Category Archives: Deptford Pudding

Cobblers To The World!

The past is another country and in my case it is my scrapbooks, and Rochester and Chatham where I spent three years at art school.

The Medway at Chatham, from Fort Pitt Hill in Rochester

The Medway and Chatham from Fort Pitt Hill, Rochester.©David Porter

In 1803, in America, the present was another country. Few Americans knew anything about the land west of the Missouri, so President Jefferson sent an expedition of thirty men, led by two young soldiers Lewis and Clark, to explore and map the wilderness.

Commemorative stamp celbrating 150th anniversary of the Lewis and Clark Expedition

U.S.stamp commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Lewis and Clark Expedition

They didn’t know how long they would be away, or how vast was the country that lay ahead. Dinner was uppermost in their minds and much of their time was spent hunting and foraging for food, which they cooked in a type of pot the early settlers had brought with them from England, the Dutch Oven. Two and half years later Lewis and Clark returned, and wagon trains began spreading westwards towards the Pacific. In the mid 19th Century nearly 3,000 Mormon pioneers, many of them religious refugees from England, pulled handcarts 1,300 miles from Iowa to Utah. No covered wagons for these poor people but hanging proudly from their carts was a Dutch oven.

Mormon Handcart Pioneer monument

Mormon Handcart Pioneer Monument in Salt Lake, with Dutch Oven. ©Morris A. Thurston

Americans still celebrate their ancestors reliance on the Dutch oven, holding cook-offs at Dutch Oven Gatherings (DOGs). The DOG season has just started in America, and one favourite dish is the old English ‘pot pie’, also known as a ‘cobbler’. Pot pies are as old as pastry making, and were a regular item on the menus of  grand houses in England and France; the ‘four-and-twenty blackbird’ pie was a pot pie.  Americans really took pot pies, or cobblers, to their hearts. Regional variations come with colourful names: the Grunt in Massachusetts, the Slump in Vermont, the Buckle, the Betty, and the Sonker! The Brown Betty is a bit like a bread pudding, and the Pandowdy is similar to an apple crumble. The ‘Washington Post’ commented that the phrase “as American as apple pie” should really be “as American as a cobbler”.

Maybe the name came about because they resemble cobblestones, or perhaps because small round loaves were called ‘cobs’ in England. Sometimes uncooked biscuits or suet dumplings were scattered on top of the filling, giving the appearance of a ‘cobbled’ road when the pie was cooked. The ‘Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America’ says: “Without brick ovens, colonial cooks often made cobblers in pots over an open fire. As cobblers cook, the filling stews and creates its own sauce and gravy, while the pastry puffs up and dries.” English recipes tend to use a scone type of dough, and in America they use a more crisp pastry.


Dutch Oven ©The Yurt Farm

The Dutch Oven is perhaps the single most important item of cooking equipment in the history of cooking, a simple cauldron with three legs to raise it above the fire and a flat lid with a raised lip allowing coals to be scattered on top; the lid can be used by itself as a skillet. A wire handle attached to the pot allowed the Dutch Oven to be hung over a fire. We still have these pots but now they’ve lost their legs, the lids are rounded, and we call them ‘casseroles’. The hardware shops of Deptford sell ‘Dutch Pots’ or ‘Dutchies’, aluminium pots in varying sizes but no legs, and if you search the internet you’ll find camping shops selling the real thing, a cast iron Dutch oven with legs.  In the 17th Century saucepans were mostly made from brass and very expensive. They were handed down through generations, George Washington’s mother stipulated in her will that her ‘kitchen iron-work’ should be divided between her grandchildren. Iron pots were cheaper but heavier, more difficult to make and liable to crack.  At school I learned about Abraham Darby and the Industrial Revolution, he was the inventor of the coke-fuelled blast furnace. Darby was manufacturing brass cooking pots in Bristol when in 1704 he travelled to Holland to study a new iron-casting method utilising sand moulds. He brought his skills and some Dutch workers back to England where he carried on experimenting and perfected the iron casting process, making thinner, lighter, and stronger pots.

