A Positive Terry Thomas…

If only Nikki could see me now, I thought.  Back in June at a bit of a loose end, I enrolled on ‘A Taste of Food Writing’ course at Greenwich Community College. I’d always fancied trying to write about food so when I read about the course in ‘The Guide’ I thought “why not?”

There were about a dozen of us taking part, and I was probably the least experienced cook in the class. Nikki Spencer was our inspirational tutor and mentor and during the first class, to break the ice, she asked us to talk about ourselves, what we did, what cookery books we had, how many, and which dishes we liked cooking, which restaurants we’d visited, and so on. Rather shamefaced I said I didn’t cook, but I read cookery books for fun, and I prefered eating at home.  I’ve been around cooks for years and I’ve eaten some extraordinary dishes, so I’ve always been confident I could cook, if I wanted to!

The course progressed over five weeks, at about week three Nikki talked to us about food blogging. For our ‘homework’ she asked us to go away and come back with something written for an imaginary blog. “About 300 words..?” said Nikki hopefully.  Fired with enthusiasm I decided to do it for real, and so Deptford Pudding was born.  I can’t say it was easy, I’m not the most computer-friendly person and I found the technicalities really hard work for the first couple of posts but then I began to get the hang of it.  I can’t stick to 300 words though.  “You’re an editor’s nightmare,” said my friend the editor.

Nikki is doing more courses at the Greenwich Community College next year, if you’re interested contact the college; or how about Nikki’s latest course  ‘A Real Taste of Food Writing‘ which will take place at The Guildford in Greenwich where chef Guy Awford will cook a three course lunch, and reveal the behind-the-scenes life of a busy restaurant, as well as talking about his blog and answering questions.

Terry Thomas. Picture courtesy of Whisky Media

It was 6.30 on a Sunday evening four weeks ago when Clarissa slipped in some mud on the marshes and broke her arm. We dashed first to Sheppey hospital, where she was x-rayed and put in a half plaster,  and then immediately onto the Medway Hospital in Chatham clutching a letter which the nurse assured us would move us to the head of the queue in A & E.

At 9.00pm we reached Chatham, the waiting area in the biggest A & E in Kent was hot, sweaty, and packed…  standing room only.  After a warm sunny day, most of the people waiting were dressed for a late summer barbeque, some were in sports strip limping and clutching knees or ankles.  A couple of people were covered in blood, it was like a scene from ‘Blade Runner’ I thought, complete with two policemen in Robocop gear marshaling the queue at reception. Large family groups squatted on the floor eating bags of crisps from a kiosk selling drinks and sandwiches. I asked when the kiosk closed, “we’re open 24/7,” was the glazed reply. Not that it mattered I had very little money and in our dash we’d left the means to get cash behind. The lurcher was abandoned outside in the car park, which was of course pay and display 24/7.

Once, for the ‘News of the World,’ I photographed “24 Hours in Casualty”. The editor had decided Guys on a Saturday would be crammed with dramatic human interest stories ripe for the picking.  I was given the night shift, 10pm Saturday till 10am Sunday, the period expected to yield the most bloody drama. But Casualty was eerily quiet and empty at midnight. The bored nurse on the desk said, “Why’d you come here? If you wanted some action you should have gone to Lewisham.” A couple of people drifted in with minor cuts and bruises, then some very hard looking men arrived and seeing me with my camera one of them said “Point that thing at us sunshine and you’ll be sorry.” So I didn’t. The next night we heard that someone had dropped dead in the car park outside, and a deranged gunman had dashed in firing a shot into the ceiling. The feature never appeared.

After waiting six hours at Medway we were seen at 3am by an orthopedic specialist who announced he would have to straighten Clarissa’s strangely bent arm, it was,  said the tired doctor, “a dinner fork fracture”, a literal description of the shape of her arm, which had been forced into her wrist.  Straighten it now he meant as he called for help, no anesthetic just two men pulling and tugging at her wrist and elbow.

typical 'dinner fork' fracture, courtesy wikimedia commons

Straightened to his satisfaction her arm was fully plastered, “What colour would you like?” said the smiling plasterer. “White” we said in unison, because we’re traditionalists. He shook his head sadly, “We’ve red, blue, and pink.” Pink turned out to be a shade I’d call ‘kinky pink’ so we went for that. Another wait in a bleak corridor for an x-ray, you can just see the pink plaster in the reflection, then home as dawn broke.

spot the pink arm

A few days later and we’re back in Chatham seeing the consultant. “It’s a positive Terry Thomas.” He almost beamed, a little too pleased with himself, “we’re probably going to have to operate.”

