Can I use my current clay body for ovenware? What is flameware? Why do you use it? Why does it work? Can you use it in a microwave oven? How does it clean up, is it dishwasher safe? Can we use it on the grill or under the broiler? Do I have to heat the pot with the oven? Why is it different? Can I put it on the stove? If you have ever wanted to make pie plates or bakers that will survive thermal shock, you have probably asked some of these questions.
Flameware potter Robbie Lobell has heard these questions many times over the years. In today’s post, she provides answers, as well as recipes for her flameware clay body and glazes. – Jennifer Harnetty, editor.
I make my flameware pots for slow food aficionados, lovers of fine food, appreciators of quality kitchen tools, cooks, chefs and all of us concerned with the industrialization of our food systems. I make my flameware pots to encourage the ideas of using handmade objects to prepare and present locally grown vegetables, fruits and meats from our gardens, barnyards and nearby farms. I make my flameware pots because I am convinced cooking and serving in handmade pottery brings connection and beauty to the simple act of sitting down to a mindfully-prepared meal with family, friends and neighbors. And so, in a sense, my commitment to making cooking pots is a dedication to a way of life that goes hand-in-hand with working in clay. In adopting flameware and making flameproof pots as my signature work at this point in my career, I have joined a traditional life-style of working quietly, daily, rigorously that reflects the rhythm of a studio life and all that supports it.
My cookware is made with a “flameproof” clay body formulated to withstand thermal shock when heated. Many other types of clay can also be used in the oven, but pots made from flameware clay can be placed into a very hot preheated oven as well as on a stovetop as long as they are properly proportioned, round-bottomed pots. I make casseroles, broilers, bakers, roasters, teakettles, soup pots, skillets, sauce pots, oven/pizza stones, woodstove humidifiers and trivets.
Part of my interest in making flameproof cookware comes from my concerns in cooking food safely. The flameware clay and glazes provide a safe cooking surface, removing a potential environmental hazard from our kitchens. My recipes came from Karen Karnes, Mary Caroline Richards, Ann Stannard and Mikhail Zakin, though I know others were involved over the years in developing flameware clay bodies and glazes to fit with a very low co-efficient of expansion.
What I focus on is the forming of the pots—the distribution of weight in the pot; careful glaze application for preventing dunting and cracking; the attention to details both functional and aesthetic such as edges, rims, lid fit, handles, smooth glass-like bottoms, and creating (through much scraping and ribbing) a tactile intimacy that would draw in the user. I make my pots the way I do because I use them and receive feedback from others who use them. This feedback allows me to refine the function without giving up my ideas for sculptural integrity, elegance and beauty.
Breaking many of the edicts for working in flameware, I have sought to work the forms for the absolute essentials to express interior volume and a taut, yet soft exterior “skin.” I soda fire my pots and use wood to accomplish body reduction in my propane-fueled kiln. I use a very light application of soda and just a bit of wood for subtle flame action. Many of the pots are left unglazed on the exterior, or “naked” as I refer to them, which can lead to dunting if the interior glaze is applied too thickly. However, I believe I have finessed the proper applications of glazes and consistent weight distribution in the structure of the pots, and I now feel confident that my pots may be well used without worry. In addition, I do not wad the flameware pots (though I do wad my stoneware pots). Firing to a hot cone 10, the flameware clay becomes very soft, and I have found that the wads create dents on the bottoms of the pots which promote cracking under high heat. So now, I use a wax mixture heavily laden with alumina and put the pots directly on the shelves.
In order to test my pots, I put them through a series of extreme temperature changes. I poured rapidly boiling water into the pots, then put them directly into the freezer. I allowed the pots to stay in the freezer overnight, where they froze into solid blocks of ice and then put them directly into a pre-heated 450˚F (232˚C) oven. The ice slowly melted and began to boil again. In his book, Clay and Glazes for the Potter, Daniel Rhodes suggests the following: “To test a body for resistance to flame, a small flat dish is made about seven inches in diameter, with a rim one inch high. Water is placed in this and it is put on an electric hot plate and heated until the water has boiled off. After five minutes of further heating, the dish is plunged into cold water. If a body survives this heating and cooling for several cycles, it may be considered flameproof” (1973 edition, page 57). I did this test too, though with one of my forms, and on a gas flame, which is a bit harder on the pot because of inconsistent heat between the flames and the burner grate. It appears that I am using a true flameproof clay body.
I have learned much during my time working in flameware and have developed a line of cookware that has caught the attention of people who love food and cooking. People who appreciate and are committed to what the culture of slow food offers—using local and sustainable products, using handmade pots and other handmade objects in the kitchen and on the table, and gathering at dining tables with family, neighbors and friends for meals prepared with intention and love and an eye to beauty.
the author Robbie Lobell offers workshops on flameware at her studio in Coupeville, Washington. See www.robbielobell.com.
NOTE: No guarantee is made by the author or Ceramic Arts Daily regarding these recipes. All individuals must test materials and maintain quality control to ensure proper performance of any clay body—particularly flameware.
For more great functional pottery making techniques, be sure to download your free copy of Contemporary Pottery: Functional and Conceptual Considerations for Handmade Pottery.