Coalbrookdale at Night

Abraham Darby's blast furnaces at Coalbrookdale at night, by Philipp James de Loutherbourg

He moved to bigger works in Coalbrookdale and patented his casting method in 1707 monopolising the cast iron cooking pot market in Britain and America for the next 200 years. There’s something reassuringly sturdy and no-nonsense about cast iron cookware. We have quite a collection of frying pans, griddle pans and pots. I like the gritty blackness of them and the way you never really clean them, they just get better and better. ‘Seasoning’ it’s called, which is now a family joke.  Anything I buy or acquire that just sits unused in a corner is described as ‘seasoning’ till the time is right. I’ve a dishwasher seasoning at the moment.


'Man About Town' January 1961.

I’ve been taking pictures since I was three, first with my big sister’s box camera which often jammed. Then I’d watch her disappear under the eiderdown to open the camera and free the film.  Then she bought a Brownie 127, and I was given a small camera from Woolworths that took 16 pictures on 127 film. It had a plastic tartan case and a wire viewfinder. I’ve still got it somewhere. When I was eleven I started developing my films in my bedroom, see-sawing the rolls through glass rollers in a shallow tank and total darkness before making contact prints.  I decided I would be a photographer, my sister Christine encouraged me bringing home the latest cutting-edge magazines with shots by the trendy triumvirate of Duffy, Donovan, and Bailey. ‘Man About Town’.  American ‘Esquire’, ‘Queen’, and American ‘Look’ featured inspiring photographs by Irving Penn and William Klein.  Sunday supplements appeared featuring photographers such as Don McCullin and Art Kane.


Don McCullin photographs the Liverpool 8 poets for the Telegraph Magazine, March 1967.

I saved these magazines, cutting out the pictures and sticking them into scrap books. I still have a serious magazine habit, but now I buy most of my glossies from the stall in Deptford Market on Wednesdays, ‘3 for £4’, and my home is stuffed with hundreds, probably thousands of magazines.

Deptford Market, the cheap magazine stall

Wednesday's Deptford Market, the magazine stall.

My poor mother was dismayed, Christine had been to Wimbledon art school for three years, and her horizons had been broadened. I went to Wimbledon Saturday mornings when I was 10 or 11, but she hoped I’d grow out of it. “Photography is a very expensive hobby,” she said at every opportunity. Followed by a stern, “You needn’t think you’re going to art school.”  But I was quietly single-minded, borrowing all the photography books from the library and staring wistfully into the windows of the local camera shop.


Bill Brandt's 1937 picture of a snicket in Halifax, from my Time-Life book 'The Art of Photography', laying on some exposed cobbles in Ashby Road, London SE4.

I tended towards contrasty images of urban black and white emptiness, my favourite picture was Bill Brandt’s shot of  a ‘snicket’, a steep ramp of cobbles in Halifax. Christine went to New York for a holiday and came back with “Message From The Interior”, a book of photographs by Walker Evans who became my latest hero.


'Message From The Interior' a collection of photographs © Walker Evans, published by the Eakins Press in New York 1966.

“What was New York like?” I asked her, starry-eyed. “If you don’t look up, it’s just like Tooting,” she said.  Luckily my sister’s campaign to get me into art school didn’t waver, and when I was about 16 she bought me a Leica IIIc with a collapsible lens. I left school and took a job so I could buy a second-hand MPP enlarger with all the dishes, paper, and chemicals. When I’d assembled a few prints Christine organised the college applications and then drove me around the country from interview to interview till I found a place in Rochester. Where I met Clarissa, who in the picture below is walking down Constitution Hill in Swansea modelling an Ossie Clark dress for my college-leaving portfolio.


Clarissa modelling an Ossie Clark/Radley dress, on Constitution Hill in Swansea.

That picture by Bill Brandt of cobbles fascinated me. The streets around my home were once laid with granite setts, and when the surface breaks-up the cobbles reappear. Some streets and mews are still cobbled, Comet Street off Deptford High Street for instance, and Greenwich Market. Lewisham has its own ‘snicket’, White Post Lane. Not so dramatic as the Halifax street but still evocative of a mysterious bygone era.


