Sunday, January 29, 2012

Tagines, Teapots, Tomatoes, and.... Summer Snow!

First two tagines, I was having fun with those lids!
One way or the other, I've had another busy week here.  A week ago on Sunday I had my first attempt ever of making tagines, this burst of activity was triggered by someone phoning me the Friday before and asking if it was possible to make a tagine lid by the following Tuesday,... Ummmm, what's that? 3 or 4 days...., much as I like to try to be helpful, I couldn't work that sort of miracle, but I was interested in trying to make a tagine or two, just to see how they were done.  Well, I went to dear old Google for assistance, and there before my eyes were tagines of all sorts of shapes and sizes and levels of authenticity (some were even stainless steel!!!).  Commonly used in North African countries, such as Morocco and Algeria, the tagine was a special pot with a lid that was designed for slow cooking on a fire or simple stove.  The most authentic looking ones were low fired earthenware that had been glazed with a liberal application of olive oil, and "cooked" to condition and strengthen them.

Tagine lids were usually tall, tent-like, and narrowed to a small opening at the top.  I could see that potters used one of two ways to make them on the wheel.  Some looked like they had been made like a widely flaring bowl with a narrow foot, then later flipped up the other way and turned and finished.  Others were almost certainly thrown from clay that had been first opened out like a doughnut on the wheel, then the clay lifted and brought upward and inward, the lid being made all in one piece and up the right way.  I tried both methods, and preferred the form that came naturally when the second method was used. The second method was less fussy, faster, and I suspect what a "traditional" potter would use.

Finishing the third lid.  Photo by Rhonda.
The first two tagines that I made were made with the lid reaching 12 inches diameter and were made like a flaring bowl with the first method.  Late in the day, when they were firm enough, I flipped the lids over, added a small blob of clay to the top of each lid, and finished them on the wheel.

The tagine bases were made like large, shallow bowls, each one had a generous flange let into the rim to take the lid and to help make a reasonable seal when the lid was in place.

The third tagine had a lid made to the second method (doughnut, lift, bring in, and finish... all in one go).  I did not measure this one, but I think it was about 10 inches or so in diameter.  The photo above that our friend Rhonda took when she visited on the Sunday afternoon, is of me finishing this third lid.  Once finished, I sloshed some white slip around the lids, then scratched patterns through the slip.  Quite fun really.  I'll probably put a simple honey glaze over the top of the slip decoration.  I guess I will reluctantly "give in" and put a clear glaze on the inside of the base.  I do rather like the idea of low firing and seasoning with olive oil though..., even if some may well question if porous clay in the kitchen is hygienic!

Tagine number 3.
Pot with 3 handles.

Somewhere along the way this week I also made a pot with three lug handles, made some more goblets, decorated some tiles, made three teapots, looked after the Potter's Co-operative gallery for a day, glazed up a kiln-load of goblets, bowls, tiles, and one or two more glaze tests (glaze day was yesterday, Saturday), and fired them through Saturday night, finishing them by 9am this morning (Sunday).  I was able to use the waste heat from the kiln to help dry the next kiln load or two of work.  This is something that I like to do if I can, and it really speeds up production and ensures that the work is properly dry.

I have not made teapots for a while, and it was nice to make these three.  I do take ages making teapots, but I find the process very satisfying, and it is always an interesting task to make something that is useful and "artistic" at the same time.  The clay I use is a little "difficult" in that it is quite like porcelain and is rather unforgiving.  Handles have to be about the same wetness or dryness as the body of the pot when they are joined to it, otherwise the joint will crack, or the pot may even break where the handle is attached due to stresses being set up as the clay dries and shrinks.  To help even out the moisture in the clay, I wrapped the pots in plastic for the first two days after attaching the handles.  Hopefully they will dry safely now.

