I first learnt about sprigs in my mould making class and though why would anyone ever use a sprig? Now I can’t stop applying them to plates, platters and vases. It’s a simple yet effective technique that when use well can create lovely rhythmic detail. I like the subtle shadows created by the undulating surface and how certain glazes can break over the sprigs.
To create a sprig mould I mix up plaster and pour it into discs 2cm deep (small plastic containers work well). Once set I carve my design with a modelling tool. To form a sprig, I press clay into the mould and wipe back the excess clay with a firm kidney tool. I use a small piece of clay to help pop out the sprig. I paint vinegar to the back of the sprig and the vessel to attach the sprig.
Technique: When finished sprigging, I find it best to slow dry the piece to prevent the sprigs from pulling away from the vessel and cracking. It’s important for the clay of the sprig and vessel to be similar in wetness to achieve the best join.
Materials: Vinegar is a good binding agent as it breaks down the particles in the clay forming a strong join.
Asparagus & Prosciutto
Perfect appetizer to start the evening. It’s quick and simple to make and looks elegant with the soft white glaze of my sprig platter.
2 bunches asparagus (16 spears)
16 slices of shaved prosciutto
Good quality olive oil
Add asparagus to pot of boiling water and cook for 1– 2 minutes (or until aldente). Drain and place in cold water to stop the asparagus cooking before patting dry with a tea towel. Wrap each spear in a piece of prosciutto, winding from one end to the other. Assemble on platter, drizzle with olive oil and a squeeze of fresh lemon.
Centering clay is one of the first things you learn when throwing on the wheel. It takes patience and practice but if you stick at it long enough it becomes second nature. Once centred a cylinder is formed – this creates the foundations of the vessel. It's important to have a good idea of the shape you want before you start as the height and diameter of your cylinder will determine the the dimensions of your vessel.
Flaring a lip out should take place toward the end of your throwing as the centrical force of the wheel can cause the clay to keep going out making it difficult, if not impossible to bring a lip back in.
It's best not to overwork the clay as this can cause the walls too become weak and collapse.
That Wild Rice Dish
This is a favourite that has some great flavours going on, it doesn’t have a proper name so we just refer to it as ‘that wild rice dish’. I love the black flecks of the wild rice confettied throughout the dish and the pop of colour from the chilli and coriander on the white bowl.
1½ cups jasmine rice
½ cup wild rice
2 cups chopped mushrooms
¼ cup toasted slivered almonds
2 tbsp butter
1 tbsp vegetable oil
¼ cup good quality soy sauce
1 bunch coriander
Cook wild rice and jasmine rice according to packet directions (rather than cook them separately, I find it works if you boil the wild rice for ten minutes first and then add in the jasmine). While rice is cooking, toast slivered almonds in a pan and set aside for later. Next melt butter in a frypan and soften the onion. Add chopped chilli, mushrooms and soy, cooking for a few minlutes or until mushrooms have slightly goldened (the trick is to not over crowd the pan!). When the rice is ready, stir through mushroom mixture and toasted almonds. Garnish with coriander and sliced chilli as desired.
Working with the darker clay bodies is great fun – maybe because they seem to create more mess. Gold raku is a clay I’ve become quite partial to. I love the warm orange/brown it fires to in oxidation and it’s earthy texture when left raw. This clay has a good amount of tooth (meaning grog – small ground up particles), which makes it easy to shape and form.
Gold raku is great when it comes to joins. All the grog in the clay makes handles bind easily. After attaching the handle, I tend to wrap my pieces in plastic for a day before letting them dry out completely – this ensures the handle and body of the vessel have a similar moisture level which prevents cracking.
The grog it the clay can be quite abrasive at first so be careful if you have sensitive skin. I find it good to use a barrier cream, which stops the clay absorbing into my hands, protecting them from becoming dry and cracked. Thermal shock can be an issue when ceramics go from one extreme temperature to another, causing wares to crack. To avoid, make sure you don’t take tableware straight from the oven and put it on a cold marble bench top and vice versa.
A new favourite for Sunday morning breakfast. I love serving food from the dish it was baked in. It's such a humble way to present good food and there's less washing up! These ramekins are ideal for baked eggs and can be served straight from the oven.
4 free range eggs
1 small onion
1 tbsp olive oil
1 pinch chilli fakes
½ tsp cumin
½ tsp paprika
1 tin chopped tomatoes
½ cup labne
1 bunch coriander
Soften the onions in a fry pan with oil. Add spices and tinned tomato. Spoon a generous layer of the warm tomato mix in the bottom of the ramekin. Crack in two eggs and add a couple more spoons of the tomato mixture around the eggs. Place in a hot oven for 10 minutes or until eggs have cooked leaving a runny yolk. Dollop with a generous spoon of labne and fresh coriander. Serve with toasted sourdough.
Developing a glaze is a bit like cooking, only when you first start out it’s like being thrown in a kitchen and told to cook an authentic Ethiopian dish with all the ingredients in Ethiopian. It can be pretty overwhelming knowing where to begin. Potash feldspar, whiting, silica, kaolin, nephaline syenite. What are they? What does each one do?
Slowly, slowly through testing and observation I’m getting to understand the possibilities of raw materials. It's often about working backwards, problem solving to determine why something came out of the kiln matt instead of satin or why the glaze crawled. Raw ingredients, firing temperature, clay body and thickness, application...there are so many things that can alter the outcome of a glaze.