White Post Lane

The streets east of White Post Lane were built in an old quarry, their names give it away: Loampit Hill previously known as Lome Pitt Hole,  Sandrock Road, Cliffview, Fossil, Overcliff, and so on. White Post Lane is much older than the houses and used to run along the quarry’s edge from the brick field to Loampit Hill. The cobbled stretch may date from the old quarry workings it seems out of place among the late 19th and early 20th Century houses.

Brickworks and Quarry near Loampit Hill. Courtesy of

Faulkeners Brick Kiln and Quarry near White Post Lane,1810. Image from

Fours years after art school and at last I was working for magazines photographing rock royalty and some fashion. One day we’d been on a fashion shoot and gave the model a lift home to Chelsea. She invited us in for a coffee, and introduced us to her bemused boyfriend Terry. I was star-struck, more impressed than I’d been meeting Paul McCartney.

Terry de Havilland, cobbler to the world

Terry de Havilland. Cobbler to The World. Courtesy of

Terry de Havilland was the cobbler of the moment, a genius. I had several pairs of platform shoes including a multi-coloured snakeskin pair, a rip-off of Terry’s design. He was very nice and friendly as a proper cockney cobbler should be, and despite his trendy credentials as nice as pie. His shop was on the Kings Road, “Cobblers To The World”, and I’m pleased to say he is still making fantastic shoes.

My recipe is for a Beef Cobbler, real rib-sticking comfort food.  You don’t need  a Dutch oven to cook a cobbler just the modern equivalent, the casserole dish.


Beef Cobbler

Beef Cobbler

Preparation time : 10 – 15 minutes

Cooking times : 90 minutes (but can be started the day before and cooked in two stages)

Ingredients : (makes 3 or 4 portions)

For the filling,

2 or 3 tbs beef dripping

2 tbs plain flour

Rock salt and freshly ground pepper (to season the flour)

975g beef, I used shin of beef, cut into generous cubes

225g banana shallots, sliced (or 2 small onions, but the shallots are sweeter)

300 ml beef stock

300 ml red wine

4 pickled walnuts, quartered, with 125ml of the vinegar from the jar

2 tbs tomato purée

Bouquet garni of thyme, parsley and bay tied together

For the topping,

450g plain flour

1 tsp English mustard powder

5 tsp baking powder

Salt and pepper

110g butter, cubed

50g walnuts, crushed

2 tbs chopped parsley

300ml milk

1 egg, beaten, to glaze

Some fresh sage leaves

Method :

Melt 2 tbs of the dripping in your casserole dish (mine is 23cm diameter and 10cm deep and it is cast iron). Dust the cubed beef in seasoned flour and brown in batches in the melted dripping before removing with a slotted spoon to a plate.

Add the remaining dripping and soften the shallots., then de-glaze the pan, shallots and all, with the wine, the stock, and a wine glass of the vinegar from the pickled walnuts. Stir-in the tomato purée and return the meat to the dish. Add the pickled walnuts and tuck-in the herbs, take care that the meat is covered by the stock, if not add more beef stock or wine. Cover the casserole with the lid and simmer very gently for three-quarters of an hour.

While this happening, prepare the pastry top. Sift the flour and the baking powder into a large mixing bowl and season with pepper, salt and the mustard powder. Rub in the butter till the mixture resembles bread crumbs and then add the chopped parsley and the chopped walnuts, and stir-in the milk. Knead lightly in the bowl, or tip out and knead, whichever suits you, till everything is combined.

Wrap the dough in clingfilm and chill for at least 30 minutes, or until you are ready. Remove the herbs from the casserole. Take the chilled dough and flatten it with your hands so you have a circle roughly the same size as the casserole lid. You could press the lid gently onto the dough to give you a template for the amount you need to make the cobblers.

Cut across the dough in opposite directions and take each square and using your hands roll it into a ball before flattening it slightly and placing on top of the meat in the casserole. When you’ve finished brush the dough with egg-wash and scatter with some fresh sage leaves.

