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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.

Even Artichokes Have Hearts

“Oooh, look at that big thistle!” remark passers-by peering into our front garden. We’ve two artichoke plants thriving and growing despite the clay soil and the constant buffeting by cat-chasing dogs. Usually we leave them to burst into striking bright purple flowers, just like giant thistles in fact. This year we’re going to eat them, I’m hoping the plants will produce more artichokes as we harvest the globes.

Globe artichokes have an exciting history. They are one of the world’s oldest continually cultivated plants and have been linked to Greek gods, Roman emperors, French Royalty, Henry VIII, and the Mafia.

The Greeks believed the goddess Cynara was transformed into an artichoke after she rejected her lover Zeus and he threw her from Olympus.   The Romans believed the artichoke to be a powerful aphrodisiac and women were forbidden from eating it. The House of the Vettii in Pompeii, the house with the erotic frescos, has some very interesting depictions of artichokes!  A thousand years later artichokes were still considered too racy for women. In France, Louis XIV married 14 year old Catherine of Medici not knowing that she secretly enjoyed eating artichokes. If people knew, she said, they’d point and gossip!

French settlers took them to the new territory of Louisiana in the 17th Century where they quickly became a valuable crop.  But in the 20th Century some Italian immigrants rented land in California and soon had the USA’s most productive artichoke farms. The Mafia took an interest and Don Ciro Terranova of the 116th Street Mob made the farmers an offer they couldn’t refuse, monopolising the artichoke business. What followed became known as ‘The Artichoke Wars’, and serious violence broke out.

            Police mugshot of Ciro ‘the Artichoke King’ Terranova

In 1935 the mayor of New York, La Guardia, went on the radio, “Lets drive the bums outta town,” he squeaked (he had a very high-pitched voice).

La Guardia banned the display and sale of artichokes in his city in an attempt to stem the violence. The mayor’s love of artichokes drove him to make sure prices dropped, and the ban was lifted.  A few years later in 1947, a certain Norma Jean Baker was crowned ‘Miss California Artichoke Queen‘, another step on her way to becoming Marilyn Monroe.

Closer to home, in 1530 Henry VIII was courting Anne Boleyn in Greenwich Park and in need of a regular supply of artichokes. A 16th Century doctor had written that eating artichokes made women more ‘desirable’ (read:’available’), and men less ‘tardy’?!  Henry ordered his gardeners to plant them at his New Hall Palace in Essex. Their daughter Elizabeth I is linked to the Queen’s Head and Artichoke near Regents Park, which was once a hunting lodge named for the artichokes served there to the Queen by her master cook Daniel Clarke.  Deptford was famous for its asparagus, and I expect artichokes were grown here as well because in 1614 an Italian visitor wrote that in England artichokes were in season most of the year, unlike in Italy.  Fruit and vegetables were shipped from Deptford’s market gardens by river to the City. The other area noted for artichoke growing was the Fens around Ely. Artichokes were taken by boat to London along the drains and rivers of the Fens; these days artichokes are still being grown on the Fens, but now they arrive in London by courier. Third generation Clive Martin grows organic artichokes on 30 acres of his 500 acres. “Some of our customers come back week after week for artichokes in the season,” he said, “I really enjoy them, they look fantastic in the fields.”

Clive has an Italian customer who told him she bashes the artichoke with a rolling pin to loosen the leaves, then stuffs herbs and sopices into the spaces between the leaves, ties it all back tightly together and then boils the artichoke as normal. “She says ours are the best she’s ever tasted!”  I ordered a box of Clive’s artichokes, and can confirm they were beautiful, far, far removed from the sad, dry and tired foreign examples you see in supermarkets.

In 1597 herbalist John Gerard described how to prepare and eat artichokes, something that still puzzles people today., as Clive says, “the only problem with artichokes, is getting people to eat them.”

When you’ve cut or bought your artichokes wash them under running water and then plunge them upside down in water with a couple of lemon wedges. This stops them going brown. They’ll keep like this in a fridge for a couple of days. When you’re ready to use them, cut off the stalk flush with the base. The easiest simplest way to eat an artichoke is by boiling it, then pulling off the petals and dipping them in a bowl of melted butter, then sucking the soft inner base of the petal through your teeth, discarding the tougher tip.

Here are two recipes, the first is the classic way to eat an artichoke, more or less unchanged since John Gerard wrote about it 400 years ago.

Artichoke with Garlic and Lemon Butter

You’ll need 1 artichoke per person, soaked in lemony water with a pinch of salt, then drained.

Place the artichokes in a large pan with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice. Cover with water and bring to the boil. Simmer for 30 to 45 minutes depending on their size and age. A skewer pushed through the artichoke at the widest point of the globe will tell you if they are cooked. It should be easy, with just a slight resistance.

Drain, and meanwhile make the butter sauce by melting 110g of butter, and very finely chopping 2 cloves of garlic. Mix the butter and garlic then add the juice from half a lemon and season with plenty of ground black pepper. I usually finish with some very finely chopped parsley, just a pinch.

To serve, put your artichoke on a plate and open the petals a little, they’ll be loose and spread easily.  Serve the butter sauce in a pretty teacup or ramekin. When you’re very messy you’ll have eaten all the petals and reached the ‘choke’. The choke is the hairy covering of the heart. Just cut the choke away from the heart and then eat the heart. In Italy, street sellers trim most of the petals from the artichoke when you buy them so you’re just left with the delicate inner petals and the heart.

Warm Artichoke Salad


4 baby artichokes, prepared as before

2 slices of thick (homemade?) wholemeal bread

Some ripe tomatoes, roughly chopped

2 spring onions, chopped

Juice of 1 lemon

A generous slug of olive oil

Freshly ground black pepper and a little sea salt

1 tin of anchovies, drained

Handful of parsley, chopped


Put the bread in a bowl with the tomatoes and onions then shake over a generous amount of olive oil, you know your own taste, add the lemon juice and season with pepper and salt. Leave for about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, cook the artichokes for 10 minutes and drain, then slice in half from top to bottom.

Arrange the salad on 2 plates and top with the halves of artichoke, the anchovies, and finally the chopped parsley.

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