Tag Archives: England

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-fire

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'-magazine-January-1961.

'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.

telegraph-weekend-magazine-March-1967-Don-McCullin-photographs-Liverpool-poets.

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-the-snicket-Halifax-Time-Life-The-Art-of-Photography-book.

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'-by-Walker-Evans-published-by-Eakins-Press-1966.

'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.

Constitution-Hill-Swansea-Clarissa-cobbles

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-Lewisham-London.

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 ideal-homes.org.uk.

Faulkeners Brick Kiln and Quarry near White Post Lane,1810. Image from ideal-homes.org.uk

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 matchesfashion.com

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-in-cast-iron-casserole-dutch-oven

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


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

Method:

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.


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