What A Difference A Plate Makes

It’s always exciting to unload a kiln, especially when there are new shapes or glaze combinations inside. Lately I’ve been working to replace all the various things that have sold (thanks, everyone) so it’s mostly been familiar territory. But to keep myself interested, and above all to keep my time at the studio from ever feeling like a job, I try to mix it up a little and do some new and different things on a regular basis. There were a couple of turkeys in this last batch, but most pieces came out quite nicely. And often new shapes and colors inspire me to make something that will sit just right in there, like the plate was made for the food and the food was made for the plate.In this case, it was these shallow bowls. I’ve been enjoying this dark clay a lot. It works beautifully unglazed, and tends to leach iron into glazes, making for dramatically different results than one would get on brown or white clay. The shape was an accident; I was shooting for more of a rounded bowl, but the clay was so wet that when I removed the wooden mold the sides sort of slumped over. I liked the form, so I made more of them, adjusting and trimming them a bit as they firmed up.

And once they came home, I started to think about what would look good inside them. I had images of a lamb shank sticking up out of a rich wintry braise studded with roots, but the freezer was shankless. I did have some bone-in goat stew meat, though. And the pressure cooker, that wondrous device, which can produce falling-apart tender meat in under an hour, even from ornery cuts like this. So I browned the meat, removed it, and added in aromatics to color. I prepped a bunch of roots–carrots, turnips, parsnips, and sweet potato– and divided them into two piles. One pile went in the cooker with the cubed meat, water, wine, and Moroccan spices (cumin, coriander, cinnamon, preserved lemon) and the other pile stayed out. After 30 minutes of hissing, the meat was tender and all of the first wave of vegetables had been obliterated into a thick, stewy goodness. I added the rest of the roots with some black olives and salt, and let it bubble for long enough to tenderize them.

And I made polenta, into which I whisked some pesto that I had also grabbed from the freezer. Lamb and goat like pesto a lot, and for a rich stew like this there’s no better platform than a puddingy puddle of polenta. And the whole ensemble found a perfect pedestal in the new plate, though I did still miss the emphasis of a vertical shank bone sticking up from the middle. Lately I’ve been making slightly thicker and more rustic pieces–my “everyday” collection, if you will. And it does make a difference; the refined geometric plates demand detailed, elegant food in small portions. Their thinness wants careful washing. These bowls just want to have fun. I made six more yesterday. If you have access to a kiln, try making your own plates –it’s inspiring on several levels, and  it’s almost getting them (and much of your holiday gift list) for free.

4 comments to What A Difference A Plate Makes

  • What beautiful plates – and what a delicious looking stew!

  • El

    Oh yeah, striking off many items on the gifts list with the help of the kiln out here…and yes, I even give away my turkeys, as you call them. Nobody knows the difference.

    But I have yet to eat goat. Isn’t that odd?

    happy jolly

  • Peter

    April: Thank you. These are my new favorites.

    El: The free gifts that people love is absolutely a huge benefit of being crafty. And yes, it’s odd. They’re extremely good to eat.

  • I am in love with your plate. I have a daughter that recently took some pottery classes in college and now has her own pottery studio at home. I told her that some day, I’d like to sift through her trash. ;) And your food sounds and looks heavenly!

Yours Truly



I'm a painter who happens to also spend a lot of time growing, making, and writing about food. I'm particularly interested in the intersection of frugal peasant cooking techniques and haute improvisation. And I have a really great personality.

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