesting day, aimlessly wandering from shop to shop, studio to studio. The last time I was here, my friends took me to the local Ceramic Art Gallery and Museum. In conversation with the Director, it transpired that my research was of interest to him. He asked to see my work. I only had small images on my phone to show him. I didn’t come prepared to represent myself. I was taken off guard. My friends talked me up quite a bit to him it seems. I can’t speak Korean, so don’t know the content of their conversations, but it transpired that he became interested in collecting a piece of mine for the international section of the collection in the Museum. Regrettably, we didn’t seem to wander to that part of town on this trip. However, instead, we found our selves somewhere completely different.

I walk into a small studio, quite unpretentious, there is nothing outside to give the game away. Suddenly, I realise that I know this work. I recognise it. I’m sure that I know the maker. I have met her before. In another place and at another time. I’m almost certain. This lady does the most intricate carving on porcelain. I saw her demonstrate two years ago at the Yanggu Porcelain Museum Conference. I was very busy at the time, demonstrating and preparing give my own presentation, so I only had time for a cursory glance around the demonstrators. Janine had more time and got to speak to this lady at length. Her name is Shin Lee, going on her visiting card that I can see on the table. Luckily she can speak some English.

I walk up to her with my friends and say that “I think that I know you from Yanggu.” She replies straight away. “Yes, is your wife with you today”!

How amazing is that? She remembered meeting Janine and speaking with her from two years previously. This potter, or should I say artist/carver/decorator is a real master! It appears that her husband throws the pieces and she incises the intricate images, particularly of Hydrangeas.

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I like her heaps, it’s a real joy to meet her again. She is lovely and her work is impossible to fully appreciate until you get up close and handle it, feel the intricacies, appreciate the subtleties of the carving that highlights the shading effects of the bass relief carving. Again, If this were my last day, I’d buy a piece, but my suitcase and back pack are already chokers with stuff that I need to unload when I get to Bangsan.

I haven’t even reached Yanggu yet, so my cargo of porcelain pieces that I made at home during the last 12 months from the ‘borrowed’ Bangsan sericite porcelain stones takes up a lot of space and weight. I’m returning the stones I ‘borrowed’ as finished pieces, shaped from the 100% Korean sericite, crushed, milled and made plastic in my workshop. I transform them from mere stones, into porcelain clay body, by crushing, grinding and milling them into a wet, plastic, malleable clay-like substance. I form them into pots on my old wooden potters wheel, then bisque and glaze fire them into permanence. I glost fire them using pure Australian sunshine, glazed with my own porcelain stone celadon/guan style glaze made from my local weathered white granite glaze stone, enhanced with the addition of some local kangaroo bone ash. I’m donating the pieces to the Yanggu Porcelain Museum as a gift that represents the meeting of two minds, myself and that of Mr Jung the Director of the Museum. 

As both of our cultures enjoy drinking beer. I see it as a ‘Cultural Shandy’. A contemporary melding of Korean and Australian ceramic cultures. Well, that is my take on it anyway.

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I signed the bowls with both my usual initials stamp, my workshop seal, but also the ‘Yanggu’ chop in Korean lettering, to identify its true origin. It represents the journey from Bangsan to Balmoral and back again.

The next day, I spend some time in the Namdaemun market area of Seoul. There are some astounding figures quoted about the number of stalls and number of visitors that the area gets each day. The market site is a very ancient one, but during and after the Korean War, there was a thriving black market in renditioned military goods. The economy was in ruins. The country was largely destroyed. Society was in turmoil and almost everyone was living in hardship or poverty. The market offered a way for the necessary transfer of goods, services and information in an informal and I believe quite efficient way. The site has persevered and sustained itself through necessity, it’s quite simply very popular. Even as the concrete high rise of the city encloses it, it still continues to exist. I wonder how long a market like this will survive against the pressures of development?

I wander the very narrow and intensely interesting back lanes. I come across a narrow lane of kitchens. Every one calling to me to step past and around the hot stove and into the seated area to have a very freshly prepared lunch. It’s enticing, but it’s also only 11.30, so a bit early for a cooked lunch. Instead, I take a photo and keep walking.

