Philip Parr rounded up children from Mereside School to discover the delights held in the apple tree just next door to their playground
A harvest lunch plate featured at the gathering at Cherry Tree Allotments, Blackpool. The People’s Pottery project came together over lunch in September to see how their plates turned out and use them
More coming soon.
Across the UK sea salt is only made in Essex, Anglesey and Cornwall ? but that?s before the Wyre Salters?came into existence.
Artists Maya Chowdhry and Jessica Mautner wanted to find something local that could contribute to the Left Coast Banquet. Salt, a basic ingredient in most meals, seemed an ideal choice for a community project so close to the sea. Salt-making is part of the area?s industrial heritage, although no longer active, on an industrial scale. Salt resonated, too, for its international presence. This one thing connects places all over the world. And there?s the political weight of salt that interested them, how it was once preferred currency over money, allowing people to preserve food, or travel with it.
Neither knew how to make salt and they like what this equality brings to the project. In fact the group they?re working with know far more about the area than they do, and contributing their local knowledge to the ongoing experiments with salt.
At the Salt Works they made salt from cooking brine in great big salt pans over a fire. As the brine boiled salt crystals formed and were they raked to the side. These were filtered into saline to be dried onto the stove.
Ruth L has been in a few different Left Coast events, and this seemed like something different from her usual singing in the local choir or playing in a ukulele band. Besides she loves the taste of salt. And, for her, the salt made at the Lion Salt Works was beautiful. Previously she?d just taken it for granted, but that salt had a different taste from commercially produced salt: milder, and with the advantage of being unadulterated without caking agents. She appreciates both its abundance and the time it takes to make it.
Andrea?s daughter asked her last year if you could get salt out of the sea. Andrea wasn?t sure, but they?ve since learnt you can. You get bits of sand in it, but put an egg in it and the egg draws out the impurities. Dolly Blue would take impurities out of the salt, too. That was used once to lighten the salt?s colour.
The village Andrea and her family moved from was quite self sufficient: with a row of shops including a greengrocer, that does fish and nuts and seeds and lots of chutney and jams? all made by local people, a hairdressers, a co-op, and a chemist. Since moving to Blackpool they?re struggling to get hold of stuff they?d normally eat.
They had to go to the chippie once they were back from the Works. They sat at St Anne?s in the car because it was raining and used the salt they?d made on the chips. Which was great. ?I don?t usually let them have salt, but they?d made it.?
Instead of salt just sitting on a table, it has become more noticeable and full of meaning for the Wyre Salters.
Knowing salt better has led Maya to realise the power of it, to understand why wars were lost and won over salt. While Jessica appreciates more how much of our bodies are made of salt, and so has a stronger connection to salt. The boundary between the thing and her body has blurred.
For Rachel it wasn?t something she or her family had given much thought to previously, but now they?ve become fascinated with its strength and flavours. How sea salt is far better for the body than table salt (which is manmade anyway). They?ve got so into the project, they?re focusing on it for a week at home. Rachel has checked that she could use clean filtered seawater to cook pasta. And she could filter the seawater with muslin or charcoal. She has a Himalayan salt lamp, she picked up in a shop some time back because she liked the look of it. Now she?s found out it cleanses the atmosphere and helps with chestiness. She and each of her two daughters have a salt making plate going at home: one in the kitchen, one in the pantry and one in the garden. It?s not a competition, but ?
Andrea always thought it was a bit of a poison, but it can be seen as a treasure ? a pure thing from the earth. The time it takes to make it turns it into something precious. Man made table salt costs close to 12p in the supermarket, which devalues the pure salt. Sea salt has different properties, different levels of magnesium, sodium, potassium. She uses Epsom salts to help with her nerve pain. This project is bringing her kids back to basics. Although, maybe not so basic, as she spotted some tomato, olive and basil salt in a shop in Ramsbottom which she quite fancies having a go at making?
The group went down to Fleetwood beach to collect possible things they could present the salt in as an alternative to the pots. Ruth E was picking marram grass to weave into a cone. At the museum she?d been shown how to drain saltwater through something similar so she?d be left with salt crystals on the grass. She?d never given it thought before, but now she?s involved in the project, she?s on the internet exploring its uses? cosmetics, creams, bath salts? finding out about the Dead Sea and how it?s extracted from there with huge paddles and left to dry.
And while the group agreed the damp air of Fleetwood makes the process a little longer, salt is most definitely not simply salt
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