Boiled Egg and Toast.
Sitting at John’s high table, lingering over the last crumbs of a quiet Sunday morning breakfast and enjoying the unfolding day before cranking up the generator to continue our latest building project and shattering the peace across the bay, I idly watch the Welcome Swallows skimming through the air like little jet fighters. And remember another time when I witnessed the cooking of boiled egg and toast, but this time, it was a more frenetic affair.
On this occasion, I was witnessing the tail end of the highly successful Woodfire Tasmania 2011 conference at Neil Hoffmann’s property up at Reedy Marsh in Deloraine, in the north of the State. I’d driven up from Hobart on the last day to witness the outcomes of Neil’s challenge to all participants – the Reedy Marsh Woodfire Challenge. The challenge then, was to build a kiln, mine and prepare a suitable clay body, artfully stack firing fuel, create a range of dinner ware, dry and fire it in readiness to serve up a meal to a panel of judges – in a single day from local resources. An experiment not for sissies or the faint hearted!
The challenge involved a number of high flyers in the ceramics field, all of whom in this event, were designated as team leaders, each leading a group of potter/participants, who dug, potted, chopped firewood and cooked up a storm.
Team leaders included Janet Mansfield, one of Australia’s most respected wood-firers whose work reflects the Gulgong area from whence she digs her own clays and sources her wood for firing. She is also currently involved in her own publishing house. (Check out The Art of Woodfire: A Contemporary Ceramic Practice). Another team leader was Torbjørn Kvasbø from Norway, a celebrated international contemporary figure in ceramics, and a woodfirer, whose work is large scale and abstract – heroic and monumental.And then there was Yuri Wiedenhofer – a woodfirer from Tanja in New South Wales who sources all his own materials from within his own property. It soon became apparent (in my mind) that there was one clear winner. From the onset, Yuri’s kiln promised to be different. From its modest beginnings as a stone-lined hollow, to its lawn mower, grass catcher chimney cap, this kiln was unique.
His was the most inventive of kilns – emerging like a giant coil pot, it grew organically and fired like a dream!Yuri mixing clay (dug from Neil’s property) and charcoal to fill the sack ‘sausages’ that were used to ‘coil’ the kiln with – as the coils were laid one upon the other, the structure was coated in a clay slurry to fill any cracks. Empty beer bottles (of which there were a plentiful supply) were shoved in between the coils, neck outermost, so that when the kiln was pumping out the heat, and cold water sprayed onto them, the bottle necks were tapped off and the bases poked inwards with a metal stake. A uniquely creative way to provide extra side stokes (for the fuel) and air breather holes.
The addition of a lawn mower grass catcher that was scavenged from around the property was hitched to the top of the kiln, providing a damper of sorts, but more creatively, it provided an ‘oven’ for cooking the pots and cooking the meal. Meanwhile, Yuri’s other team members were making the pots, and force drying them in readiness for them to be fired in the kiln.Finally, the toast was toasted and the eggs boiled…………..………..and the final presentation made!!!!
There is a natural relationship between the cooking of clay and the cooking of food. With fire being the connecting aspect, both clay and food undergo magical, alchemical changes. When fire connects with clay, it renders it from the plastic to the permanent – when it connects with food, then the poisonous becomes the palatable.
For the full story on Yuri’s Kiln check out the article in Ceramics:TECHNICAL #33 .