Out in the garden, the battle to grow tomatoes continues.  I apply gentle caressing and vibrating to the flowers around mid day, and think kind thoughts... or mutter threats, depending on my mood!  I think that our climate is holding all the aces however...  To show you just how unfair our summer weather is, I took the photos below this on Friday.  You will notice, I hope, that there is a tomato successfully growing on one of my tomato plants.  On the right is a photo of a hill that is between us and Dunedin.  Umm...., the white stuff is SNOW!!!!
Snow in summer, now isn't that a treat!  Needless to say, the wind on Friday morning was impressively cold.... you could have snap frozen peas in it!


Angie said...

Those tagines are fantastic ...especially the third ...and those teapots have a beautiful have been so busy.

That is a gorgeous shot of the hills ...even if there is snow in summer ....and well done with the tomato ...from small beginnings and all that lol xx

cookingwithgas said...

oh you will just have to eat that tomato fried. fried green tomatoes with goat cheese....
The tangines and full of possibilities I have read about them and watched them used, seems my mother had one...but never have made one. The pots with 3 handles- love!
OH- and I need a set of mugs could you have those made by Tuesday? I had a customer ask me this one day, it was Saturday and she needed them by Tuesday- I was speechless...

gz said...

So that is where our snow has gone!!

Judy Shreve said...

Love your tanginess - the shape, the slip work. Really wonderful pieces. I've always wanted to use one but never have. And I also love your teapots - those handles are wonderful.
And I'm with Meredith - fried green tomatoes, goat cheese and a good glass of wine . . . .

Michèle Hastings said...

the tagine pots are lovely! i have a small spice holder that appears to be two miniature tagines attached to each other, my niece brought it back from morocco for me some years ago. i have seen these pots but didn't know the name, thanks for filling me in!

Peter said...

Hello Angie,
The tagines (like my tomato!!) are a beginning of something, but there still such a lot to learn, and I must get the weight down a bit. You are right about the third being best, I think it helped to make the lid by the second method that I wrote about, and everything else followed from there. Teapots and "beautiful line", thanks for that :)

Hi Meredith,
I can provide a green tomato, but I may have difficulty finding goat cheese around here unfortunately... but you never know!

The pot with three handles nearly ended up in my recycle bin part way through the making of it... the first lot of handles that I made were too big and ugly, so I took them off and put on the smaller ones that you can see in the photo! A nice flowing ash glaze would look the part on it I think. I'm probably going to have to start wood firing again soon!

Ahh Gwynneth, good quality Welsh snow to adorn our hills in summer, what could be nicer!

Hi Judy,
Mmmm Green tomatoes (or tomato!!) we can, and a good glass of wine also... still on the hunt for local goat cheese! I'll probably have to make a little wood or charcoal burning stove for my tagines to use them properly. I should make a pizza oven with additional capabilities!

Hi Michele,
Thanks for that, how interesting about the spice holder made from miniature tagines. It is fun what can be made with a little imagination!

Linda Starr said...

This is really strange, this is the second blog I have commented on and I go back later and my comment is gone, I came back to look at your tangines which I just love. I have never cooked in one and would love to some day, great shot of the mountain with the snow too.

Peter said...

Hi Linda,
Good news, your comment is here now! It is strange when the system has hiccups like that, I hope your comments decide to stay where they are intended as it is always good to hear from you. I guess that it would never snow in Florida (??) where you are. There was great excitement in Auckland NZ last winter when snow was seen in the air (which is really rare for Auckland). If snow keeps on appearing in the wrong places, or at the wrong times of the year, I might start believing what we were told at school in the 1970s... that the world was heading for another ice age!!!

Amy said...

Wow, your posts are so helpful and informative! Gorgeous pieces too, of course. Really like the tagine forms. Noticed too on your previous post about the iron oxide and manganese mixture you use to paint on test tiles. Have heard that manganese dust is really hazardous--- I guess when mixed with water all is well? I guess I"m just cautious. Have you heard of the need to be careful? Will definitely read closer to learn about your glazing. thank you!

Peter said...