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I eventually decide to buy a small ‘Panjun’ style round handheld pancake. Korean style walking fast-food. I choose this place simply because it has a queue of 30 people waiting to buy one. If the locals are prepared to queue and wait for it, it must be good. Or so my thinking goes. This time last year, when I was in Seoul, I had a meal in a restaurant with loads of other respectable citizens at lunch time peak hour in Insadong. I knew as I ate it that something wasn’t right. As I left, I felt quite unsettled in the stomach, half an hour later, I almost blacked out, got quite dizzy and threw up in the street at the bus stop. Janine and I shared the meal together. However, I was the only one to eat the pickled chilli relish in the jar on the table, Janine didn’t. It was a respectable, busy restaurant, in a posh part of town. How can you tell?

I’m pleased to repot that the pancake was delicious, followed by no unpleasant side effects – and only $1 great value!

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While I’m here in this place where so much is possible, I decide to get one more name stamp carved with my initials. I find a tiny shop with a young lady that does such things and draft out my design, but regrettably, she doesn’t get it or doesn’t care, or perhaps she has no inherent sense of design flare? I don’t know. But my own hand-made wooden stamp that I cut myself at home has a better look to my mind.

Mine is a bit wobbly, but looks better overall. However, it doesn’t really matter, as it is so small and is only on the foot ring, such that no-one will ever really see it.  

The next day I leave Seoul and take the train and bus to Chuncheon where I am destined to meet up with the director of the Yanggu Porcelain Museum. I have texted him an image of my buss ticket, so that he will know where I am and at what time. 

Over my 5 visits to Korea, we have become friends. United by our common interest in sericite porcelain.

On this visit, my fifth, I am invited to stay with Mr Jung and his wife in their home. I’m flattered and feel really honoured by this gesture of generosity at a very personal level.   

The next day it’s down to work in the Porcelain Research Centre. My time is limited, so I must get busy. The Yanggu Porcelain Museum is situated in the tiny village of Bangsan right up near the DMZ, in the geographical centre of (the unified) Korea. The site has a history going back 700 years. ‘Sericite’ mica has been mined here for that long. Sericite is otherwise known as ‘Porcelain Stone’, ‘Do-suk’, in Korea, ’Bai-tunze’ or ‘Pai-tun-ze’ in China, ‘Groan’ in Cornwall, sometimes ‘Muscovite’ Mica or ‘white mica’ in Australia. This is the stuff of the original porcelains that were independently discovered and developed, long before kaolin and felspar was added into the mix. It seems that porcelain was invented wherever sericite was plentiful.

The Museum here has several bodies available. All based on sericite, most of them are  available to be used individually, but the Porcelain Centre also has a couple of blended bodies that are much easier to use. These are prepared for use by the part-time students and visitors who come on cultural tours. The blended sericite bodies have been cleverly developed by Mr Jung to over-come the various short comings of each of the individual materials. 

There is a 2 material blend that combines a very low temperature maturing mica With a more refractory one. Individually they need special attention and different firing temperatures, but combined they work very well together. There is also a 3 way sericite blend. These blends have the advantage of all firing at the same temperature, which makes life a lot easier for the staff. 

Like me, Mr Jung, the Director of the Porcelain Museum, has a life long interest in sericite porcelain, He being born and raised here in Yanggu County.

They no longer use the original mined sericite from 700 years ago. The mine site is now lost. No-one knows where it once was. I suspect that it is probably over the border in North Korea a couple of kilometres away to the North. Just over the hill from the Museum. There is however a site, closer to the border, where the mined sericite or Do-suk, was sorted  into different grades and stored, before being carted down the valley to the river to be shipped to Seoul and the Royal Porcelain Works. Ancient documents name the site and list how 70 tonnes of material was shipped out in each 12 month period, usually in spring and autumn, at high water, when the river was not either in flood or dried up.

