I cringe when I attend a party or potluck and see a salad that should be kept cold left out without ice or refrigeration. Granted, it can be a little clumsy to arrange a plate of food on top of a platter of ice, and it’s far from elegant to plop a bowl of chicken salad on top of a couple of blue ice packs. That’s why I came up with the potluck/picnic set, which is basically a covered bowl that nestles inside a bowl of ice. When it isn’t needed to serve a cold salad, the covered bowl becomes a casserole dish and the ice bowl can be used as a serving bowl on its own, making this a versatile set that stores easily and looks nice on the buffet table.

My potluck/picnic set consists of three pieces: the ice bowl, the food bowl, and a lid. The lid is optional, but it’s nice to have when it’s really warm out, there are bugs swarming around, or you have to transport the food. Begin by weighing out three lumps of clay: 3 pounds, 2½ pounds, and 2 pounds.

1 Center and flatten 3 pounds of clay into a disk. Open the center to a thickness of about ¼ inch.2 Pull up slightly rounded walls, smooth and compress the floor, inside, and outside of the walls. Smooth the rim.3 Measure the inside diameter of the rim with calipers and use a ruler to measure the depth of the bowl.

Ice Bowl

Start with the 3-pound piece, and throw a flat-bottomed bowl that’s about 9 inches wide, 3 inches deep, and ¾ inch thick to form the ice bowl—the bottom piece of the set. It’s a simple form, completely flat on the bottom so there is no need to trim a foot (figure 1), with walls just slightly rounded so that the rim angles inward just a bit (figure 2). This means there will be a little air space around the inner bowl to help insulate the contents.

Flatten the clay with the heel of your right hand, anchoring it on your left hand (use opposite positioning if the wheel is spinning clockwise) and swiveling out from the center toward the edge. Lean your hand against the side of the disk of clay and brace your wrist on the splash pan. Open up the center and measure the thickness before widening the opening. You want the bottom thickness to be about ¼ inch so you won’t have to trim. With your right hand, pull the floor out wide and flat. Use your left hand to compress the clay as it moves out. Use calipers to measure inside the rim of the bowl (figure 3) and use a ruler to measure the bowl’s depth.

4 Throw a disk narrower than the caliper measurement. Make a flat-bottomed bowl and bring the walls up.5 Smooth the walls and rim with a rib. Use a rib to pull the rim out wider to form a gallery for the lid.6 The calipers should fit inside the gallery. The height should be at least ½ inch shorter than the ice bowl.

Salad Bowl/Casserole Dish

Next, I use the 2½-pound lump of clay to throw the salad bowl or casserole dish. It should come out just under 9 inches wide and a bit less than 3 inches high. The calipers, with the measurement from the ice bowl, should fit (not too tightly) around this piece from the foot to just below the rim, since it will have to fit inside the ice bowl (figure 4). The rim will rest on top of the ice bowl’s rim. It also has a flat bottom that won’t get trimmed.

When you have opened up the centered clay to create a wide flat floor, pull up the walls to form slightly rounded walls. Use a rib to smooth and compress across the floor and inside and outside the walls. Trim the rim if necessary and use a chamois to smooth the rim. Use a soft rib to widen out the rim so that it fits on top of the ice bowl and holds a lid. Pull the top ½–¾ inch wider, creating a comfortable gallery (figure 5). The calipers should fit around the outside of this bowl below the gallery, and the same caliper measurement should fit inside the rim, becoming your lid measurement (figure 6). I measure with a ruler from the foot up to where it starts to widen out. This measurement should be at least a ½ inch shorter than the depth of the ice bowl to leave room for ice.

7 For the lid, make a shallow bowl slightly smaller than your caliper measurement. Flare the rim and trim it to fit the gallery.8 To trim the lid, center it, and brace it with foam to keep it from collapsing when you add the knob.9 Add slip to the center of the lid, and attach a small cone of clay to form the knob then center it.

The Lid

The 2-pound lump of clay is reserved for the lid. Throw a very shallow bowl or saucer form, with a slightly curved bottom instead of completely flat. It takes almost as much clay to throw the lid as it does to throw the bowl because the lid will need to be trimmed to reflect the slight curve across the bottom. If you do make the lid perfectly flat it won’t be as attractive, but even worse it’s likely to slump when fired. Tip: The curve is a much stronger form—just as an arch is a stronger architectural form than post and lintel construction.

To avoid making the lid too dome shaped, I use my rib to lay the outer rim of the lid flatter—not quite horizontal and still slightly curved (figure 7). I use a needle tool to cut the rim to fit just inside the caliper measurement. Thus the profile of the lid is composed of two gentle curves, keeping it from collapsing when it’s fired, and following the slight gentle curve of the ice bowl. When the three pieces are put together I want the whole thing to look slightly puffed out and generous.

To trim the lid, place a sponge under the center to keep it from collapsing when you add the knob. If the sponge is too flat, put a small disk of clay under it (figure 8). After you’ve trimmed the excess clay from the lid, use slip or magic water (Editor’s Tip: Lana Wilson is the originator of this easy to make, highly effective solution, the recipe is: 1 gallon water, 3 tbsp (9.5 g) liquid sodium silicate, and 1½ tsp (5 g) soda ash), to attach a small cone of clay to form the knob (figure 9). Center this small cone and throw it into a knob (figure 10).

Trim the other two pieces as needed and put the set together and dry it slowly. Drying the pieces together helps keep them fitting together rather than warping and losing shape. Since the salad bowl rests on the rim of the ice bowl, leaving the foot of this inner bowl unsupported, you might want to put a dry sponge under the foot of the salad bowl so it doesn’t sag and crack while drying.

I don’t put handles on the other two pieces, because there isn’t really any need for handles on the ice bowl, and there’s no room for them on the salad bowl. However, I try to make sure the rim of the salad bowl protrudes from the rim of the ice bowl enough to make it easy to grip and pick up.

10 Throw the cone into a knob. Trim the other two pieces as needed, assemble the set, and dry slowly.11 The finished set. The bowls are both glazed in jade green with the rims dipped in white, so they match when together.

Finishing Steps

Glaze fire each piece separately, including the lid, so the bowls don’t have unglazed rims. This makes the pieces more attractive when they’re used separately, but it does present some risk that the pieces may warp and not fit properly together. I try to alleviate this risk by making the pieces with a slightly looser fit and by making a few of the same size at the same time and glazing them with the same combination of glazes. At the worst, if one of the sets doesn’t end up fitting together, you still have a useful bowl and casserole dish.

Both the ice bowl and the salad bowl are glazed in jade green with the rims dipped in white, so they match when put together. The lid is glazed in jade green (figure 11).

To use this set, put your cold salad or dip in the lidded bowl, and put a generous layer of ice in the base of the ice bowl. Place the lidded bowl on the ice, and don’t worry if it doesn’t nestle down onto the rim of the ice bowl right away—when the ice melts, it will settle down, and some of the ice water will rise up to fill the gap between the sides of the two bowls helping to insulate the food.

You can also use this set to keep food warm, using hot water instead of ice, but to keep the food warm for very long you’ll need to frequently replace the hot water.

Sumi von Dassow is an artist, instructor, and regular contributor to Pottery Making Illustrated. She lives in Golden, Colorado. Check out Sumi’s book, In the Potter’s Kitchen, available in the Ceramic Arts Network Shop.

Topics: Ceramic Artists