Cherokee Trail of Tears

Last Autumn local artist in handmade paper Julie Taylor gave me about a dozen beans of “Cherokee Trail of Tears.”  The name refers to the forced relocation of the Cherokee nation from their native lands in Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Alabama to the Indian Territory (present day Oklahoma) between 1836 and 1839. Naturally enough the incoming settlers wanted their valuable farming land, and also the gold thought to be present there.

The story goes that these beans were carried in pockets during the forced march, and planted in their new home.  Whether or not this is a romanticised tale the continued growing of this heirloom variety is a reminder of the shallow commercial values that actually drive politics, and how that rides rough-shod over ordinary people.  This alone would be reason enough to grow it.  However this climbing bean turns out to be a vigorous grower and prolific cropper.

The beans can be eaten green although they are a inclined to have a bit of a string which modern varieties have lost.  If left to mature on the plant the pods turn the most attractive maroon colour and once they start to dry they have beautiful black beans.


I had also planted “Cobra” which provided more than enough green beans for us to eat and freeze so after a few pickings I left the rest of the Trail of Tears to mature for drying.  I’ve picked the first bagful and shelled them.  I’ll let them dry on newspaper for a few weeks before putting them in a jar ready for a black bean stew.  This bowlful came from only a few handfuls of the pods so I’m sure I’ll have a large jarful for the winter.  I also have a white drying bean “Spanga Bianco” and Borlotto “Lingue di Fuoco” to harvest so we should be looking forward to a regular bean feast.

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Firestation Pots

Finally some new work from the pottery.  Back in the Spring Tonbridge Old Fire Station was being renovated and the doors were sanded back.  I was on my way to the allotment when the resulting patterns and texture caught my eye.  I’ve been working on how to get that effect on a pot ever since.

Developing a new style is a long process.  I wouldn’t fire the kiln for one test piece so tests have to be co-ordinated in firings with other work.  Each attempt provides a few more clues as to what to try next.  This morning I opened the kiln to find something which suggests I may just about have cracked it.

FireStationBottle1Not the best photo as taken on my phone in poor light this evening and this isn’t quite the finished thing.  The neck of the bottle may eventually be gold lustre.  That requires another firing.  I like the squared-off bottle form.  I think there is a little more experimenting to be done with the balance of colours.  I like the semi-matt glaze, but it would be nice if the edges of the colours blurred just a little bit more.

ArtSpring gallery is having an official opening in September, with a re-hang of the display.  Hopefully I’ll have a small collection of this work to show by then.

In other news – I was on the radio this afternoon!  It is apparently Patrick Swayze’s birthday so they were looking for things connected to him.  Every time I do a pottery demonstration someone mentions the film “Ghost” in which he starred.  (I’ve never actually seen the film!)  BBC Kent were looking to speak to a real potter, so with absolutely no preparation I ended up chatting to Erika and Steve who were presenting the afternoon show.  For 29 days the programme will be available here:  at about the 1hr 27min mark

So anyway – I have now watched the iconic clip of Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore making out at the potter’s wheel.  I’m not sure they fully thought through the practicalities of making love with hands covered in stoneware clay.  I think I’d rather have Dirty Dancing any day.

Posted in New Work, Pottery and Art | 4 Comments

ArtSpring Gallery

Photo1For the last three years a group of local artists and craftspeople has organised an exhibition at the Tunnel Gallery at Tonbridge School called ArtSpring.  Each time a disparate group of artists would turn up with work, there would be bedlam for a few hours and then a coherent exhibition would begin to emerge. After three editions it felt as though that format might have run its course. In November 2015 we had the opportunity to take a shop on The Pantiles in nearby Tunbridge Wells as a pop-up. The success of that ignited a dream that we might be able to organise something more permanent.

Four of us started meeting and tried to hammer out a plan, with yours truly focussing on the financial aspects.  We knew that in the past few years the demographic of Tonbridge had changed. New apartments and houses had been built, a significant population was relocating from London and the town was starting to support a number of more individual shops. On a trip to scout out possible retail premises there was a chance encounter with the owner of an empty shop.

