Philip Parr rounded up children from Mereside School to discover the delights held in the apple tree just next door to their playground
Terracotta is the most abundant clay in the earth. It starts off in rock, then, as it?s carried through waterways, it travels. As it travels more and more it picks up impurities before being deposited back into those waterways. It?s the impurities that give terracotta its beautiful rich colour.
Working with clay teaches you about yourself, according to potters Emilie Taylor?and Victoria Dawes. Clay contains and honours impurities. Making pots offers us the chance to shed our obsession with perfection and the belief there is only one way of doing things.
Handmade pots celebrate difference.
Difference is what makes a community: the variety of people living together. Pottery sits with that variety and holds it.
Each pot, plate or bowl, functions as a container. Emilie is interested in exploring the trust that is formed as people prepare the tableware, the stories told and how they might be sealed into the clay. Pottery has always told the history of people: what is found in fragments is how archaeologists understand a society, perhaps more so that what is written?
Victoria?s approach to making comes from her early transient life. When she started making pots she meditated on what home meant to her. She was making functional pieces for people to take home, for them to become a part of people?s life. At her wheel, she thinks of the furniture that have been passed down through the generations of her family that have moved from house to house, crystal glasses and candlesticks and dinner services collected by different members of her family. All these elements of her familial home feed into her pottery.
Both potters believe craft making is where conversations start, where meaning slips out sideways, through our fingers, through that connection with the earth. These conversations are then drawn into the white slip covering.
Over the summer they?ve run weekly workshops at Groundwork?s community gardens: Cherry Trees and Chepstow Gardens. Groundwork have developed these spaces as inclusive, safe and gentle spaces for people to grow plants and meet people. Homeless people, users of nearby artist studios and young families have all enjoyed these places where Emilie and Victoria explored the thoughtfulness and patience of pottery.
One participant found his own rhythm over the months, drawing everything on the allotment, then translating these drawings onto the plates. He made three plates, three bowls, his own service.
In another workshop two sisters began to draw their recipes and favourite meals (Jamaican lamb, rice and peas & chicken korma) on a piece paper, nervous, uncertain how to distinguish a kidney bean from sweet potato. Mistakes were made, but there was no rubber. They were told, clay is forgiving. And at this stage, on paper, anything could be reshaped or relocated in the final design. With some ideas sketched down they took the pencil to the slipware with a tentative confidence, a bolder leading of the line, scoring ridges into the plate. By the end of the workshop they each had recipes of their favourite meals designed into the plates, ready for firing.
Forgiving at the making stage, perhaps, but clay turns merciless at this point. Anything can happen when the pot goes into the kiln. Some embrace the unexpected, others are unsure at developments.
There?ll be a harvest lunch for everyone who has taken part in the project so far, where the fates of the plates will be revealed, alongside some of the stories and faces behind the pottery. Come back in a couple of weeks to read and see these stories.
Everyone has a story about apples. Adam and Eve. Snow White. Isaac Newton. William Tell?Philip Parr. Philip, a theatre maker running Lost Orchards of the Left Coast for Banquet, has plenty. The one he told me is quieter, with many branches that curve and bend towards the light, each carrying another story that had its own seeds that will grow into another story.
Philip grew up in Sydney, Australia, next to an empty plot of land. It was left empty because the row of houses had been built from either end of the street, and where they were due to meet, the last plot, it was six inches too narrow for the final house. This vacant lot was attached to the neighbouring house. The one his parents bought. There were apricot and peach trees along with a grape vine on the lot, but completely overgrown. So they cleared the overgrowth and added lemons, mulberries, red grapes, more. Everything was transformed it into pies, jam, chutney, preserved and relished. So much so, fruit equals food in Philip?s head, real food that is as much an art as anything made.
When he was looking for a house to buy, many years later, he found one in East London with a huge apple tree spreading across the width of the twelve foot garden, in fact beyond, as it overhung the neighbouring gardens. Whether this was the sole reason Philip wanted the house I don?t know, but I suspect it played a key role in his falling for it?
All the houses in this street had had apple trees planted in the back gardens when they were built, making a community orchard for the inhabitants of the street. When Philip found the house, there was still one other apple tree two gardens down and a crab apple further along the street, not as old as the one in Philip?s garden-to be, but a wonderfully ancient pollinator all the same.
The house had been owned by just one family since it?d been built, and was for sale because its owner had died in an accident. Nobody else in the family wanted it. They just wanted it sold, and offered Philip a quick sale if he took it with all its contents. Philip agreed and moved in. Nobody had been in it since the day the previous owner had stepped out into his fate. So in view of this enormous apple tree that had grown alongside the family?s home, Philip read through the history that was stacked, shelved and boxed away in the house, learning of the rich life of his predecessor who had left school at 14, travelled the world, been a boxing promoter in Rhodesia, worked on cattle farms in Australia before returning to London to work as a motorcycle courier.
There are 600-700 apples on the tree this year. Philip?s already begun stewing them. They?re cookers which turn into eaters later in the season, soon they?ll be ripe for eating straight from the branches. Each one will form part of a new meal, a new story, a point at which to savour what life offers, a reminder to be open to the world around us.
Meanwhile he wants to pick apples from the trees he?s found in Blackpool and the Wyre. He wants to pick and cook these apples together with others, to share recipes and stories, to celebrate the ritual of people coming together to prepare food, to acknowledge the pleasure in the one thing we need to do: eat.
*If you have an apple story you’d like to share, or want to know more about the project, get in touch
… hidden?within our reach
are seeds of stories
of lost orchards
overgrown by brambles and walls
waiting to be transformed…
… clay forgives, grows
from the shape of your hand
a spoon from?your finger
this pot holds?who made it
passing a piece of you to someone new …
… a favourite cup
a special place to go
time to stop
to think, unwind, defuse
the ritual brew …
Welcome to Cooking up a Banquet.
We’re planning to share behind the scenes and people of the various projects that are part of this foodie event… come back soon 🙂