Hi Amy,
Good to hear from you. Most of the metal oxides that we use are hazardous, for instance Nickel, chromium, and cobalt are known carcinogens. It always pays to use them in a way that does not create dust, and also to avoid mixing sandwiches with what ever heavy metals are lurking on the work table in the studio, or on the potter's hands!!

Probably the only metal that I can't think of a hazard for is iron oxide... in fact it may even be good for you!

Regarding manganese, I mix a small amount, probably half a teaspoon, of manganese powder with water, and also add a similar amount of iron oxide. Really I am making something that looks a bit like watercolour paint. I dip a fine brush into this, and write the glaze recipes on the back of the tiles.

Manganese is harmful as dust and also as fumes around the kiln when it is at reasonably high temperatures. The fumes thing is definitely something to watch out for if the kiln is fired in a poorly ventilated space (a potter's basement for instance!). There are special effect glazes that use really large amounts of Manganese (40 - 60 percent) and copper in them to make interesting bronze or gold coloured glazes that look like real metal; you have to be careful when firing these due to the hazard from fumes, and I think that potters without good ventilation around their kilns probably should avoid firing glazes with large amounts of manganese in them.

To put all that in balance, it is also good to remember that many potters have lived to a ripe old age, and have had happy and healthy lives!

Julia said...

All of your recent work is incredible, and those tagines are AMAZING!

It looks like our winter weather here has had less snow than your summer has there (greatest snow on earth - HAH!)

Peter said...

Hi Julia, that's really nice of you to say that, and a most welcome encouragement.

Funny thing our muddled summers and winters, I wonder if the world has fallen over on its side and no one has told us about it!!! You never know, and it would certainly result in summers and winters where they shouldn't ought to be! :)

angela walford said...

Hey peter I've just had a request for tagines and never made one myself and up you pop in a google search!! should have known to ask you 1st!!!

the request is for tagine shape in 3 litres, how large are yours?? when wet and i'm wondering clay types too...I have the clayworks LGH which is an open grey stoneware body or maybe i need to go for something finer? they're looking for function wares at a commercial ctr... the wares they use currently are chipping so they need to be fairly robust... sorry for picking your brains again :P bet its freezing over there right now!!!

Peter said...

Hi Ange,
Good to hear from you.., and yes... it is freezing here, really is... frosts at night and some afternoons only at 6 or 7 degrees.... brrrrrrrrrrrrrr!

Regarding tagines, Mine wouldn't hold anything like 3 litres of liquid, I have just measured one of the completed fired ones at 1250ml. That one was 310mm outside measurement at the widest point, but the part that matters inside was 250mm. I guess you could easily increase the volume of them by making the base part deeper, you really wouldn't have to increase the diameter at all. In my ones, the part where the food would go is only about 50mm deep inside in the deepest part. My maths is not my best attribute..., but I guess that a relatively small increase in depth will give you a great increase in volume.

I used our local earthenware clay, that is fairly robust. In theory a stoneware should be stronger if it is fired to maturity. The most important thing for you to know would be if they were going to be heated directly over a flame or on an oven top, or if they are simply going to go in an oven. A lot of clays wouldn't take the thermal shock of sitting directly on top of a hot stove.

My first tagine was only fired to about 20 or 30 degrees above what I bisque to, and was unglazed inside (but treated with olive oil). This was done in the same way to the traditional tagines which would have been low fired and very "open" and able to cope with thermal shock rather in the way that a raku clay does.

My other tagines have been fired to the usual maturing temperature of this clay, but I will sell them as ovenware only and not for a stove top.

Regarding wet dimensions, I didn't measure mine as such, but I probably took things to about 350mm to have them shrink to 310mm when fired.

Sorry that I am no expert on this, but I hope that some of that helps.

angela walford said...

thanks peter wow 7 deg brrrr!! we're hovering in the low teens daily but i know its gonna get colder!!

thanks so much for your info, it gives me a great starting point and i'll just scale up from there.. you da man :)) they've asked for stoneware and will check on all the other info re cooktop and oven usage...cheers and stay warm..