Photo2The first stage was to find out if enough artists and craftspeople were interested in the concept. Everyone who had been involved in the previous events, and a few more besides were invited to a presentation. Ideas were floated, opinions gathered, and the feedback was generally positive.

Our legal advisor told us that even a group of people sitting round a kitchen table had effectively formed a partnership and that it was best to get it on a formal footing. Incorporation seemed like a big step. On the other hand contracts for property are not set up for loose associations. In the end we formed Tonbridge Art Collective, which is a type of association with a formal constitution. The contract for the premises was signed by three people (including me) who do bear personal responsibility. This was made acceptable by taking a one year licence rather than a lease. This gives us the flexibility to test out the concept by operating for a year.

Whilst we had hoped to make rapid progress, almost inevitably the legal formalities slowed things down. As a result we were not able to meet our original plan of opening in May, and with most of the members also preparing for SEOS we had to delay.  Even so, the contract started on the first of June and the race was on to open in early July.

As the opening approached it was clear that we were cutting it fine. Like any project, complete perfection is unattainable. We had planned a soft opening with a few days to trial our processes before we were officially open. Invitations has been sent out, Prosecco and nibbles ordered and we still didn’t feel quite ready. It took me back to my days as an Implementation Manager for IT projects.  We were down to the last day before the opening weekend and as it happened I was scheduled to be on duty. Whilst we were still polishing the last bit of glass we took a decision that the door would be open and if someone came through it and wanted to buy something then we would sell it to them. Remarkably it happened!

Photo4That evening we had a celebration party with all the members and their partners. We found ourselves surrounded by a high quality display of art in media from glass and ceramic to precious metal, felt, photography, watercolour, acrylic and oil. The next morning we were open for real and trade was brisk. Comments from visitors helped us to stand back and see what we have created through the eyes of others: “Lovely”, “Fantastic”, “Brilliant”, “Just what Tonbridge needs.”

As we settle into business as usual each of us gets to take a turn stewarding, so visitors can always meet an artist in the gallery. New ideas will come and unexpected challenges will arise. So far at least, we are on track financially. Differences have been resolved amicably and it feels as though we are achieving the goals of our collective, which is not only to operate the gallery but to create a mutually supportive network of local artists.

Anyway, do pop in if you’re in town Tuesday to Saturday 10:30 to 17:30 or Sunday 11:00 to 16:00.  (Closed on Mondays.)  More details at


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A Few Hours on the Patio

Herbs3After a few days in bed with a dreadful headache it was a pleasure today to just spend a few hours fiddling with things on the patio.  It’s how I used to spend a Saturday morning when I had a regular five-day-a-week job.  Sipping coffee, pruning the bonsai trees and trying not to worry about anything.  There’s plenty to worry about, what with the political situation, the Brexit vote, the ascendency of Trump in the USA, and my heavy involvement with opening a new gallery in Tonbridge.  (More on that project soon no doubt.)

Herbs1Back in January I made some new pots so that I would have a matching set for the herbs which live by the back door on the patio.  Last month I made some ceramic labels for them which I squeezed into the kiln around the work for South East Open Studios.  So here they are in their new pots.  Many of our kitchen herbs are Mediterranean plants so they have not been happy with this year’s cool Spring and thundery Summer.  The dodgy weather also meant poor light for photos, but here are a few.

The bay tree is in a large pot which we commissioned from David Melville some years ago, and until last year held a bonsai wisteria.  The wisteria has moved on to another home and the bay looks very handsome in its new pot. It’s just had an attack of bay sucker, a little fly that lays its eggs and curls the edges of the leaves around them.  The larvae don’t do that much damage but they produce a sticky substance which then encourages mildew to grow on the leaves which makes them unsightly and unusable in cooking.  In between the thunderstorms today I picked off the affected leaves and gave it a spray with an orgainic pesticide suitable for edible crops.

