Category Archives: Recipe

A Peckham Frolic

Every year we say to each other ‘lets make some marmalade’, and every year we leave it till the last moment to buy the Seville oranges. This year was typical. I hadn’t seen any Sevilles in the local shops, then one day last week driving along Royal Hill in Greenwich I saw several crates of oranges displayed outside The Creaky Shed.

The Creaky Shed, Royal Hill, Greenwich London SE10.

The Creaky Shed, Greengrocers.

I stopped and ran inside, the greengrocer was bagging some tomatoes for a customer when I asked for Seville oranges. “No they’re finished,” he said, but as I turned to go he murmured, “hang on” and winked. Disappearing out the back he returned with a bag of Sevilles. “These are past their best I was going to chuck them out but you can have them.” Feeling pretty pleased with myself and promising to return with a jar of marmalade I went home and weighed them, 14 lb! Or about 10 lb when I removed the really mouldy fruit. This is how it must have been for Mrs Keiller in 1797 in Dundee. The story goes that a Spanish ship put into Dundee in a storm with a cargo of Seville oranges that were ‘on the turn’. Seeing an opportunity the resourceful Mrs Keiller bought the cargo and turned them into marmalade. This sounds to me like early PR, but anyway the rest is history. Or is it?  A similar story emerged in Oxford in 1874 when Sarah Cooper made 34 kg of Seville orange marmalade, selling the jars in her husband’s grocery shop. Her marmalade proved such a hit that it quickly took over the shop, and now Frank Cooper’s Oxford Marmalade holds a Royal Warrant, and the rest is history. Again. Neither of these good ladies invented orange marmalade,  it must have been common knowledge because in 1777 Boswell wrote to Dr Johnson telling him ‘My wife has made marmalade of oranges for you’.

Crate of Seville oranges

Seville Oranges

Sevilles are not true oranges in the usual sense, and are grown mostly in Spain. Almost the entire crop comes to England for marmalade industry. A couple of years ago I was at the Thursday Farmers Market in Oxford and met Oliver Tickell, a writer, environmental campaigner and Oxford Marmalade fanatic.  Oliver has pretty firm views about marmalade, he even has a dedicated website! We sat outside a coffee shop and he produced a jar of 5 year old homemade marmalade and launched into an enthusiastic explanation of what makes real Oxford Marmalade so great while we took turns sticking our fingers in the jar and scoffing big sticky chunks of the almost-black marmalade.

Oliver Tickell at Oxford Market

Oliver Tickell, writer, environmentalist, and Real Oxford Marmalade Maker

Over the past ten years he’s made hundreds of jars, they fill every spare space in his house and his wife has forbidden any further production. Oliver is scathing about modern marmalade, “Too insipid, tasteless, not bitter enough, too much added pectin,” he said pulling a face. ” It is impossible to buy real Oxford marmalade, it should be fruity and more astringent. The key thing, ” he adds, “is not to add any water, or very very little, and to add some root ginger. And leave in the pips, I think a few pips are no big deal.”  Calling out “Make your own, it’s good for you!” Oliver sped off on his bike weaving his way through the market. I’m easily led by traditionalists like Oliver and decided that in the future this is how my marmalade must be. I would refuse to eat anything else.

Grocer's Shop in Silvertown 1944, just visible in top right corner jars of Dundee Marmalade. ©IWM

Grocer's Shop, Silvertown 1944. Just visible in top right corner are jars of Dundee Marmalade. ©IWM (D20991)

Keiller’s Dundee Marmalade moved to London to be near the docks for the oranges and for the sugar.  In 1880 they set up in Silvertown next to Tate’s sugar factory in the heart of the Royal Docks. Keiller’s joined Tate and his arch-rival Mr Lyle the maker of golden syrup and another Scot who’d seen the sense in moving to the London Docks.  In 1900 Keillers built a spanking new wharf, Tay Wharf, named after the River Tay in Dundee and the area became known as ‘the Sugar Mile’. Tate & Lyle settled their differences and amalgamated in 1921, Keillers were joined by Trebor, Cross and Blackwell pickles, and Sharps Toffee. The air was thick with the sweet smell of sugar cooking.

During the war Silvertown was a prime target for German bombers, at one point cut-off from the rest of London by a ring of fire, the residents were evacuated Dunkirk-style on the Woolwich Ferry.  Now the workers’ terraces have gone replaced by blocks of flats; the pubs which were once every 100 yards or so have gone too. On Pier Road the Royal Standard Hotel clings on, ‘Exotic Dancers Mon-Fri’, and  ‘Live Girls in Here’.

