During a recent trip to the UK I had the chance to spend half a day wandering through the immense and absorbing Portobello Market which takes place every Saturday in the Notting Hill area of London. A little over half a mile long, is best known for its antiques, but has four other distinct sections including Fruits and Vegetables, New Goods, Fashion Market and Second Hand Goods.
Portobello Road itself has an interesting history. It is named after an 18th Century farm in the area which itself had been named after an important naval victory in the comically named War of Jenkins’ Ear. Apparently, this British-Spanish conflict began when said Mr. Jenkins, Captain of a British Merchant ship, told an appalled House of Commons how the Spanish Coast Guard had boarded his ship, tied him to the mast, and sliced off his ear as a warning. He then displayed the severed ear which he had kept pickled in a jar as evidence.
As far back as the 19th Century the Portobello Market was known as a food market. Beginning in the 1960s it became a home for antiques dealers and is now one of the world’s largest antiques markets. Some of the antiques shops are open during the week, but on Saturdays they all are, and in addition numerous vendors set up tables in the street. The shops can be deceptive from the outside, many of them are divided into many stalls each specializing in a particular category or period of antique wares, so be sure to explore in detail.
In one of these enchanting arcades I found Mike Witts of Appleby Antiques who specializes in antique Kitchenalia, in particular, 18th Century copper cooking vessels and moulds. It turns out he works often with food historian Ivan Day whom I had just heard speak at this year’s Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery.
Ever since I started making fruit jams at home using Christine Ferber’s old fashioned (no pectin required) recipes, I have coveted a good copper preserving pan, which is what she recommends to make the best preserves. Speaking with Mr. Witt I learned that often in the past, large brass kettles were used for preserving as well. Brass, being an alloy of copper with zinc, is less likely to react with acidic ingredients. Unfortunately — or maybe fortunately because then I would have had to squeeze it into my luggage — he didn’t have any on hand at the moment. However, I will be keeping an eye on his his web site.
Thankfully, the shopping wasn’t a complete bust because I scooped up a couple of Victorian-era Wedgwood egg cups from a different vendor — much easier to fit in the luggage.
When you’re tired of shopping and need something to eat Portobello Market doesn’t disappoint. There was lots of mouthwatering street food being concocted right before my very eyes. I chose a stew of chorizo, chickpeas, tomato and other vegetables, ladled from an enormous bubbling cauldron, but there were also giant pans of paella and one vendor carving bits from an entire spit-roasted pig. Much better than hotdogs, I’ll say!