I tried having herbs at the allotment, but the problem is that you want fresh herbs at the last minute, and a 20 minute walk each way to get them isn’t possible.  Just outside the back door is the answer.  I can decide I want peppermint tea and grab a couple of sprigs whilst the kettle is boiling.


So, left to right, we have: French tarragon, peppermint, with spearmint behind, sage, thyme and parsley (with a spare little gem lettuce behind that) Greek basil and marjoram.  Sneaking on the end is a stevia plant, and behind that a bonsai olive tree.  No, it has never given fruit, I’m just amazed it survives our climate.  I have just taken some cuttings from a neighbour’s rosemary bush, so next year I hope to be able to add some of that to the collection.  She died last year and the family have just sold the house. This particular plant has a deep blue flower which the bees love. Rosemary being the herb of remembrance it will be a good way to remember her.

Talking of bonsai, they have been much neglected this year.  I managed to get a spruce and two maples pruned, and then had to tackle this zelkova.  Here are the before and after shots.

As is obvious, these little devils can really get out of hand if they are not pruned regularly.  Underneath the rampant growth is a rather pretty root-over-rock which grew from some sprouted seed which was a gift from mum in 1992.  About ten years ago I got it established over a piece of green granite, and made this plain dark green glazed stoneware bowl.

Apologies for the long silence.  More on the exciting new gallery project in the next week or so.

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Empty Bowls Tonbridge


Selection of bowls for the first evening

After much meeting, organising, fretting and of course bowl-making, Empty Bowls Tonbridge finally happened.  For several weeks the bowls have been arriving at our house and on Wednesday I collected the last batch on my way to Tonbridge Old Fire Station to set up.  With 48 seats each night and a couple of spares for emergencies it came to 100 bowls.

We mixed up the bowls around the tables and included an information sheet on the potter and some leaflets on the Bridge Trust with each one.  Then we sealed them in plain brown paper bags.  We reserved seats for the potters, so that they didn’t get their own bowls and were distributed around the room.  We were just finishing when we realised that a queue was forming outside.


Ben works the magic soup funnel as Jamie hands out bowls and Dan blurs with his high speed garden pea pesto

As people arrived they were ticked off on the list and invited to sit anywhere that wasn’t reserved.  Everyone got sorted out and ordered drinks and we were ready to kick off.  Sam Goode introduced me and suddenly I was on!  Fortunately I’d written down what I planned to say and managed to stick to my five minutes talking about the process of making pots.  I took along a freshly thrown bowl and promptly stuck a finger in it – which always causes some distress and amusement.

I finished by introducing John from the Bridge Trust, who spoke a little about their work.  Despite this being a ‘soup’ based event they are not a soup kitchen.  They take in homeless people, provide them somewhere stable to stay, mentoring in order to help them find employment and help to move on to permanent accommodation.


Back row: Richard Colins, Jamie Halsall, Ben Sulston, Dan Hatton, me.  In front: Becky Butterworth from The Bridge Trust

Each of the chefs then spoke about their enterprises in this area, and about the soup they had made for the evening.  Jamie Halsall is interested in beer and food combinations, and made a chicken and beer broth garnished with wild garlic and viola flowers he had found locally.  Dan Hatton is opening a Deli for difficult to source quality ingredients in Tunbridge Wells. He made a ham broth garnished with pea pesto and fresh garden peas. Ben Sauston is opening a healthy-but-tasty take-away in Tonbridge and made a Thai spiced butternut squash soup with a lime and coconut cream garnish.

By this time everyone was getting hungry.  Sam gave the word: “OK you can open your bags.”  For a few minutes thoughts of food were forgotten as everyone discovered the bowl that they would use and take home.  There was a real buzz of excitement and surprise.  I was sitting with a group of women who had booked together and we chatted about their bowls and how they were made until it was our turn to go to the counter for soup.  The second and third portions of soup were brought to the tables in disposable bowls and all three types were superb.  Everyone seemed to have a great time and folks stayed and picked over the last of the bread and chatted over a glass of wine or beer.


