This page gives people a view into our daily lives living in the west of Ireland. It includes posts about our projects in the ceramic studio as well as projects in the garden, home and kitchen.
The end of the blackberry harvest meets the start of the apple one so its only natural that we should throw them together in a pie. A good pie filling consists of a smooth sauce with chunky bits as well. So I pre-cook the apples and blackberries to form the sauce and then I add chunky bits of uncooked fruit. I also think its important that the filling is not too sweet so I don't use much honey. Its good to let the tartness of the big sour bramley apples shine through, especially when your serving it with sweetened whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.
Sweet Shotcrust Pastry:
175g plain white flour
40g caster sugar or icing sugar
Some bramley apples
A big handful of wild blackberries
A sprinkle of ground cloves
1. To make pastry just throw everything into a food processor and whizz until it forms a ball. Roll it out and cover the base of your tin, saving half for the lid!
2. To make apple sauce peel and chop apples keeping half the pieces to one side. Add honey & ground cloves. Simmer with the lid on until soft and fluffy. It doesn't take long so watch out, you don't want it to burn.
3. To make blackberry sauce throw blackberries & some sugar in another pot and simmer until soft. Run it all thru a sieve to make a gorgeous smooth & thick sauce.
4. Pop the two sauces into your pie base. Chop in some chunky pieces of apple and whole blackberries. Roll out the pastry lid. Glue it on using egg wash & pinch the edges to join them together. Brush more egg wash or milk on top and sprinkle with demerara sugar. Pop in the over at 180 degrees Celsius for around 30 - 40 minutes (until golden brown). Serve with either whipped cream or vanilla ice cream. YUM!
I never got any extensive training on the wheel; just a short introduction to it during a ceramics elective in art college. Back then it was immediately obvious to me that to get a handle of the skill I would need to be totally dedicated to it. I was already immersed in my painting so I put it aside for another day. I still haven't got the chance to learn how to throw a pot so I like to build things with my hands instead. This week Steve showed me how to make a plate using a press mould.
First we made a wooden stamp using plywood. We cut this one into a figure of eight shape. We pressed the wooden stamp into the clay while it rested on a large flat sponge to take some slack.
I am making my way through the freezer - it needs to be defrosted. So I am using up all of last years harvest which includes a huge stash of blackberries. This simple fermented soda can be made with any fruit, fresh or frozen. The measurements in this recipe do not have to be exact.
- About 6 cups of Blackberries
- About 1 cup Honey or Sugar
- About 2 tablespoon of Sauerkraut Culture (or another like whey from strained yogurt)
1. Put blackberries in a pot and cover with water (I use about 1 & 1/2 liters). Simmer for about 30 minutes. Take off heat & add honey/sugar then leave it sit until cool.
2. Strain out blackberries. Dilute this syrup with more water (measure according to the flavor strength of your preference). I added about an extra 1 liter.
3. Add your culture then pour into a sterilized demijohn and fit an airlock.
4. Leave it sit for around 3 days. During which it will ferment and bubble away.
5. Move soda into plastic screw top bottles (if using glass be mindful that they can explode with the pressure if left long enough!). Store in the fridge. They will be ready in around 3 - 4 weeks. It will get fizzier and more dry the longer you leave it. But don't leave it too long otherwise you will loose half the soda in frothy overflow when opening it up.
Slip or 'engobe' is a form of liquid clay in which colours can be added. It is used to paint onto the surface of pots to give them colour and texture. When we want to create a smooth finish we have to ensure the consistency of slip is spot on (like cream). If it is applied too thick or applied to a body of clay that is already very dry, it can split and crack. These effects can be exaggerated to create textural surfaces.
We've been experimenting with stretching a white slip over dark clay and throwing it across the table to make it crack. To create an extra thick slip we added dispex to porcelin. Dispex works to suspend particles in liquid. When it is added to slip it makes it extra thick and unctious.
Some examples of plates where slip has been stretched:
Some experiments with pattern and colour from the month of June:
During the months of April & May the Gorse bushes in Kerry begin to come into full bloom.
On a sunny day the wind picks up their sweet scent of coconuts (which is kinda like a Pina Colada) and carries it across the fields and into our garden.
These bright yellow flowers make the most delicious wine with a distinctive coconut flavour and bright yellow colour.
Gorse Bushes are covered in tough sharp spikes which makes collecting them very tricky. We enlist the help of our young kids who use their tiny little fingers to get a hold of them!
The recipe we use to make our gorse wine comes from John Wright's book called 'Booze' in the River Cottage Handbook Series.
We have been developing a range of these simple and functional circular platters. They have a wateriness to them; the blue pools of pigment seem to float. Cobalt and copper is also used to create colour.
Echiums belongs to the Boraginaceae family which include other plants like Borage & Comfrey. We love them because they bring height and colour into the garden and also because they give our bees lots of nectar. The tall Echium pininana - know as tree echium or giant vipers bugloss - is native to the Canary Islands and is a biennial.
In the first year they reach around 3 feet, forming a strong trunk with a display of foliage. In the following spring they send up a huge tall column of flowers which lasts for many months. While they are making their reach for the sky they often get hit by some strong winds. A little support goes a long way.
They tend to self seed effectively in dry gravely areas of the garden. I bought my first seed from Seedaholic.com.
In the early spring when they are making their reach for the sky they often get hit by some strong winds. A little support goes a long way.
A much smaller variety is Echium vulgare - know as vipers Bugloss - which is native to most of Europe and acts like an annual here in Ireland. It produces a very high concentration of nectar and so it is one of the best plants to attract bees to your garden. I have a blue and a white variety. Every year I collect their seeds and sow them again the following spring with no fuss.
This year I have sown two more varieties - Echium Russicum https://www.seedaholic.com/echium-russicum.html and Echium Red Bugloss .