The Trek To The Shelters, Silvertown 1940 by Edward Ardizzone ©IWM (ART LD 468)

I went searching for Tay Wharf and following my satnav drove straight into the the factory yard, past the open barrier and the vandalised gatehouse, ‘All Visitors Report To The Gatehouse.’

Tay Wharf, Silvertown, London E16.

Tay Wharf, the old Keiller's Dundee Marmalade factory, Silvertown, London E16

Using my ‘A – Z’  I retraced my steps and found the original disused gates and railway tracks ending at the boarded up entrance, and the narrow doorway where the workers filed into the factory to ‘clock-on’.

Now the wharf is home to a scrap metal yard and a theatrical shoe manufacturer.

Window in the old Keiller Marmalade factory, Tay Wharf, Silvertown, London E16.

Window in the old Keiller Marmalade factory, Tay Wharf. Now home to Theatrical Shoemakers.

The first marmalade was made from quinces cooked into jelly-like blocks and eaten after dinner as a sweet. Seville oranges are bitter, smaller, and knobblier than ordinary oranges.  Citrus fruit originate from China and east Asia, and all the present day varieties descend from just three wild species. Mandarin oranges are one of the three original wild fruit. Crusaders must have seen oranges in Palestine in the 12th Century, Marco Polo wrote of them in the 13th Century, and by 1561 Lord Burghley was building a shelter for his orange trees in Lincolnshire. Seville oranges were the first introduced to Britain, followed by the sweet Mandarins. In the 17th Century ‘orangeries’ were an essential part of many gardens in England. John Evelyn grew oranges in Deptford at Sayes Court, writing instructions for his gardeners, “Never expose your Oranges, Limons, & like tender Trees, whatever season flatter; ‘til the Mulbery puts-forth its leafe,

Peckham Library near the site of Peckham Manor House

Peckham Library, near the Site of Peckham Manor House

Travelling around the country meeting and photographing people is part of my job. If I’ve travelled more than 100 miles my accent sometimes causes amusement. When I’m asked where I’m from I say:  “Peckham.”   Sometimes I add “innit” which always raises a laugh.  If I said Deptford or Lewisham there’d be puzzled looks and I’d have to go into detail.  “Near the Dome,” I’d say, searching their faces for signs of recognition. Or, ” I can see Canary Wharf from my road…it’s between Lewisham and Harrods..,” and so on.  I’m not from Peckham but my family were from Walworth and Peckham, and everybody’s heard of Peckham thanks to ‘Only Fools and Horses’ (which was actually filmed in Bristol and Ealing).

Site of Peckham Manor House and Garden

Site of Peckham Manor House and Gardens

John Evelyn was a friend of Sir Thomas Bond who lived in Peckham Manor House. Like some of my relatives Sir Thomas was born in Peckham.  The Manor House was somewhere behind the present library. The Bonds’ family motto is ‘Orbis Non Sufficit‘ or ‘The World is Not Enough’, a phrase James Bond referred to as ‘the family motto’ in the eponymous film.  Like his friend John Evelyn, Sir Thomas collected fruit trees, I think it’s reasonable to suppose he had orange trees as they were highly regarded decorative plants in the 17th Century. Charles II made him a baronet when he was restored to the throne at the end of the Commonwealth in 1660, and the two men were friends.

Charles II

Charles II, a minature painting ©lisby1

Charles travelled frequently to Peckham to hunt with Sir Thomas and his son Henry. It is likely that Nell Gwynn (or Gwyn, or Gwynne) sometimes accompanied him to Peckham, which in the mid-17th Century was a peaceful farming village with a few large houses a mile from the nearest busy road, and a popular place to visit being just 3 miles from the City. The former actress may have returned to the stage in Peckham, where there was a small theatre to entertain visitors. The King was secretly pro-Catholic in a time when it really mattered whether you were Catholic or Protestant. His mistresses (he had 12 or 13) were Catholic, except for Nell who was very popular with the Protestant population.  ‘Pretty witty Nell’ said Pepys in his diary. Once when her coach was rocked by angry peasants thinking it was transporting one of Charles’ Catholic mistresses, she leaned out shouting, “Good people you are mistaken, I am the Protestant whore!”

Nell Gwynn as Cupid, by Richard Thomson. Pepys had a copy of this engraving in his office.