I have visited the ancient storage site on 3 occasions to investigate and collect samples for my research. I have had my samples analysed at the University of New South Wales in Sydney. The results are published in my recent book ‘5 Stones’. The ancient material is indeed almost pure sericite with some silica. It is beautifully plastic to throw on the wheel even without ageing. I was thrilled to discover this when I got my box of stones home and processed them into a plastic body.

There isn’t much to be seen these days. And I wouldn’t know that it was there, except that I was shown the remote site. On my last visit, I arrived just after torrential rains had caused havoc in this part of the country. On arrival at the site, I found that the rain had caused some quite deep erosion in the gutters of the dirt track leading up to the site. Because I knew what I was looking for, I was able to identify small white fragments of the stone that had washed down the road in the gutter. I rescued these, washed and cleaned them, and ‘borrowed’ them to make the work that I am now returning to the Museum as fired pots.

No-one here seems to be interested in collecting ‘in-situ’ materials for making ceramics. It’s not taught in the schools or Universities here, so no one knows how to do it. Added to that is the fact that you can buy almost anything you want already prepared from a pottery supply shop. There is no incentive to try unknown and untested wild materials.

I’m lead to believe that I am the only person to attempt to make work from these ancient stones in the past few hundred years. All the current sericite comes from an industrial sized mine site a few kilometres away up the river. Korea it seems is very geologically rich in Sericite sites.

However, things may be about to change. Since I was here last. Mr Jung, the Museum Director, has taken an interest in my research and reads my occasional emails about my prospecting and mineral processing with interest. He was recently out bush-walking in the hills behind his home and has discovered what he thinks might be a seam of sericite in the side of a road cutting used by loggers. We have hatched a plan to go up there and investigate. We will go as soon as I have finished throwing and turning my pots. Perhaps while they are drying prior to bisque firing.

So far I have tried the two blends and 3 individual sericite bodies that Mr Jung has prepared. There are two new materials that I haven’t seen before. The raw material appears just off white when raw and dry, but develops into a beige to khaki colour when wetted down. The other is slightly pinkish when raw, but develops into an apricot, to pale terra cotta colour after processing. They are both quite plastic to throw, the apricot one has a tendency to split though. I feel that a little addition of ‘Calgon’ to the slip during processing might help ameliorate this?

I have seen the fired samples and they both seem to be good, firing just off white, but not too translucent. I think that they may be quite good in wood firing, with the lowish iron content, they may flash well.

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The view from my room in the early morning, just after sunrise at 6.00am is not a Shepards Delight, but just a sign of the filthy air quality here, and this is way out in the far countryside. Hours away from the centres of heavy industry and Seoul. The locals claim that all this  polluted air is blown over from China, and some of it probably is, but Korea is a highly industrialised country with a majority of cars and certainly all trucks being diesel powered.   My Jung and I are in agreement that the origin of the pollution is probably somewhere around 50/50. Whatever the origin, the air most certainly has to be cleaned up. People will be dying young with lung diseases growing up breathing this toxic mess.

World wide, we need to phase out diesel engines and coal fired power stations as an easy first step to cleaning up the environment. I say easy in this case, simply because there already exist cleaner alternatives such as solar and wind power to generate electricity. Of course it won’t be politically easy. The UK spent a whole week this month, May 2019,  with all its coal thermal power stations off line, relying entirely on its non-coal sources of energy. It can be done now.

Of course there will be screams of denial, loads of hand wringing and calls for extensions by the very powerful vested interests and their political allies who get generous ‘black’ donations from the carbon intensive industries. The Murdoch press will wail and nash their teeth, publishing hysterical headlines, based on untruths, if the past is anything to go by. 

Change is over due, Cleaning up our environment has to be done. We desperately need to clean up the disgusting mess that we have made in this generation. It’s our responsibility to start to fix what we have largely broken. The climate crisis has already gone too far.  We are going to need a combination of government regulation and free market solutions to claw back the global heating to manageable levels. Profitable business opportunities await the entrepreneurs who dare to make the change and forge the way. The broken old vested interests are simply being lazy. It’s time for them to step aside, stop holding us back and let the future begin.