We have been developing some new ash glaze recipes lately. Ash glazes are ceramic glazes made from the ash of various kinds of wood or straw. In a wood fired kiln, potters like to create random effects by setting up the kiln so that ash created during firing falls onto the pots; the results of this are seen in Phil Rogers book 'Ash Glazes'.
We use an electric kiln where the conditions are highly controlled and predictable so in order to get some interesting effects with wood ash we mix it with water, and often clay, and apply is as a paste or we simply shake the dry ash onto the surface of the pot before it enters the kiln.
Wood ash is primarily made up of calcium carbonate, which is used in many glaze recipes. It also contains many other components which differ depending on the location, soil, and type of wood the ash came from. Each different ash glaze produces different results.
We collect wood ash from the pizza over at the Cill Rialaig Cafe. We wash it, sieve it and dry it to make a fine dust.
The ceramic flux in wood ash is calcium oxide. When present in a glaze it promotes running & streaking. Wood ash glazes often run and slip so much during firing that they move down off the pot and onto the kiln shelf below, sticking the pot firmly to the shelf it sits on. In order to remove the pot we have to grind the pot off using an angle grinder; after this process the pot is usually lost.
Some examples of pots where we have used wood Ash:
This year I am determined to make my beans stand strong and tall on dependable supports. In the past my they have collapsed under the weight of foliage. To ensure success I have made lots of different structures using materials salvaged from the garden and workshop.
Bamboo is our most useful material for making wigwams and luckily we have our own patch which we take from every year. Many years ago a small clump of it was planted and since then it has become a forest of bamboo spreading 10 metres across. The invasive nature of the bamboo does prove to be a problem but the benefit of having good strong canes for use in the garden is a big plus. The bamboo forest also serves as a habitat for birds and wildlife and especially our chickens who use it for shelter. The kids love to hide inside it where they have made tracks and tunnels.
For the peas I stretched chicken wire across two posts and repeated this process, running several of them side by side. At the end of summer these supports can be pulled out of the ground, rolled up and put away until next spring when I will tap them back in again.
Lovely new pea shoots are delicious. .
Explorations with cobalt blue using wax as a resist.
Today Noah and I planted 100 snowdrops under the weeping cherry tree. They will love it there in the moist and hummus rich soil. During the dark days of January and February these little beauties will brighten up the garden.
My friend Colleen gave us some beetroot seeds that she collected from South Africa. They have produced the biggest and juiciest beetroots that we've ever grown. We usually pull most of our beets up in September but this year we forgot a few. They are a little woody and bitter at this stage so the best way to use them up is in a pickle. This pickled beetroot is great on a chicken and mayonnaise sandwich but it is also great with cold meats. This recipe makes 3 x 400 ml jars.
3-4 large pre cooked beetroots, sliced
200 grams white sugar
350 ml water
200 ml white wine vinegar
To sterilise jars put them in the oven and set it to 180 degrees Celsius. Soak the lids in a sterile solution and rinse with boiling water.
Meanwhile, put the sugar and water in a saucepan and bring to the boil. Hold it for 3-5 minutes then add the beetroot and boil a further 2 minutes. Add the vinegar. As soon as it reaches a boil again turn the heat off. Pour directly into hot sterilized jars and put the lids on. These will keep for months.
This dessert is inspired by the American thanksgiving pumpkin pie. Its texture is just like a cheesecake.
1 medium butternut squash
6 tablespoons melted butter
2 tablespoons caster sugar
1 1/2 cups cream
3 eggs lightly beaten
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
pinch ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup chestnut paste
1/2 cup icing sugar
1 pre baked 9 inch pie crust
Preheat oven to 180 degrees Celsius. Peel and chop the squash and place it on a baking tray along with the butter and caster sugar. Bake for around 40 minutes or until the squash is soft and the sugar has begun to caramelise. Leave to cool.
Puree the squash and caramelised sugar in a food processor. In a bowl take 1 cup of pureed squash and mix it with 1 cup of the cream as well as the eggs, brown sugar, spices and salt.
In a separate bowl combine the chestnut paste with the remaining 1/2 cup cream & icing sugar. Spread it on the pie base then top it with the butternut squash mix.
Bake until the pie is firm to the touch but jiggles when moved which is about 1 hour. Leave to cool before serving. It's even better the next day after the flavours have had more time to develop.
Our polytunnel door used to swing open with even a small gust of wind. It was a real pain so with some simple changes we made it a sliding door instead. We attached a piece of 4 x 2 above the opening and then mounted the sliding track to it. This was a very quick job and its made a big difference.
We got the sliding door hardware from our local co-op.
We have finally installed our polytunnel! Its 5.5 metres wide and 12 metres long and it cost us €2,087 from Polydome.ie. Installing it was simple and fun. With many hands on deck from family & wwoofers we assembled it quickly.
Here are a few images of the things we have made to help us with our daily tasks in the studio:
The Irish garden gets a huge amount of annual rain fall so slugs absolutely thrive here. We have a huge variety of slugs in the garden. Some of them grow to be the size of your thumb! The kids are in competition to see who can find the biggest one ever.
Taking a newly emerged seedling and plating it out in the garden is like feeding it to the sharks. So we have devised a system to keep the slugs off. We take an old milk bottle, cut the bottom off it, place it over the seedling and push it down into the soil. It becomes a small protective house in which the slugs generally don't tend to enter. The environment inside the milk bottle is also lovely and warm. When the seedling begins to push up and out of the bottle we remove it. At that stage the plant is usually large enough to handle a few slug bites.
One of our Wwoofers devised a solution for storing the milk bottles by threading rope through their handles and hooking them up.
Our first series of pots are inspired by traditional country pottery. Copper & Manganese are used to add colour.