She probably met John Evelyn because there is a tradition that the Royal Hospital in Chelsea was her idea, something she persuaded Charles to do, and Evelyn was the Commissioner in charge of Dutch prisoners of war kept at Chelsea so he was consulted about the new Royal Hospital.  In her early life the aspiring actress sold sweet oranges from China for 6d, at the Theatre Royal in Drury Lane.  Later she acted in several plays, becoming something of a star with a gift for comedy and very popular with ordinary Londoners.  Sooner or later it was inevitable she would come into contact with the King, either at the theatre, or at the private performances given at the palace.  He was smitten, paying her up to £9,000 a year and giving her a house in Pall Mall where she kept meticulous records. She was fond of oysters, macaroons, rum, faggots, and oringes. She had two children by Charles and he was about to make her the Countess of Greenwich when he died. She always overspent, and when Charles was on his deathbed he said to his brother and heir James, “Let not poor Nelly starve.” The new King paid off her debts and continued paying her a pension. She died at the age of 37, after suffering two strokes. and was buried at St Martins in the Fields, the future Archbishop of Canterbury conducted the service. James II was deeply unpopular because he was openly Catholic, and he fled to France in 1688 followed by Sir Henry Bond who was bankrupted by his father’s development of Bond Street in the West End.

The Peckham Frolic published by Ecco.

The Peckham Frolic. Published by ECCO (18th Century Collections Online)

Peckham Manor House was sacked by the Protestant mob in 1688, the year of the Glorious Revolution. The legend of Nell in Peckham, and the subtle absurdities of religious secrecy were satirised 100 years later in a play by Edward Jerningham, ‘The Peckham Frolic’.

My recipe is Oliver Tickell’s for Oxford Marmalade. You can make marmalade with sweet oranges instead of  Sevilles, I’d simply reduce the amount of sugar to compensate, the sugar has nothing to do with the marmalade setting so you can adjust to your taste. I like mine bitter, I leave the pips which have softened in the cooking, and I like the chunks to be man-size.

This is a bloke from Peckhams marmalade, a real geezer of a marmalade!

Real Oxford Marmalade

Oxford Marmalade

Oxford Marmalade

Preparation time: 5 minutes

Cooking time: 3 hours

You’ll need storage jars, enough for 4.5 kg  of marmalade (10x 1 lb jars).

Ingredients :

3.6 kg Seville oranges

2 grapefruit

2 lemons

3.6 kg granulated sugar. You can use brown sugar if you wish.

300 ml water

225 g root ginger, peeled and finely diced

1 tbs dark treacle (optional)

Method :

Wash the fruit and cut into halves. Put the fruit into a large pan with 300ml of water. Cover with a lid and heat.

When the water is warm add 900g of sugar and cook gently says Oliver, for 30 minutes stirring occasionally.

Allow to cool. Then remove the fruit and slice it into chunks, or strings if you prefer. I like builder-size pieces. Return to the pan, pips and all, add the ginger and heat. The pips are necessary for the Pectin they provide and the bitter taste.  When warmed stir in the remaining sugar and bring to the boil. Allow to cook at a gentle boil says Oliver, or a fast simmer, for hours! At least 2 hours. Stir all the way to the bottom, and stir frequently to prevent burning.  When the mixture turns a deep brown and the pith is translucent the marmalade is ready. Stir in the treacle if you want, for extra oomph. Test for setting point by dropping a small piece of marmalade on a very cold plate, it should set after a few seconds, if not carry on cooking!

When it is ready have your jars standing-by and warm. You need to bottle the marmalade hot or it won’t keep. Ladle or spoon the hot marmalade into the jars leaving a small air gap, seal tightly and leave them to cool. Store the marmalade in a cool dark place. Next comes the toast and butter, and the frolic.

©2012 David Porter.

Rhubarb Rhubarb

Rhubarb, mmm Rhubarb!

Joseph Myatt is another unsung food hero of Deptford. Born in 1770 in Maer in Staffordshire, Joseph travelled south to work as a nurseryman for ‘Mad Jack’ Fuller in Sussex.  In the early 1880s Myatt brought his family to Deptford and Manor Farm where he began growing strawberries.

Manor Farm (in the centre of the map) in 1833

He cultivated many new varieties: Myatt’s Pine in 1832, Eliza named after his daughter in 1836, British Queen, described as the most famous strawberry ever raised in England, and Deptford Pine in 1843. Myatt held annual Strawberry Feasts at Manor Farm which lasted for days, with tents, bunting and fireworks, and girls dressed as Greek goddesses riding on carts carrying baskets of strawberries. I think we can deduce that Joseph Myatt was an enterprising and forward-looking man with an eye for the main chance, so it’s no surprise that he tried his hand growing rhubarb. “Rhubarb, hmm, sharp and tangy,” he probably thought, “will complement my sweet strawberries.”