Claire from Bakehouse at 124 (photo by Marcus Warren)

The question was – could we pull it off a second night?   Another hour of wrapping bowls and people started appearing – we even managed to seat some people who didn’t realise that we were fully booked.  I repeated my pot talk, Becky spoke for the Bridge Trust and Claire from the Bakehouse at 124, which had supplied the excellent sourdough bread, talked about what she is trying to do there.  The organising team ate standing – but it was worth it to be able to stand back and enjoy the buzz in the room.

Huge thanks to the 16 potters who contributed pots.  Also to the three chefs, the Bakhouse, Richard Colins and Sam Goode of the Old Fire Station, and Hildegard Pax, co-organiser and area coordinator for South East Open Studios.  Final figures are yet to come in but with the money collected through ticket sales, the few extra places and some donations which were given to me by people who couldn’t make it but wanted to contribute anyway, we have raised over £1600 for The Bridge Trust.



Soup being enjoyed in beautiful bowls (Photo by Marcus Warren)



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More Empty Bowls


The results of a firing which was mostly filled with soup bowls in preparation for Empty Bowls Tonbridge at Tonbridge Old Fire Station on May 11th and 12th.  This will be a community supper – arrive 7pm for 7:30.  Potters are making bowls, top notch local chefs are making soup, the local bakehouse is donating bread.  You can sample all of the soups and you get to take your hand made bowl home with you at the end of the night.  All the money raised will go to The Bridge Trust.  Tickets are £20 and are available online from Tonbridge Old Fire Station, or in person if you call at the Bakehouse at 124 High Street, Tonbridge.

I’m acting at the collection point for all the bowls so I’ll take some photos of them all together once I have them.  Here are some I’ve received already in  a photo taken by my co-organiser, Hildegard Pax.  The bowl on the left is by Liz Stace and the one on the right by Jayne Crookshank


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Pumpkin Bread


Turk’s Turban

In 2014 I grew some lovely Turk’s Turban squash.  They lasted very well through the winter in our store cupboard.  In fact so well that there was still a large one left when it was about time to start harvesting the 2015 crop of squash and pumpkin. We used some of it for a pumpkin and goat cheese savoury pie, and some for soup.  The remainder I made into a purée and froze in 250g portions.  I had seen a recipe for a savoury roulade which called for the purée, but I’ve yet to find it again and make it.

A month or so back I decided that it was about time I found a use for it.  My regular sourdough bread recipe has 4 tablespoons of olive oil in it and on a whim I decided to substitute 250g of pumpkin purée for the oil and see what happened.  What happened was a spectacular bread.  It has a softness and colour reminiscent of brioche.  The crust is extra crispy.

pumpkin1I didn’t take photos of the making but it’s similar to this post.  As per usual I put the whole of my jar of sourdough starter from the fridge into a bowl with a a two 250ml cups of water and the same volume of white bread flour.  This ferments overnight and I remove half a cup of the sponge, put it back in the cleaned pot with half a cup each of flour and water.  That goes in the fridge for the next bake.

To the remaining sponge I added the defrosted pumpkin purée, five 250ml cups of white bread flour and 2 teaspoons of salt.  That’s it, nothing complicated.  It might benefit from a little more salt.  I know that measuring by weight is more accurate, but then equally the absorbency of your flour will have a greater effect on how much you need.  Make a dough, knead it minimally, about 4 minutes, and ferment it for a couple of hours until it’s double in size.  Make it into loaves and proof them for an hour and then bake at 22oºC for 25 mins and then reduce the temperature to 160ºC for a further 10 to 15 mins.

This was such a success that I’ve baked it again since, and if I’m not careful all of the purée will be used up before I get around to finding the recipe I originally intended it for.


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