Cover the casserole with the lid and put into your oven pre-heated to 200C for 10 minutes. Then remove the lid and continue to cook for a further 20 – 30 minutes at 190C.

The cobbler will be golden and crisp on top and underneath steamy, sticky, and soft, the dough having wrapped itself around the beef!

©2012 David Porter

The Devil at Work in Deptford

Tuesday October 11th was Old Michaelmas Day, the day when Satan, one of God’s angels, was banished from Heaven for being bad. He fell to earth fast, ‘like lightning from heaven’, and landed in a blackberry bush. Understandably he was a bit miffed at landing in a tangle of thorns, so he cursed the blackberry and pee’d on the fruit. If you don’t believe me go and look at a blackberry bush, after the 11th the berries are shrivelled, hard and bitter, inedible in fact. Last weekend the few berries left on my bush were fine and I picked what was left, less than a cupful, but wonderfully sweet.

The last blackberries of 2011

Andy from Old Deptford History emailed and asked if I knew about Deptford’s connection with cheesecake. I didn’t, but along with that other ancient dish the custard pie, cheesecake has a very long history.  We’ve tried a few historical cheesecake recipes in the past, they are subtle and ‘grown-up’, not the sweet, cream-cheese and fruit New York cheesecakes on offer in every hotel restaurant and supermarket chiller in the world. Real cheesecakes don’t even contain cheese, and are they really ‘cakes’?  They can be tarts perhaps, or even pies.

The Greeks served them to athletes at the first Olympic Games in 776BC, and celebrated their weddings with cheesecakes baked with honey and herbs. The Romans recorded their recipes, Cato writing about his Sweet Libum, a cheese-based bread used as an offering to the gods.

When I say ‘cheese’ I mean curd, which isn’t cheese,  OK, it’s similar and it’s directly related to cheese, but it’s not cheese.  Curd is the original cheesecake ingredient. The emails between me and Andy were at cross-purposes.  Andy was thinking of ‘London Cheesecake’, a sweet, flaky pastry topped with icing and dessicated coconut, but no cheese. There’s a blog describing Gregg’s London Cheesecake and in the interests of research and accuracy I tried to buy one from Deptford’s Greggs, but they weren’t on sale. Nigella has a recipe handed down through her father’s family, she says, but though she’s called it a London cheesecake, it’s the New York version.  “Go figure”, as they’d say in the Big Apple.

Andy has a much more interesting cheesecake tale about Ann Arthur, a Deptford woman, which he featured in his Old Deptford History blog.

John Evelyn of Sayes Court, Deptford

In 1685 Deptford was renowned for its cheesecakes, people baked cheesecakes and traveled to London to sell them.  No specific recipe survives, but luckily Deptford’s most famous resident was keeping a hand-written recipe book.  John Evelyn collected 353 recipes,  including some from his friend Sir Christopher Wren, now they’re published in a book entitled simply ‘John Evelyn, Cook’.  Evelyn’s recipe for cheesecake is perhaps the closest we’ll get to an authentic 17thC Deptford cheesecake, and I’ve tried to follow it. The only difference is he baked his pastry ‘blind’, and I didn’t.

154. An Excellent receipt for Cheesecakes, which wee make

Take 3 quarts of New Milk ren it pretty cold and when it is tender come drayn it from the whay in a strainer then hang it up till all the whay be drained from it, then change it into dry cloaths till it wett the Cloth no longer then straine it through a course haire sive, mingle it with 3 qrs of a pound of fresh Butter, with yr hands, take halfe a pound of Almonds beaten with rose water as fine as Curd, then mingle them with the yolks of tenne Eggs and neere a Pint of creame. A nutmeg grated sugar and a little salt when yr Coffins [pie crusts] are ready and going to sett into the Oven, then mingle them together, the Oven must be as hot for a pigeon pye lett the scorching be over halfe an houre will be them well, the Coffins must be hardned by setting into oven full of branne, prick them with a bodkin [sharp instrument], which brush out with a wing, then put in the cheesecake stuff, you may leave 2 whites in the eggs if you like it best so.