Myatt's British Queen strawberry, named in Honour of Queen Victoria in 1840

Before Joseph Myatt rhubarb was considered a medicinal herb. The root was known as a purgative, excellent for constipation, and as a general cure-all. Rhubarb came from China and Siberia, the name is derived from Rha, the old name for the Volga river. Marco Polo wrote of the miraculous root and it began to be traded through Venice into Italy in 1608, and then onward into the rest of Europe.  It was extremely expensive simply because of the distance it travelled, at first it was worth more than gold or opium. In 1657 a London pharmacist listed the powdered root at 16/- per pound, nearly three times the price of opium.

But no one considered eating rhubarb, it was the stock in trade of the apothecary and the druggist.

The 18th C Bow Street Court at 4, Bow Street.

In the year Joseph Myatt was born, one Thomas Davis was charged with stealing musk, saffron, mace and 22 lb of rhubarb from his employers Messrs Kenton and Vazey, apothecaries of Lawrence Lane in the City. The goods were valued at £130, an enormous sum, and Davis was found out because his accomplice Sam Smith offered them to a Mr Winch, a druggist in the Haymarket, who then offered to sell them to Kenton and Vazey.

Davis and Smith appeared before the celebrated magistrate Sir John Fielding, the ‘Blind Beak’ and brother of Sir Henry Fielding the author of Tom Jones. In 1749 the Fielding brothers founded the Bow Street Runners and were fearsome guardians of the law. Despite statements of previous good character, the verdict was guilty, and the punishment was death.

Sir John Fielding, the 'Blind Beak' and founder of the Bow Street Runners

Joseph Myatt experimented with different hybrids of rhubarb producing cultivars of differing colour and flavour. He hoped he could convince the public to eat the stems along with his strawberries, and in 1809 sent his sons to Borough Market with 5 bunches of rhubarb. They only managed to sell 3 bunches to the sceptical traders, but Joseph wasn’t detered and persisted in offering rhubarb for sale. In 1815 at the Chelsea Physic Garden it was discovered by accident that if the plant was covered and kept in darkness it produced sweeter, more tender shoots earlier in the year, so-called ‘forced rhubarb’. But the real trigger to start the change from medicine to food was the arrival of cheaper sugar. By the 19th Century rhubarb was so popular, here and in France, and in America, that demand exceeded supply.

18th C. Advertisement for Night Soil Men. Image from Wikipedia.

Soon London was ringed with rhubarb fields fertilised with ‘night soil’ (poo!) from the City.

Joseph Myatt died in 1855, and was buried in Nunhead Cemetery. The family remained in the area, several Myatts lived in Foxberry Road;  his son James took the business to Camberwell where Myatt’s Fields still exists as a park. Joseph’s grandson Frank migrated to Australia in 1906 and started a vineyard still producing wine today, they hold an annual Strawberry Fair to remember where and how it all began!

Manor Farm was sold to accommodate the Victorian building boom and the coming of the railways. The farm buildings were between present-day Breakspears Road and Wickham Road; nothing remains but in the 1970s and early 1980s we kept a horse in livery stables behind a house on the eastern side of Breakspears, now developed into Tack Mews. That was probably the last remnants of the farmyard.  There are no plaques or statues to Joseph Myatt, he is remembered only by the name of the local school, Myatt Garden, and the street Manor Avenue.

Ticket to Nunhead from Brockley Lane, image from

The railways were the death of London’s market gardens, and rhubarb growing moved north to the area between Wakefield, Leeds, and Bradford: Yorkshire’s ‘rhubarb triangle’. Here sheds were built to grow forced rhubarb in darkness. The soil was perfect, the water from the Pennines was just right, the mills provided ‘shoddy’ a by-product of wool manufacture used to mulch the soil, and beneath the sheds were the coal mines which produced cheap fuel to heat the forcing sheds. Excellent railway links to the rest of the country provided the final piece of the jigsaw. Rhubarb became more and more popular, soon there were 200 growers and every night during the long season special trains known as The Rhubarb Express took the fruit to Covent Garden.