We asked to be transferred to Lewisham hospital, and so a week later we’re seeing a different consultant. This one looked a bit like Boris Johnson but without the bedside manner. By way of a hello he said ‘”I hope you realise how serious this is?”  His students milled around the x-ray, clucking.  “We’ll have to wait for it to mend, then break it again and insert a plate.”

Since Clarissa broke her arm she’s been completely out of action and in a lot of pain.  Suddenly I’m a full-time carer, cooking breakfast and making endless cups of tea, plus a snack at lunch time, and then dinner. I’m enjoying being the cook and deciding what’s for dinner, I’m even enjoying the shopping.

home made hop bread

We’ve had some simple dishes, salads and soup, and some more imaginative cooking with fish and rabbit, but Clarissa has insisted on making the bread single-handed (hah-hah).

duck eggs are bigger in every way

She’s decided her favourite meal is one of the simplest: poached eggs with chips. Not potato chips, but parsnip and beetroot chips. We rarely eat potatoes since deciding that they don’t really taste of anything anymore. (I can still remember the last time I ate a potato that tasted remotely like potatoes should taste, and that was around 1990.)

Mike from Mersham Game

Every week since September I’ve bought eggs from Mike of  Mersham Game at Brockley Market.  Mike has 20,000(!) free-range hens, and his neighbour has 2,000 free-range ducks, I’ve been buying hen and duck eggs from his stall every Saturday. When he sees me and the wonder-lurcher wandering his way Mike picks up the egg boxes and starts filling them. Duck eggs are my favourite, they’re bigger than hens’ eggs with more flavour. Duck eggs contain less water than hens eggs and therefore are brilliant for baking. Want to bake light fluffy cakes? Use duck eggs… Mike sells hens eggs for £1 a half dozen, and duck eggs for £1.50 a half dozen. A bargain!

Luke with his brace of partridge

Walking around the market on Saturday we struck up a conversation with Luke, who is studying painting at Camberwell Art College.  He caught our attention because he looked as if he’d just stepped out of a fashion shoot in his black velvet jacket, carrying a brace of still-feathered partridge dangling from his wrist.  Like a willowy and more handsome version of Pete Doherty, Luke admitted he’d been vegetarian up till three weeks earlier, but he’d been attracted by the traditional offerings from Mersham Game. We wondered what he had planned for the partridge.  “I’m going to put them in a pot, with some other things,” he said, vaguely but at the same time confidently. Which is exactly what I would have said…

Here’s my ‘recipe’ for poached egg with root vegetable chips (that’s French fries for anyone reading this in North America!). I used a duck egg because they are bigger, and taste more ‘eggy’.  And I always use dripping to fry the chips, but you could use vegetable oil.

poached duck egg, with parsnip, swede, sweet potato and beetroot chips

Poached Egg and Chips

Preparation time: 5 minutes to peel the vegetables and chop into chips.

Cooking times: 10 minutes to par-boil the chips. 15 – 20 minutes to fry the chips. 3 minutes to cook each poached egg.

Ingredients  (per person) :

Flour for dusting the chips

1 or 2 parsnips, washed.

1 small beetroot, peeled.

Half a swede (or less),  peeled.

1 sweet potato, washed. I try to use the orange fleshed sweet potato.

200g beef dripping, or if you use vegetable oil you’ll need sufficient oil for a depth of about 25 – 35 mm.

Clear malt vinegar, about a quarter cupful.

1 duck egg.

Black pepper, and sea salt.

Method :

Cut the vegetables into chip sized pieces, the bigger they are the longer they’ll need to cook. But, if you use beetroot cut them smaller, and try to keep them separate from the rest of the vegetables because they’ll stain them. (I fried the beetroot separately in a small saucepan using an extra 100g of dripping.)

Par-boil the chips for 10 minutes, or less, don’t let them get too soft. Test with a pointed knife.

While the chips are simmering, melt the dripping in a deep saucepan, mine is 200 mm in diameter and 125 mm tall. Heat till it fizzles if you dip the tip of a knife dipped in flour into the fat.The melted dripping should be about 25 mm deep, so this is shallow frying.