Charles II had just died, and James II was the new King, plots were hatching, and rebellions were breaking-out across England. On 3rd March 1685 Ann Arthur, well-liked by her neighbours and respected as a hard-working woman, left her home in Flagon Row and set off as normal for the City with her cheesecakes.  This particular day she stayed later than usual in London before starting her walk back to Deptford.

Flagon Row, Deptford. Picture courtesy www.

In 1685 if you took the well-worn path from London Bridge to Deptford, you’d be walking through fields and orchards till you reached Rogues Lane (present day Plough Road) near to where it joined Deptford Lower Road. Near what is now Surrey Quays was an inn, the Halfway House. Samuel Pepys often walked this way from his home in the City to the King’s Yard where he was Secretary to the Admiralty, and in this year he became Master of Trinity House at Deptford Strand. Pepys usually stopped at the Halfway House for drinks and cheesecakes, sometimes he read a book as he walked, which shows it must have been a pleasant and uneventful journey.

Samuel Pepys in 1689, by Geoffery Kneller

Pepys was very fond of cheesecakes. He wrote in his diary about visits to the King’s Head in Islington to eat cheesecakes just as he had done with his father when he was a boy. On another occasion he travelled to the Red Lion in Barnet and had “some of the best cheese-cakes I have ever had in my life…”  His passion for cheesecakes must have been a reflection of their general acclaim, something we’d have trouble imagining today. It is a mystery that after centuries of popularity, they suddenly fell out of favour. Why? What was once a national dish disappeared and now just about clings on in a few regions of Britain, Yorkshire and Northamptonshire for instance. Towcester cheesecakes were individual cheesecakes sold at Towcester Races, and because they are made with curd not cheese the local Trading Standards are trying to stop them being called ‘cheesecakes’. By the mid 19th Century our ‘real’ cheesecakes had disappeared from cookbooks.

John Cary's 1786 map of London

We can wonder why Ann Arthur stayed later than usual in the City, had she done well selling her cheesecakes and stayed for refreshments? Or had she had trouble selling them and stayed till they were all sold. We’ll never know, but as she left the Halfway House behind her she found her way blocked by a tall dark figure she took to be a man, then by the moonlight she saw he had ‘a stern and dreadful countenance’ which filled her with fear and dread.

The Deptford Demon by Clarissa Porter

Afraid it was the Devil himself she tried to run back to the inn but a fierce wind suddenly blew and prevented her turning back, forcing her on towards the lane that led to Deptford, all the while closely followed by ‘that gloomy apparition’ who then demanded to know where she was going and where she had been. In fright she stammered an explanation of her day, adding she was “a poor woman obliged to take that employment for her maintenance”; the spectre made some ‘horrible mutterings’ then thrust out his hand full of silver which Ann refused to take, instead she began praying under her breath for her deliverance from the Devil and from temptation. The cloaked figure urged her to take the silver saying it would lead her out of poverty, then he produced a handful of gold “a vast heap, more than any hand could grasp” and offered to put it in her basket. But Ann still refused and kept walking, her limbs shaking, towards Deptford hoping against hope she’d meet some friendly faces.  At last she began to see the lights of the town, but just as she thought she would be safe a sudden whirlwind blew-up and took Ann and her basket up into the air, carrying her 50 yards before hurling her into a bush (I wonder where he got that idea!). Her screams alerted some of the townsfolk who thinking someone was being robbed rushed to her aid and carried her to a nearby house, and then onwards to Flagon Row where she told her neighbours of her ordeal. Ann never fully recovered her wits and blamed herself for what had happened, she’d neglected the sabbath selling cheesecakes, and she’d swore and called upon the devil. Many tried to redeem her but she refused to change.  I don’t think it ended happily for the poor woman who became an example of what would happen if you led a depraved life.