When I was growing up, everyone had a rhubarb patch in their back garden, a leftover from the War, as kids we’d dip a stick of rhubarb into a bag of sugar and happily chew away the hours. During the War the government listed rhubarb as an essential food and fixed the price at 1/- per pound. But ironically wartime rationing of sugar caused a generation of children to turn their backs on rhubarb and the industry went into a steep decline, accelerated by the arrival of cheap exotic fruit from abroad. One of the growers,  second-generation rhubarb grower Ken Oldroyd, refused to be beaten and bought up abandoned rhubarb fields, expanding the business. His daughter Janet and her son now run the business, forced rhubarb from late December to March then field rhubarb from April till September/October. They produce over 1,000 tons annually, 200 tons forced in her candle-lit sheds.

Janet Oldroyd in a Forcing Shed

Janet is something of a human dynamo when it comes to rhubarb and local tourism, winning awards for both, and she’s one of Rick Stein’s Food Heroes. She thinks this is rhubarb’s time, “We all want to eat healthily, and rhubarb is very good for you, we want people to buy our rhubarb because they can afford it and like the taste. Not because it is expensive and exclusive.”  The Yorkshire growers have shrunk in number from 200 before the war to just 12 now, but initiatives like the Rhubarb Trail and the annual Food and Rhubarb Festival in Wakefield in February.

My Box of Rhubarb from E.Oldroyd & Sons

I’ve been buying Oldroyd’s forced rhubarb for the last three years, you order by post or telephone and then a box of perfectly wonderful rhubarb arrives by courier. It’s a bit of a  treat buying rhubarb this way, making the ordinary special I think, and they sell rhubarb plants as well and will advise on the different varieties. They even sell Myatt’s Queen Victoria!  Thanks to Janet Yorkshire rhubarb has been recognised by the EU and designated a PDO (Protected Designation of Origin). You can take a tour of the forcing sheds and see the rhubarb growing by candlelight, Janet says it’s a unique experience, “It’s very calming in the sheds, it has almost a religious effect on people when they are in the warm candle-lit darkness. A very pleasant feeling, if you’re very quiet you might hear a bud burst as leaf pushes through. To me it’s like a field of daffodils, but inside. You’ve just got to be quiet and at peace.”

Rhubarb goes well with both fish and meat. Mackerel with rhubarb compote is very nice, rhubarb with duck, goose, or even black pudding is scrummy. The classic puddings really can’t be bettered, the pies and the tarts, the simple rhubarb and custard, or how about an old-fashioned plate pie of rhubarb cooked in pale ale! Yesterday I was talking to Daman Buckingham, a butcher at Secretts Farm. Daman asked if I had any ideas for a sausage; he wanted to use coconut and ginger and wondered if I had any ideas for the meat content.  Duck was the obvious choice, though the texture would be a bit smooth for my taste. I suggested adding rhubarb, we know it goes well with ginger and duck, but I wonder about the coconut?

My recipe is a twist on the classic Rhubarb and Custard, a tart to bring back memories, I hope.

Rhubarb and Custard Tart/ Rhubarb and Custard Pie

Rhubarb and Custard Tart

Rhubarb and Custard Tart

Preparation time: 10 minutes + 30 minutes resting time for the dough

Cooking Time: 55 minutes


For the pastry,

2 large free range eggs
225g  unsalted butter
1 tablespoon of caster sugar
275g  plain flour

For the filling,

1 kg  of rhubarb, forced if possible, sliced into 40mm (1.5”) pieces.
150g  brown sugar
Knob of butter
dash of brandy

for the custard,

2 egg yolks
75 ml double cream
1 teaspoon vanilla essence


First make the pastry, and as usual try to do this in cold conditions on a cold surface.

With a hand blender and a large bowl whizz together the eggs, butter, and sugar. Then sift in the flour and fold together. Tip out onto a cold floured surface and knead once or twice, gently.
Wrap in clingfilm and chill for at least 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, place the rhubarb pieces in a large frying pan, if possible in a single layer. Sprinkle with sugar, add the butter and cook very gently for about 5 minutes, till the sugar dissolves and the rhubarb is nearly but not quite cooked. Pour on a dash of brandy and sizzle for another 30 seconds or so, you’ll have to judge it. Then remove from the heat.
Grease a 25cm (10”) flan tin, roll out the pastry and line the tin, baking blind for 15 minutes at 200C (400 F). Remove from the oven and allow to cool then carefully arrange the rhubarb evenly in the pastry case, and pour over syrup left in the frying pan. Whisk the egg yolks, cream and vanilla and pour over the rhubarb. Return to the oven and cook at 200C (400F) for 35 minutes. Serve hot or cold and watch it disappear!

©2012 David Porter.

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