Liz Robison writes about the pleasures of cooking for a dozen people for five consecutive days.
When people sign up for a ceramics course here at Booth House, they are taking on a package which involves clay, people, eating, pleasure and all round satisfaction. Like the best dishes, courses are always better than the sum of their parts.
The main thing catering for the courses means for me is shopping in bulk for lovely fresh ingredients. I base the lunches and evening meals around seasonal fruits and vegetables, with locally baked breads and rolls. I use fish and chicken but rarely other meat. Usually there's a vegetarian or two on the course, and we've catered also for a friendly vegan who would come into the kitchen in the morning and look at the ingredients and say "Yes, yes, no, yes. no, Yes." She certainly did not go hungry.
Even meat eaters love the variety and texture of vegetarian cooking and we have pastas, Quiches. risottos and curries in the course of a course, so to speak.
The courses begin, usually on Sunday evening, with finger food, wine. slide show and an introduction to each other. People begin to be interested in, say, the kipper pate, the smoked mackerel spread, the aubergine dip. They are intrigued by different ingredients.
By lunchtime on day one, people are beginning to gel as a group. So they enjoy (hopefully sitting outside in sunshine), chewing over the morning's activities over salad, filled baguettes, fruit etc.
I get the best of both worlds in the kitchen because I can welcome help from everyone to carry stuff to and fro, but then they are banished from my domain until suppertime while I clear up and then prepare the evening meal.
Eating and drinking together are such convivial activities, and I love the mellowness of our evening meals on our courses.The evening begins with a wind down session in or outside the studio with nibbles and a glass of wine or juice.
By 7pm I have to enlist the help of a forceful group member, (or this magazine's editor, Ian), to help me getting people in to the house to eat and away from their ceramic creations, to eat the meal. People who have worked hard all day will eat anything, I believe. I experiment with new ideas every year but also have a few firm favourites that come out every time.
By now people are really part of a group, they are enthused by what they are learning and achieving, and they can't wait to get to the bottom of the bowl before turning it over to see who made it! With seven or eight students, Jim and me and Ian as helper, that's nearly a dozen people for each meal, which means big bowls and serving dishes.
The last night is a party students aand possibly friends or patrners, bed and breakfast providers etc are all invited to the Raku or smoked pots party.I know no one wants to sit down to eat that night,so it's an enormous curry with naan and popadoms to be eaten standing up watching over the kiln, plus a cake or a pud to be eaten contemplating triumphs or disasters from the evening's firings.
Whatever the results I remain convinced that food is one of the main ingredients in having a successful 'course' experience.