Friday, August 1, 2014

Thistle, rug and clogs.

Declared a pest in Western Australia, the artichoke thistle (Cynara Cardunculus spp. flavenscens) is used in Portugal as a rennet substitute when making cheese. The flower of this thistle is very large and in bloom at the moment. It looks just like an artichoke in everyway except for the nasty thorns. Traditionally the bluish purple petals are collected and allowed to dry. Then, in a clay mortar with wooden pestle, the one pictured above was actually used for the purpose, the petals are ground. Some say that the lower part of these petals, the brown seed part can also be used. All agree that you need quite a lot of the plant in order for it to have the desired effect. I collected these for my cousin who has a goat and wants to try making cheese. Perhaps she can use these two flower heads for seed instead and hopefully they will not grow in biblical pest proportions. As an extra note on the wooden pestle, the smaller one I bought from an old craftsman from Salvador, a town nearby. When I asked him what this bit of carved wood was used for, his answer was specific, "a pestle for grinding thistle", not coriander and garlic, "thistle". I thought it was a small rolling pin used to make zig zag patterns on pastry or something like that. I should have stuck to my archaeological roots and said it was used for ritual instead.

I have never been a fan of cheese, but I wouldn´t mind learning how to make it. I imagine it is not difficult, but like anything it would require a lot of practice. After all, the ladies in town that still make cheese, mostly these days with store bought rennet, are 80+ years old on the majority. I estimate that is at least a 65 year cheese making career. They may not be the best teachers, as often is the case when teaching things that are done so intuitively and with techniques and ways that have been passed down through the times that no one really knows why they are the way they are anymore, just simply that they work. And curiously enough these days science always has a good explanation for it all. Science has not yet managed to explain why changing the water of fermenting olives on a windy day is a no no, nor why the wind gets inside the olives and makes them soft. But I assure you that everyone you ask in town will agree this is the case. What say you Science?

The question of whether my teachers will be good or not is irrelevant. I need teachers or I may become one of these fools that Hunter S. Thompson referred to. "He that is taught only by himself has a fool for a master".  This does beg the question, can the teachers in turn be themselves self taught. I assumed it was implied that this should not be the case.

A close up of a slice of zucchini, a nice pattern that would make a pretty tile for, say, a kitchen wall.

From one close up to another. This time we have a close up of a small rug I finished today, again made in an effort to better my skills at using and teaching how to use this loom. I threaded the warp incorrectly, doubled up on a heddle, and the result is that white line you see. It was not done on purpose and it does not bother me much, it is very Saori after all, and will serve as a good example to show my future students. I wanted to replicate a small rug we have that has seen better days. I can´t stand T yarn, I know it is a good way of recycling and all that, but I can´t stand everything about it, the way if feels the way it looks… But for the purpose of this particular piece it works perfectly, it is cheap, has the right weight, grows quickly… blah blah, can´t stand it.

My new clogs look quite good on the new rug. I also want to learn how to make clogs. So many things to learn.

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