FIRE AND ROMANCE

interview
NANCY GORDON
photography
LYNN KARLIN
fermentation photography
CHIP DILLON, Blue Horse Photography

 

“The magic happens when you open the [wood-burning] kiln after a firing
and you can see the pottery has transformed. Depending on how the
fire moved through, around or under the pots it changes their appearance.”
—Jeff Butler, potter + co-owner, Maine Pottery Farm

Pottery Farm co-owner Jeff Butler
at the wood-burning kiln.
The bean pot.
Fermentation pot with weights.

Jeff, tell us about your training in the ceramic arts.

I was trained by a potter who gave a us an experience not available elsewhere. He taught by working alongside his apprentices. I learned the trade over several years and absorbed the history and forms that had developed at the pottery. It was immersive and a wonderful time in my life and remains a constant.

I have been working in clay for around 20 years now and have always found that I get much more from this craft than I could have ever expected.

You and your wife, Dani Scanlon, run a working hoop-house raspberry farm. Does either of you have a background in farming?

No, neither of us has a background in farming, but both of us have always loved gardening. We live on a beautiful piece of land and we were interested in producing food for our community.

Why raspberries?

Our first son loved eating raspberries so much, and while we were looking into potential crop options for the greenhouse we casually joked about how much money we could save if we grew raspberries. After that we found information about growing raspberries in a high tunnel and we moved forward with this plan. Our son jokingly reminds us all the time that he can eat all the berries as they were planted for him!

Any plans to expand the farm?

We live in such an agriculturally rich area. So many wonderful farmers are growing delicious local organic crops, and so we luckily do not feel there is a need for us to grow a larger variety and we are happy to fill the raspberry void. We are excited that this spring we will be putting up a second greenhouse and growing more varieties of raspberries, black raspberries and champagne berries.

Which came first, the raspberries or the pottery studio?

The pottery studio came first. I started playing with clay in high school and really committed to learning the art of ceramics after finishing college. I had moved to Maine with the intention of building a wood-fired kiln and running a pottery. I started the pottery in an old barn, which we insulated to be a studio space. Then I built the kiln shed, and after that I designed and built the kiln. The greenhouse was built in the fall of 2015 and we starting growing raspberries in the spring of 2016.

You built a beautiful, large, wood-burning kiln. Why have you chosen to wood-fire your pieces?

I was trained to fire large wood-burning kilns and felt comfortable building them. However, there was learning curve. Many variables are involved to produce a successful firing.

Wood firing is such a beautiful process; it truly creates a unique one-a-kind pot. Each firing is different: It requires resilience, problem solving and gusto to have a successful wood firing.

The magic happens when you open the kiln after a firing and you can see the pottery has transformed. Depending on how the fire moved through, around or under the pots it changes their appearance. Did any ash settle on the surface? The blush each pot has after being touched by the fire. How has the glaze transformed under the heat? It is always so exciting unpacking the kiln and seeing what has happened. Of course, it can be disappointing when your more anticipated pots don’t come out the way you had hoped.

Our firings are hopelessly romantic and dramatic, taking every last ounce of effort to complete. But when we are finished firing and around the dinner table before falling asleep there is a feeling of peacefulness, which I look forward to each time.

I also love how the wood-fired kiln connects to the early roots of ceramics and pottery. Pottery is ancient, it has been around as long as civilizations have existed. It is an interesting connection to our past and yet still a functional part of the present.

You built this beautiful, large, wood-burning kiln. Why have you chosen to wood-fire your pieces?

I was trained to fire large wood-burning kilns and felt comfortable building them. However, there was learning curve. Many variables are involved to produce a successful firing.

Wood firing is such a beautiful process; it truly creates a unique one-a-kind pot. Each firing is different: It requires resilience, problem solving and gusto to have a successful wood firing.

The magic happens when you open the kiln after a firing and you can see the pottery has transformed. Depending on how the fire moved through, around or under the pots it changes their appearance. Did any ash settle on the surface? The blush each pot has after being touched by the fire. How has the glaze transformed under the heat? It is always so exciting unpacking the kiln and seeing what has happened. Of course, it can be disappointing when your more anticipated pots don’t come out the way you had hoped.

Our firings are hopelessly romantic and dramatic, taking every last ounce of effort to complete. But when are finished firing and around the dinner table before falling asleep there is a feeling of peacefulness, which I look forward to each time.

I also love how the wood-fired kiln connects to the early roots of ceramics and pottery.  Pottery is ancient, it has been around as long as civilizations have existed. It is an interesting connection to our past and yet still a functional part of the present.

You mentioned using all-natural glazes from around the area. What does the area offer?

We utilize local granites, wood ashes and red clays for our glazes.

Jeff, you make fermentation crocks for sauerkraut, which Dani is very knowledgeable about. Dani, any advice or tips on successful fermenting?

Have fun with fermenting! Adding one ingredient can really change the whole flavor profile.

The most helpful thing I did was buy myself a kitchen scale. It took the guessing out of fermenting.

You NEED salt that is not iodized. All salts have a different composition of minerals, which affect the subtle flavor of salts. These minerals can enhance the flavor of your ferments, and in theory also detract

I take time to slice my cabbage as thinly as possible. I weigh out all my vegetables and then weigh out the appropriate amount of salt. Then in a very large bowl I gently mix them together while massaging the mixture till it starts producing its own brine, generally massaging for at least 10 minutes.


I gently pack it into the crock (I never pound my cabbage; I like a crispy kraut texture).

Fermentation crocks have a special water well which works to create a unique seal. It prevents oxygen from reaching the kraut, yet it allows any CO2 gases to easily escape. No need to burp a fermentation crock!

A fermentation crock comes alive with you in the kitchen, burping and letting you know that things are cooking along nicely. Still, the hardest part is being patient. Resist the urge to open your crock and check on the sauerkraut. Every time you open it you risk introducing a bacteria, yeast or disrupting the fermentation process.

When the ferment is almost done, I may start checking taste every other day, to help determine how long to continue fermenting.

Once the ferment is finished, I packed it into glass jars and store it in the fridge or a cold cellar.

Ratios are key! Five pounds of cabbage needs 3 tablespoons of salt, and if you are making a brined ferment you need 9½ cups of water for 6 tablespoons of salt.

Don’t give up if your first batch isn’t amazing. There is a small learning curve to fermenting!

What’s next for the Pottery Farm?

I have always been drawn to the utilitarian pots that we use in our daily routines. These pots have a dedicated position in our homes and as such need to function. Our best sellers are our fermentation crocks and bean pots. We have strived to become accomplished potters able to give a pot life and good form, which allows it function in the home as a treasured piece to be used and admired for its beauty.

We are looking forward to launching our website and finding ways to share our pottery across all of New England.

mainepotteryfarm@gmail.com
(207) 595-2850

. . . . .

The Fermentation Pot with the weights and the Bean Pot are both being offered by the Maine Pottery Farm on SHOP CREATIVE MAINE for the special discount price:

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Fermentation Pot with Weights

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Bean Pot

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