I'm currently developing a black matt glaze using iron oxide and manganese dioxide as the main colourants. My teacher has always said you can never do enough testing – advice that rings true time and time again.
Glazing: It's best to test glazes that have toxic oxides for leaching – you can do this by filling the vessel with vinegar and leaving it for a few days, if the vinegar discolours the glaze it's not food safe (leaching is less likely to occur in high gloss finishes).
Glaze ingredients can be hazardous in their raw state making it essential to follow the appropriate safety procedures when mixing and applying glazes. All finely milled ingredients are a dust hazard and can be dangerous if airborne and inhaled. Apron, gloves and masks are a must when glazing!
Summer Veggie Salad
This rustic platter works well for a casual lunch feast. The satin black glaze is understated and works well for this thrown together salad. You can substitute any of the veggies for your favourites or whatever you have in the fridge.
1 cup cous cous
1 red onion sliced
1 bunch asparagus
1 punnet cherry tomatoes halved
1 can chickpeas (rinsed well)
2 tbsp good quality olive oil
1 bunch parsley roughly chopped
Put cous cous in a bowl, pour over boiling water and cover for a few minutes. Chop the asparagus spears in three and boil for a minute or two. Put red onion and olive oil in a frypan and soften. Use a fork to separate the cous cous and combine all ingredients. Season to taste and top with pan fried haloumi.
There is so much to think about when creating what appears to be a simple vessel. I wanted to make a versatile bowl, ideal for salads and vegetables and I'm discovering with clay the more simple the design, the harder it can be to execute!
When throwing it's important to compress the base – always. For smaller pieces the tips of your fingers work well. If you have a large surface area to cover, a firm kidney tool is best. It can be easy to form a gutter where the base meets the wall, to avoid doing this I have a flat stick I place in the bottom of the bowl as a guide.
Making the walls and base of the vessel the same thickness ensures they dry evenly and the wall doesn’t pull away from the base causing a crack around the inside edge.
Compressing the lip of the bowl is the final step before removing the vessel from the wheel. A small square of suede does the trick, ensuring the rim is even, smooth and rounded as desired.
Forming a right angle edge on a ceramic vessel can be more tricky than it looks. The top of the cylinder can pull in more when drying so you actually need to throw the lip with a slight flair to accommodate for this shrinkage.
This bowl is great for all types of salads, chips, fruit – anything really. I like to use desiree potatoes as the red skin looks particularly enticing against the soft white glaze. Diced cornichons are my favourite addition for a bit of zing.
8 desiree potatoes
3 free range eggs
1 celery stalk
¼ cup cornichons
¼ cup whole egg mayonnaise
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
Boil potatoes until they can be pieced with a skewer. Add the eggs about 5 minutes before the potatoes are done. Drain and set to cool. Dice celery and cornichons. Cut potatoes into large pieces and roughly chop eggs. Add the rest of the ingredients and stir gently. Finish with a generous handful of chopped chives and season to taste.
I've only recently started my love affair with black glazes. I used to think food looked better on a lighter palette but now I can't get enough of black serving ware. Black glazes can make food look really sexy and sophisticated. It can really dress up a dish – no matter how simple the recipe may be.
For this recipe I wanted to keep the design simple. I also wanted the plate to be a generous size but not obnoxious. A well defined lip was a feature I wanted to include – something that seems to be less popular with modern tableware. A strong lip with a bit of height enables the plate to double as a risotto bowl or dessert plate, while making it easy to lift from the table.
With all this in mind, I used white stoneware to throw the plate (throwing is the verb used when forming a vessel on the potter's wheel). Aiming for a finished plate that was around 26cm in diameter, give or take, I threw the plate to be approx. 30cm (this allows for a shrinkage rate of roughly 13% that occurs during the drying and firing process).
I chose to hand dip the glaze, using a large basin to submerge the plate. The finished piece is 26.5cm in diameter with a gloss finish – perfect for homemade ravioli (see recipe below).
Technique: I threw on a bat to facilitate ease of moving and prevent warping. It's essential to compress the base of flatware thoroughly with a firm kidney to prevent dreaded 's' cracks and other faults.
This is kind of a cheats version because I use wonton wrappers instead of making my own pasta. The soft yellow of the wonton looks great on the gloss black glaze.
15 sundried tomatoes finely chopped
100g walnuts chopped
1 packet wonton skins
1 egg beaten
1 bunch sage
150g good quality butter
Put ricotta, sundried tomatoes and walnuts in a bowl and mix well. Season to taste. Separate wonton skins and place a teaspoon of ricotta mixture in the center of a skin. Using a pastry brush (our your finger) brush egg around the 4 sides of the wonton skin – this will help stick another skin on top, enclosing the ricotta to create your ravioli pillow. You can make the ravioli earlier in the day (makes approx. 25-30 pillows), just put them in the fridge and cover them with a tea towel so they don’t dry out.
Bring a pot of water to boil and add the ravioli (in stages if they don’t all fit). The ravioli should only take a couple of minutes to cook. When it floats to the top of the water it’s ready.
For the sauce, add the butter to a saucepan on medium heat (be careful to monitor this as the butter can burn quickly!). Once melted add the sage leaves and fry till slightly crispy. Pour over ravioli and serve immediately.