A large serving platter comes in handy for a variety of entertaining needs. My wife and I love to use them for family dinners and entertaining guests who visit the pottery. I’m especially proud that after one of my platters has been used for serving food, it can hold its own as a decorative piece in one’s home.
Clay and Glaze Selection
We use a locally made clay body for all our stoneware pottery. For this particular piece, we actually use our reclaim clay, which is a mixture of Grogeewemee 10 and New Seagrove 10 clays. Both clay bodies are made by STARworks NC (www.starworksnc.org). Grogeewemee 10 is a very coarse, groggy clay that’s great for wood- and salt-firing kilns. We use this clay for our larger, sculptural wheel-thrown and handbuilt work, with the scraps ending up in the reclaim. New Seagrove 10 is a Michfield Clay that has been used by Seagrove, North Carolina, potters for a very long time. This high-refractory clay is well-suited for long, hot salt firings and creates a beautiful orange-peel effect on the surface. We wood fire our salt kiln to cone 12, taking approximately 80 hours from start to finish. For this particular platter, the back or bottom remains unglazed so the finished piece will have a lovely orange-peel finish on the back. The front of the platter is decorated using slips made from mostly local materials (the red clay slip is made using the red clay found on my property). Then the leather-hard platter is glazed with an ash glaze, using ash from our wood-burning furnace and wood stoves. All the glaze materials we use are food safe.
Making the Platter
Start by adhering a bat to the wheel. Weigh out and center approximately 20 pounds of clay on the bat while standing up, making sure to use a stiff arm and push from your shoulder and back rather than from your arm to avoid bodily strain or injury (1). Next, compress the bottom and open the base using the palm of your hand (2). Make sure you have a few of your favorite ribs handy to help shape the clay in the next few steps. I use the green and blue Sherrill Mudtools polymer ribs, which are somewhat rigid. Bring up the walls of the platter to a thickness of ¾ inch. Compress the bottom (3) and shape the side walls using a rib. Form the rim using a rib (4). Next, using two ribs, compress the walls to a ½-inch thickness (5). Smooth out your throwing lines and let dry for two days. Next, cut the bowl off the wheel and leave it uncovered to stiffen up.
After drying to a leather-hard state, you can begin to trim the foot (6, 7). Smooth out all the trimming lines and the grog using a Mudtools blue rib (8). Glaze the rim using a red clay slip and decorate the interior of the platter using multiple slips (9). Some of these slips run and some stay in place, so I play around with designs to create different flow effects. Lastly, raw glaze the leather-hard platter with ash glaze (10) (see recipe below left) and let the platter dry completely before firing.
We have used our platters for many occasions such as serving muffins at brunch, presenting our sons’ birthday cakes, and offering up treats for our customers at our pottery sales. One of our large platters is always present to serve up our traditional sloppy joes for the firing crew on the last day of the wood-kiln firing.
It takes several people to help load, fire, and unload our 40-foot-long anagama wood kiln. We fire the kiln three times a year, and the whole process takes approximately two weeks from loading, to firing, to unloading. A large crowd consisting of our firing crew and curious observers gathers early Sunday morning during the last day of a 3-day firing, when we are reaching the maximum temperature of 2400°F (1316°C). With many hungry mouths to feed, these sloppy joes make for a very hearty and satisfying lunch.
At about 10 am (lunchtime for those of the crew who have been working since 5 am that morning) the platter of sloppy joes appears, needing to be replenished several times before the firing is completed in the early afternoon. We’re not sure how the tradition of serving sloppy joes started at our kiln firings, but it’s a tradition that the firing crew now looks forward to each cycle.
Preparing the Meal
Sloppy joes (see recipe on page 44) are great because they’re very easy to make and they freeze well. We know we will be extremely busy on the days leading up to the firing, so we often make the sloppy joes ahead of time and freeze a batch for up to one month. We prefer to make them in a slow cooker, not only for the ease of cooking, but it also allows the sweet and tangy flavors to blend well in the process.
When making these in the slow cooker, you only need to cook them for about 4–5 hours. If cooked longer than that, the sauce will start to burn. Double or triple this recipe for parties, family gatherings, last minute get-togethers or to freeze for a busy weeknight when you don’t feel like cooking.
Joseph Sand currently lives and works in Randleman, North Carolina, where he fires his 40-foot, wood-fired anagama kiln three times a year. He received his BFA from the University of Minnesota in 2006. As an undergraduate, he studied in Italy and in England, where he worked with Svend Bayer and Clive Bowen. In 2009, Sand completed a three-and-a-half-year apprenticeship with Mark Hewitt. See more of his work at www.josephsandpottery.com.