Tag Archives: London’s food

London’s Larder

During the early 1980s I was involved with producing the Lord’s Hansard, the daily printed record of debates in the Palace of Westminster. Its production took place at a vast Bermondsey factory [left] which at one time had produced a much more interesting produce – Branston’s Pickle.

The building now awaits the fate of much of London’s industrial past and is being developed into apartments.

[O]ther culinary staples produced here included Worcestershire sauce in the 19th century and more recently Crosse & Blackwell sauces and salad cream.

Branston-pickle

Crosse & Blackwell once had a warehouse in Charing Cross Road which when they moved out became the familiar Astoria, that now is being developed with the arrival of CrossRail.

Bermondsey was once the hub for London’s food production with its docks handling three-quarters of the capital’s butter, cheese, bacon and canned meats. Processing factories moved here and the area became known as London’s larder.

The first tinned food was produced here by Bryan Donkins in 1811. His nascent business was nearly derailed when it was discovered that suspicious meat from Romania was being tinned at the factory in Southwark Park Road. Nowadays only a small white plaque denotes the site of this cutting edge technology.

Hartley's-Jam

Other factories from Bermondsey’s past have disappeared without a trace. Hartley’s once employed over 2,000 at its factory in Rothsay Street. Closing in 1960, parts of the buildings now imaginatively named The Jam Factory are now apartments.

Peek-Frean

Peek Freans was once a familiar and popular biscuit brand. In an area in Bermondsey known locally as Biscuit Town this factory was once the largest biscuit factory in the world. Its ovens went cold in 1989, after United Biscuits took the brand under its wing. The site renamed what else? The Biscuit Factory in Clements Road is now a sprawling industrial complex comprising housing a large number of creative and media businesses.

Sarson's-vinegar

Once known for its advertising catch-line “Don’t say vinegar, Say Sarsons” this world famous brand was produced in Tanner Street up until the 1990s. Now the premises have gone the way of nearly all food manufacturing in Bermondsey and become apartments.

In 1960 1.5 million Londoners were employed in manufacturing, today he number stands at 250,000 and Bermondsey is not longer London’s Larder.

Food for Thought

[F]or a city which has a 2,000 years old history London has surprisingly few local dishes attributed to the region. Even HP Sauce once known as Houses of Parliament Sauce doesn’t originate in London. Here for your consumption is a taster of foods that were once found only in London:

Bunhouse PlaceChelsea Bun
The Chelsea bun is a type of currant bun that was first created in the 18th century at The Chelsea Bun House, which was situated on the borders of Chelsea and Pimlico and favoured by Hanoverian royalty and demolished in 1839. The Chelsea Bun House was in business for the best part of a century, at the height of its success in the 18th century it was frequented by high society, including Kings George II and III, who called in for a bun en route to the nearby Ranelagh Pleasure Gardens.

Legend has it that on Good Friday in 1829, 240,000 hot-cross buns were sold from the shop, and crowds of over 50,000 thronged outside the shop in anticipation of delicious buns hot from the kitchen’s ovens. Sources disagree about the exact historic location of the Bun House – either Grosvenor Row or Jew’s Row according to what you read. Neither exists now, but in today’s Pimlico there is a Bunhouse Place, which is within strolling distance of the remains of Ranelagh Pleasure Gardens.

The bun is made of rich yeast dough flavoured with lemon peel, cinnamon or a sweet spice mixture. Prior to being rolled into a square spiral shape the dough is spread with a mixture of currants, brown sugar and butter. A sweet glaze covering is added before the rolled-up dough is sliced into individual buns and baked. The process of making this bun is very similar to that involved in producing the cinnamon roll.

Maids of HonourMaids of Honour
Rumour has it that these delectable little curd cheese tarts were named after the Maids of Honour who served at Richmond Palace in the 16th century. It is said that Henry VIII was the first to use the name aids of Honour Cake when he met Ann Boleyn and other Maids of Honour eating them. He was so delighted with the cakes that the recipe was kept secret and locked in an iron box in Richmond Palace. The recipe remains a closely kept secret to this day. True or not, they taste wonderful made with crisp puff pastry and a filling of squidgy cheese and lemon curd.

Fred CookeJellied Eels
Fred Cooke started selling jellied eels on Broadway Market in 1900. It grew to serve shepherds driving their flocks to the City of London. Broadway Market was a bawdy, drunken, vibrant street, the heart of an East London community that was to survive social turmoil and the bombs of two world wars. But by the nineties, the community was crumbling – those who could, moved to Essex. Then in 2004, volunteers from the Broadway Market Traders’ and Residents’ Association revived the community. It has grown beyond expectations. It is now described as the most successful community market in London. And Fred Cooke’s grandson, Bob, is introducing a new generation to jellied eels.

pie and mashPie and mash
Pie and Mash is quite simply the most traditional food that London has to offer. Forget your chip shops and burger bars, ‘Eel Pie and Mash Houses’ have been around since the early 1800’s – the first ones opening in pre-Dickensian and Victorian London. Historically, the pies were made from scraps of beef and vegetables the leftovers from the local markets, under a pastry crust. The mashed potatoes were liberally covered in parsley gravy or ‘liquor’. Since that time there has been a great revival in these dishes and quite a number of Pie ‘n’ Mash restaurants can now be found across London.

Londoners might not have many local delicacies to their name but it didn’t stop them using food references in their native East London language, these phrases have now been adopted by the Mockney speakers (a blend of ‘mock’ and ‘cockney’) with their affected imitation of cockney it is spoken by among others – you guessed it a celebrity cook- Jamie Oliver:

Bacon and egg – Legs
Bacon and egg tie – A nickname for the red-and-yellow tie worn by members of the MCC
Bangers and Mash – cash
Biscuits [and cheese] – knees
Bottle [and glass] – arse
Bread [and honey] – money
Bubble [and squeak] – Greek, referring to a person of that nationality
Butcher’s [hook] – look
Butterboy – A black cab driver who has passed The Knowledge within the previous year implying he is “but a boy”
Cake is getting thin – One’s funds are running low
Cream crackered – knackered
Crust [of bread] – head
Currant bun – sun, now adopted by the daily paper of the same name
Duck and dive – skive
Duck’s arse – grass
Gammon rasher – smasher
Greengages – wages
Ice cream [freezer] – geezer
Jacob’s [cream crackers] – knackers (testicles)
Jam jar – car
Kipper Season – Among black cab drivers, the period immediately following Christmas and the New Year when business is slow, originally this term referred up unto the start of the Chelsea Flower Show. It possibly derives from the diet upon which one might have to subsist at such times.
Loaf [of bread] – head
Lovely Jubbly – Excellent! Coined from the sitcom Only Fools and Horses and possibly has roots in the advertising slogan of the 1950s for an orange drink called “Jubbly”
Mince pies – eyes
Pie [and mash] – cash
Porky [pork pie] – lie
Rabbit [and pork] – talk
Rosie [Lee] – tea
Ruby [Murray] – curry
Sausage [and mash] – cash
Saveloy – Nickname for the Savoy Hotel
Sherbet [dab] – cab
Stewed prune – tune (a 19th century saying)
Strawberry [tart] – heart
Syrup [of fig] – wig
Tea leaf – thief
Teapot [lid] – kid
Treacle [tart] – sweethearts