Sunday, February 19, 2012

Cooking with Fire

One of the classes that I was able to watch a bit of at the West Coast Culinary Symposium last weekend was Baroness Tangwystyl verch Morgant Glasvryn "Cooking over a Fire." As a potter, I've been making stoneware cooking pots many years now, making pipkins, pans and a variety of cookware over the years, but I've never seen anyone actually use them. I knew in theory how to use them and have had clients of mine test the pots to make sure they work, but this experience was very different for me.

Alton Brown has used Earthenware pots in a number of his episodes. The ones I've seen have been mostly baking, but to let my readers know that ceramics were the first "dutch oven" pretty much. Ceramics were used in ancient Rome and Greece, as well as in other ancient cultures around the world. They were used for the usual things one would cook in a stainless steel pot (i.e. stews, soups, sauces, vegetables, meats, rice, etc). You can even bake bread in clay (there is a roman/greek clay cloche I found the documentation for), serve wine, prepare your items (mortars and kitchen items)... well, I think you get the picture. The thing with Alton was he usually uses flower pots to cook in. It's nice to see the pots I've made being used for what I intended them for, and them being enjoyed.

Anywho, the way to use clay cookware is actually fairly simple. To avoid thermal shock, you need to make sure you evenly warm the clay vessel and slowly heat them. No open flames at all.

Usually they start with coals. If a pot doesn't have feet (it's a sauce pan instead of a pipkin...) then a trivet is put down on a sturdy fire proof area. Someplace dry and away from a lot of wind is an ideal spot. If your pot as feet, don't worry about the trivet.

This woman is heating up the coals and trying to get some air into them. Bellows would be fairly helpful at this point, but not needed when skirts and lungs are had. Just be careful not to set yourself on fire.

I've always told to slowly warm the pots by keeping the pot next to the coals as you are building the fire (a few feet) and as the coals settle into gray, hot useable goals, slowly move the pot closer and closer to the pile. Even heat to the pot. You don't want to drop a cold pot into a hot fire because the pot may crack due to thermal shock (think of a glass of ice and pouring boiling water into it and the usual ramifications of that).

Pans of french toast added. Cooking commences. More coals are added as cooking is done.

Here are more examples of pots and cooking with fire.

Differences in handles... the hallow handles you would use a long stick in order to help pull it out of the fire. Some of the ladies would also use a mitt in order to help steady the pot and the stick to remove the cookware from the coals.

Items that were being cooked: french toast, custard, apple fritters and a game hen of some sort in wine sauce. There were also pancakes/prizelles I believe being made. From what I ate, it was all very yummy.

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Saturday, February 11, 2012

Clay as an art... Like Woe...

From the beginning of my blog, I’ve kept it pretty non-personalized. I suppose on purpose to an extent, as I feared that people might become enraged at an opinion of mine, a wild hare of sorts. I think after recent events in my personal life, I have decided to change. However, I certainly hope that people don’t fall over from one of my crazy ideas or commentary. I definitely don’t mean anything controversial by what I say usually. My musings portray years of what I have experienced as a clay artist in Los Angeles recreating the past.

When I started doing ceramics many years ago, I started to notice how those that have either dabbled in clay or who have never tried, believe it to be a craft instead of an art. And perhaps I am too sensitive to having something I have been doing for well over a quarter of my life being classified as something close to making tissue box covers out of newspaper or creating my very own fossilized dinosaur egg. Ceramics, just like any art form, have various levels of complexity and competency. I will be talking here about why ceramics are a lot more difficult than most people think and the “art” behind it.

As I go over this subject, I definitely don’t want to discourage anyone from trying out the ceramic arts. I really wish to give people a better understanding of the complexity of it as clay can be as simple or elaborate as the artist wants it to be. The medium is only limited by the skill of the artist.

One of my pots, a pitcher...


Thursday, February 09, 2012

13th Century Cauldron

Most of you may know, I recreate a lot of historical pottery. I haven't really shared a lot of my own pottery here or ever done any comparisons to the originals. I have a few of those in a few posts here and there.

When recreating pottery for me, I try to get close to the original, however there will be differences. As a potter, I make decisions based on design, esthetics, and my own experiences as I create the piece. I often work from one print out, usually a profile and a lot of the time I will miss details or I am unsure about parts of a piece, so I will make my next best guess about what the piece really looks like. Sometime the photo I have is of a broken item or damaged piece, so I have to make up parts as to what could possibly be there. I also change the items size depending on the needs of the final user/owner is (usually bigger). That will distort the completed object into looking exactly like the original.

If I had the piece in front of me, I would have a bit more control over what my finished product would be. Also, as an artist, I want the pot to have some of me in the work as I don't consider myself a production potter. However, I think usually I get pretty close to what I am looking at within 1-5% of the piece.

Here is a pot I found on the Museum of London site over here. It is a Cauldron, 13th-14th Century.

Here are the details per their website:

Accession number: 18931
Collection place: London
Production date: Medieval; late 13th-mid 14th century
Material: ceramic; earthenware
Measurements: H 240 mm
Museum Section: Medieval
Summary: Largely reconstructed London-type ware cauldron with opposed, angular loop handles, glazed internally.
Location: Object stored at Mortimer Wheeler House (Ceramics and Glass store)
Category: Medieval glazed ware.
Sub-category: London-type ware.

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