When the chips are par-boiled, scoop them out with a slotted spoon and drain in a colander. Scatter flour across a plate and toss each chip in the flour till they’re coated on every side. Then drop the chips into the hot dripping. Move the chips around in the fat, turning them with a palette knife making sure they are cooking evenly.

While they are cooking heat a saucepan of water till it boils. The water should be at least 75 mm deep. Prepare the eggs: (I cook them one at a time), have a cup or ramekin ready for each egg, and break the eggs into the cups. Heat your oven to plate-warming temperature, and put a plate in the oven to warm. If you’re only poaching one egg there’s no need to do this, but if you’re poaching 2 or 3 or 4, or more, then you’ll need to keep them warm while you cook all of the eggs. I’ve poached 6 eggs using this method, they stay warm without the yolks setting. If you use a large pan of water, I believe you can poach 4 – 6 eggs more or less at the same time, but I’ve never tried.

It is difficult to burn the chips but if you think they are ready before the eggs, just lift them out with a slotted spoon and put them in the oven to keep warm.

About 5 minutes before you expect to serve the finished dish, tip the vinegar into the boiling water. This stops the egg whites dispersing. (Don’t put any salt into the water.) Slightly reduce the heat so the water just goes off the boil. Take a hand whisk and vigorously stir the simmering water, I like to think stirring clockwise lets gravity give you a hand.

When you have a vortex in the water take an egg and quickly slide the egg into the centre of the swirling water. The egg will disappear from view in the water but don’t worry. Set a timer for 3 minutes for a soft egg yolk, more for hard. Hens eggs will take half a minute less. My experience is that it is very difficult to over-cook a poached egg.

Have your serving plate ready, check the chips, they should be crisp on the outside and soft on the inside. Scoop them out of the fat with a slotted spoon and arrange them on the plate. After 3 minutes, carefully scoop the poached egg from the water again with a slotted spoon and arrange the egg on top of the chips. Scatter with sea salt and black pepper and serve.


©2011 David Porter.

Today Deptford…Tomorrow The World!

©2011David Porter

This old t-shirt, bought at the Albany Empire around 1980, is one of my prize possessions.  Every weekend we were either at the Albany, the Tramshed, The Duke, or the Royal Albert.  Sometimes all of them, and there was always a party afterwards at somebody’s house or flat, with the musicians and actors turning-up and rocking-on. There’s a very good book about this period, “Rock Around Lewisham” by local author and musician Mel Wright, I recommend it.  The old Albany Empire was in Creek Road near Albury Street, and famous for Rock Against Racism concerts, sadly in 1978 it burnt down and after a brief revival it was demolished to make way for a wider road.  The Albany rose again in Douglas Way and we all joined (you joined in those days) because the acts and the atmosphere were really electric, everybody from the Flying Pickets to Bo Diddley, via Pookiesnackenburger and Billy Connelly.  Squeeze were the dominant band, somehow more authentic than the equally ginormous Dire Straits.  I seem to remember Dire Straits supporting Squeeze at the old Albany, but I might be wrong.  Deptford was really buzzing: Bowie and the Spiders From Mars were rehearsing Ziggy Stardust in Underhill Studios (now Gee-Pharm chemists) at the bottom of Blackheath Hill, with Lou Reed and Iggy Pop in attendance; John Cale of the Velvet Underground was here producing Squeeze, Mark Perry’s ‘Sniffin’ Glue‘ was being edited from a flat on the Crossfields Estate, and local band Rubber Johnny, led by John Turner were filling the gap between the opening act and the headliners at the Royal Albert. Soon they became so popular they were headlining their own gigs.

John Turner and Rubber Johnny at the Royal Albert c1982. ©Steve Golton.

In 1980 Squeeze released ‘Argybargy’, the last album with Jools Holland on keyboards. I was at the time what you’d call a rock photographer and photographed Squeeze several times.

Squeeze 1980 ©David Porter.

Squeeze photographed in 1980 by David Porter.

This picture was taken in 1980 in an old pea warehouse under the Floral Hall in Covent Garden which had been converted into a cavernous underground studio, I’ve still got the parachute.