Cheese has a very long history, but before cheese there were curds and whey. When milk goes ‘off’ it curdles and separates into curds (the solids) and whey (the liquid). Cheesecakes were a way of not wasting curdled milk, but by 1685, milk was being curdled by adding rennet. Evelyn’s recipe says ‘take 6 pints of milk (whole unpasteurised milk) and rennet it cold‘. You can do the same thing, its fun, honest! You’ll need the creamiest old-fashioned milk you can get, preferably unpasteurised (but be aware of the health risks), 6 to 8 pints should do for my recipe. Then add lemon juice, maybe 2 or 3 tablespoons, and wait while the milk curdles and separates. Take some muslin, about a square metre will be plenty, and fashion the muslin into a sieve, pour the milk through the muslin to separate the curds. If you can suspend the muslin over a bowl so much the better. Squeeze the curd in the muslin to drain the last of the whey. Now with the curd still wrapped in the muslin weight it down with something heavy to press it into a more solid mass, and leave overnight. The whey can be left for 12 – 24 hours at room temperature then heated till almost boiling, which once it has cooled is again passed through muslin to produce a low fat fine curd. In Italy this is called ricotta and is very perishable and so should be used at once.

If all that is too much of a to-do then I recommend making my cheesecake recipe with either shop-bought curd cheese (cheap and easily available), or really fresh ricotta. The best place to buy ricotta is Gennaro’s in Lewisham. I was there last Friday evening looking for some fresh ricotta, and the always-smiling Antonio greeted me with his usual cheerful “Buono sera signor!”   I told him I needed about half a kilo of ricotta and you’ve never seen a man change so fast, his whole appearance crumbled. “We ‘ave none,” he shrugged mournfully, shoulders drooping, “a few of the ricotta, they not very well…” He trailed off.  “Not very well?” I repeated like a man sandbagged.  “Si, so, you know, I send them away. It’s a very fresh product,” he added, “they didn’t taste good.”  Antonio was rubbing his thumb and index finger together in the air trying to describe the ricotta’s lack of well-ness.  After several “sorry, my friend, sorry, sorrys” from Antonio I left him to his misery, promising to ring next time to check on the health of the ricotta.

Deptford Cheesecake

 Deptford Cheesecake

Preparation time: 40 minutes to make the pastry (could be done the day before), 5 minutes to assemble the ingredients.

Cooking time: 30 – 40 minutes.


For the pastry,

(This will make more than you need, you can freeze the extra for another cheesecake!)

450g good plain flour

Pinch of salt

1 tbs icing sugar

(all of the above sifted)

110g lard, cubed

110g butter, cubed

Ice cold water, a small cup


In a large bowl and with floured hands, rub the fats into the sifted flour, till it resembles fine crumbs.

Mix a little iced water, drop by drop, into the flour mixture, chopping it in with a knife till you have a stiff ball of dough.

Wrap this in clingfilm and chill for 30 minutes.

Divide the dough in half, freeze half for another time, and with the other half line a greased loose-ring pie tin (mine was 200mm diameter, 35mm deep), letting the excess pastry flop over the sides. Chill the pastry case while you prepare the filling.

For the filling,

225g ricotta or curd cheese

2 tbs double cream

110g softened butter

75g light brown sugar

2 tbs, heaped, of ground almonds

1 tbs rose water

Big pinches of ground ginger and freshly scraped nutmeg

3 whole eggs + 1 egg yolk, whisked


Combine the cheese with the cream in a mixing bowl.

In a separate bowl cream together the butter, sugar, almonds, rose water, ginger, and nutmeg. Fold in the whisked eggs, then fold in the cheese and cream mixture.  It will be quite thick, not like a batter or a custard.

Take the pastry case out of the fridge and now you can tidy-up the overhanging pastry because it will have settled into all the crevices of the tin.

Spoon in the filling, then put the tin onto a warmed baking sheet and into the oven, pre-heated to 180C.

Bake for 30 – 40 minutes, depending on how deep your tin is, it will rise and probably crack. When it has risen evenly, and is shiny and dark it is cooked.

Serve slightly warm, or cold. As the cheesecake cools it will quickly settle down evenly. I scraped some more nutmeg onto the cooked cheesecake.

©David Porter 2011.

%d bloggers like this: