I used the first week of holiday to apply for jobs, interview with a couple of agencies, run errands, catch up on my writing, and do some wandering in the city. I walked through Soho, up and down Oxford and Regent Streets, around Westminster and near Buckingham Palace, and just enjoyed the non-rainy days we had.
On Thursday, I went to Dulwich to run some errands. I was on my way from Dulwich up to the city to Piccadilly Circus (which is not a circus at all), and it started pouring rain. I was right beside the National Portrait Gallery so I thought to myself, why not check it out? I’d been to the national gallery not realizing this was a separate building! I was delighted to find galleries featuring two of my favourite aspects of British history: the Tudors, and Victorian authors.
Below, an earlier drawing of Henry VIII in preparation for a massive painting (this drawing is probably near 8 feet tall); unfortunately the painting was destroyed in a fire, but this drawing remains as does a replica that was painted in the 17th century. In the middle: portraits of Henry VIII and his first wife, Katherine of Aragon. On the right: Anne Boleyn. She was Henry’s motivation for naming himself head of the Church of England so he could divorce Katherine and marry Anne in 1533. Desperate for a male heir, Henry accused Anne of adultery and incest and had her beheaded in 1536.
The Victorian gallery includes portraits of some of my favourite authors! Clockwise from top left: Mary Ann Evans (known by her pen name, George Eliot); Charles Dickens; Emily Brontë; and the Brontë sisters together (Anne, Emily, and Charlotte). Charlotte wrote one of my favourite Victorian novels, Jane Eyre. Mary Ann Evans had the unique success of being recognized as one of the greatest Victorian novelists in her lifetime, unlike Emily Brontë whose Wuthering Heights was not celebrated for its brilliance until after she had died. And Dickens- well, living in England has proven just how much clout his name still carries, judging by the high number of local pubs that claim an affiliation with him!
I could write all about literature, and London is an incredible place to live when you’re interested in it! However- I must move on and tell you all about the market!
Bring on the weekend! We did some exploring on Saturday, hopping a couple of buses to get to Broadway Market in Hackney, East London. It’s nestled between Regent’s Canal at one end, and London Fields at the other. Historically, the site was ‘a bawdy, drunken, vibrant street, the heart of an East End community that was to survive social turmoil and the bombs of two world wars’ (as described on the market website). Today, it’s home to a popular Saturday market with a wide array of both fresh and prepared foods, clothing, and handmade crafts.
We sampled items from a few stalls, all with positive results. There were several gluten free stalls which was exciting for me! I had a tiny, sugared jam doughnut; a slice of lemon drizzled-lemon loaf (so moist and flavourful!); and then I took my ‘coping with normal people food’ pills so we could try bao- a pork and leek filled dumpling from the Dumpling Shack. The verdict: lovely depth of flavour, beautifully presented with diced spring onion and black and white sesame seeds on top, but a bit over-salted for our liking. At £7.50 for 4, they were a bit pricey but a good size and worth trying!
At the end of the market, we found ourselves at the edge of London Fields, which is a massive green space upon which Pub on the Park borders (of last years Home Sweet Home first week adventures). Where the market ends is the Cat & Mutton Pub (est 1729). Troy remembered having a great Bloody Mary there so in we went! It didn’t disappoint. They have a custom ‘spicy sauce mix’ that made up for the tomato juice in place of our beloved Canadian favourite – clamato juice. The bartender bantered with us and made our drinks with finesse, even having us take a tester sip of the mix before he added the tomato juice. It was an experience!
We sat outside to enjoy our cold beverages as we watched some clouds roll in. We made our way back to the start of the market, preparing to head out in search of some famous, classic East End British pie and mash. Well- we were in for 2 surprises!
One: there was a fabric/wool shop right in front of us that we hadn’t seen (thank you Fabrications for my new 2 mm double-pointed needles and squishy Debbie Bliss Roma merino/alpaca wool!). Turns out they have a craft night, and they offer a range of sewing and knitting classes. I’ll definitely be returning now that I know this lovely shop exists!
Two: the #1 rated ‘traditional pie and mash shop’ according to TimeOut London was beside Fabrications! How convenient is that? So, as the rain started in ernest, we stepped in to F Cooke. We were drawn in by the history: Robert Cooke runs the shop today and is the great-grandson of the founder, also Robert Cooke. Which had us wondering.. why the F? haha. The shop at this location has been open since 1900, and it was Fred Cooke who sold jellied eels here. But, Robert Cooke opened the doors at another location in 1862, where he made the first pie and mash with parsley sauce; it’s the same recipe they use today in the Broadway Market location that opened back in 1900. The tiled walls are adorned with black and white photos that invite conversation about the family history. Robert pointed out his great-grandfather, whom he described as ‘the guy fourth from the right, dressed like Al Capone,’ as well as his father and uncle as young boys in the same photo.
Now, you need to know this is not the pie and mash of today’s pubs: the pie is quite flat and filled with a Scotch beef mince in gravy; there is a side of basic but well-made mash, and it’s all topped off with something they call liquor (more on that in a minute). One modern touch is the availability of a vegetarian pie, making this bit of history that much more accessible. And it’s all on the edge of the market, next to Regent’s Canal, and steeped in the awesome local vibe.
Fun fact: The pies were typically filled with eel once upon a time, but as eel became too expensive, mince meat became the standard replacement. (You can read more on the history of pie and mash here, courtesy of Goddard’s, another famous shop).
The verdict: Despite my fondness for history, especially that of Victorian England, I’m quite grateful to be living in food-forward 2017. The mash was classic and simple in a great way, but the pie was plain (vegetables weren’t all the rage in Victorian England like they are now). And back to the liquor: it’s made of blended parsley and sometimes other spices, with quite a watery base that is traditionally made of eel. We didn’t know to ask at the time and aren’t sure if this base contained eel, but I can say that something about it gave me the olfactory experience of being in a barn. This is the food of British reputation: bland and boring. We enjoyed our little foray into the past but we’re content to leave it there! With the rain still coming down, it was an early end to our outing, and home for a lovely afternoon nap. I call that a win.