In 1982 John Turner adapted Squeeze’s ‘East Side Story’ into a stage production for the Albany and called it ‘Labelled With Love.’ We were there when it opened, along with Tim Rice who was probably picking up a few tips on musical theatre. The play was set in a smoky Deptford boozer threatened with conversion into a disco cocktail bar, the fictional ‘Nail in the Heart’.  “It’s happening everywhere,” sighed Eric the pub landlord, “Bermondsey has fallen, Peckhams on the way, and Lewisham is sure to follow...” We all murmured agreement, and after the show trooped round to The Duke on Creek Road, transformed for the show’s run into The Nail, complete with  pub sign of a heart pierced by a nail, the landlord of The Duke was called Erich.

The opening track of ‘East Side Story’ is ‘In Quintessence’, one of those tunes you can’t get out of your head. A song about a 15 year old boy’s fantasy about a girl that he never sees, while he smokes himself into oblivion in his messy bedroom listening to his transistor radio. The ‘in quintessence’ hook is the bit I can never get out of my head. I didn’t know what quintessence meant at the time, I assumed it was a made up word something to do with quinces. Now I’ve found out one possible meaning is the fifth element!  The Greeks and Roman believed the quince was the golden apple, Aphrodite’s fruit of love.

Quince ©2011 David Porter.

It has the perfume of a loved woman and the same

    hardness of heart, but it has the colour of the

    impassioned and scrawny lover.”  

    (Shafer ben Utman al-Mushafi, died 982AD)

I’ve been given some quinces, from a tree on an allotment in Catford, and some from my friend in Lee with the greengage tree. Turkish shops are selling quinces now, at about £2 per kilo; their quinces are bigger than my home-grown variety but they all have the most subtle but unique perfume. You could just buy a bowlful and leave them to scent the room.

Plan of Sayes Court Garden in the 1650s. The British Library.

The quince is one of England’s forgotten fruit. We can be certain John Evelyn would have had quince trees among his 300 fruit trees in the orchard at Sayes Court, along with the similarly forgotten medlars, mulberries and vines, lemons, apricots and pomegranates.  Thanks to London’s Lost Garden I know that he listed a ‘Portugal Quince’ in his 1687 Directions for the Gardiner.  Quince trees in England were first recorded at the Tower of London in 1275, possibly they were here before 1275 but Evelyn’s Portugal Quince was introduced in 1611 by John Tradescant who was working as head gardener for Robert Cecil at Hatfield House.

Quinces ©2011 David Porter.

This recipe for baked quinces is adapted from the recipe in Jane Grigson’s ‘Fruit Book’, but they don’t have to be reserved for sweet puddings. Mrs Grigson gives recipes for quinces with beef, and with pheasant for instance, and I know of a Persian recipe for quinces stuffed with minced lamb. Mrs Grigson wrote that baked quinces were Isaac Newton’s favourite pudding, and of course Newton and John Evelyn were friends. It’d be nice to imagine John bidding farewell to Isaac, and pressing a bag of quince onto his friend, “I’ve so many…take some home…”

Baked Quince ©2011 David Porter

Baked Quince

Preparation time:  10 minutes

Cooking time:         90 minutes +

Ingredients (serves 4):

1 quince per person (assuming they are of a suitable size, otherwise 1 or 2 per person)

Juice of one or two lemons

150g caster sugar

110g unsalted butter

3 tbs double cream (or more if necessary)

2 glasses of sweet white wine

1 cinnamon stick, gently pulled into a few shards


Either peel entirely, or as I did peel strips from each quince. Hollow out the centre of each fruit, without piercing all the way through. I used an apple-corer but this is more difficult than it might appear, quinces are very hard! Squeeze lemon juice over the peeled exterior and the hollowed-out cores. Butter a small-ish roasting tin and stand the quinces in the dish. If necessary cut them a flatter bottom so they stand up.

Then mix together the sugar, butter, and cream, till the mixture is smooth and creamy. Fill the hollowed cores with this mixture, finishing with a tablespoon of sugar sprinkled over the top of each fruit. Scatter some shards of cinnamon stick around the dish.

Put in your oven preheated to 200C and bake for about 25 minutes, then pour in the wine. Carry on baking till the quince is tender. I tested for this with a slim skewer pushed through the side of a quince, avoiding the hard centre. If you’ve any of the creamy mixture left now is the time to top up the middles of your quinces. They took about 90 minutes altogether, you could reduce the heat to 180C and cook them for longer depending how soft you like your puddings I served them after transferring them to a heated dish and pouring some of the liquid around the quince, and have some cream ready to pour over them at the last minute.

©2011 David Porter.

%d bloggers like this: