Tastes of Thamesmead

The Idea and the Artists

Tastes of Thamesmead is a community cookbook that began as a commissioned project by artists Floro Azqueta and Hannah Ringham. They wanted to create a small beautiful book with stories and recipes that reflected the rich and diverse food heritage of Thamesmead. As artists they come from very different backgrounds, Floro works as a photographer while Hannah works in theatre and community projects. This felt like a good combination to create a carefully produced book that celebrated community and food history for the archive. Here is a story, contributed by them, on the process of creating the book.

We discovered fish and chips- I couldn’t believe how much salt they put on the chips!

Thamesmead Resident and interviewee on their first experience of fish and chips

Collecting Recipes and Stories

We began by going out and about in Thamesmead with contacts from the Peabody Trust and resident Riordan Tyson, chatting to people at food markets, shops, community centres, cookery classes, on culinary passions and first Thamesmead food memories. One of the first memories we heard was a couple arriving in Thamesmead from Bangladesh in the mid 70’s, they said:​‘We discovered fish and chips — I couldn’t believe how much salt they put on the chips!’. 

When you walk around Thamesmead, you might think not much is going on food wise — but if you just scratch the surface you realise there’s a lot happening now and in the past. For example Romany and Irish travellers have lived in marshes long before it became Thamesmead, a classic Romany dish is bacon pudding made from bacon, onions and pastry which is still eaten now. Quite quickly we also discovered residents making dishes such as Nigerian salad full of colourful veg, tomatoes and lettuces, a recipe from the Nigerian community here. Other surprises included Mexican golden tacos, tasty Caribbean curries, new fusions and superfood drinks as well as classic sweets like sponge deserts. 

In March 2020 the first Covid lockdown came and like everybody else we went online. It took a while but reaching out on social media and in online meetings we met more people with great recipes and interesting stories — for instance Jay Brown who grew up in Thamesmead in the late 70’s early 80’s:

it scares me the things we used to do in in Thamesmead- climb from the ground floor to the roof!.. We hung out on top of the lift shaft — you’d be on the 5th floor you’d have to jump — you’d reach out and you’d sit with your sweets on top of the lift shaft -! ha! .…..yeah…my sisters said:​“do you remember mum used to make bread pudding all the time?” ‑I wasn’t a fan of that but yeah it’s just the traditional steamed pudding — it’s simple- it’s cheap — which was why mum used to make it .….. although often it was just egg and chips during the week- ..mum used to make an effort at the weekend with a Sunday roast.’

That brought back my memories growing up in London in the 80’s ‑ we always had a Sunday roast! 

Talking to people in the pandemic we realised that food has brought a lot of comfort and pleasure during this time, some of these stories and recipes are also in the book.’

That brought back my memories growing up in London in the 80’s ‑we always had a Sunday roast!

Resident and Interviewee

Putting The Book Together

The next stage was taking photographs. When summer 2020 Covid restrictions relaxed we met outside homes, in the landscape and architecture to take pictures for the book. 

We also worked together with food stylist Valerie Berry taking photos of each dish in a studio set up,.

We edited the stories and recipes from extensive collected material. 

Estudio Primo were the book designers we worked with- it took a while to work out the book cover- what was this really? A cookbook? A work of art? An archive of Thamesmead history? A book for the community now? We went through a few different designs and then decided it was all of these things with the last special print, designed by Jorge (from Estudio Primo). 

Mainly we wanted​‘Tastes of Thamesmead’ cookbook to be something you could hold in your hands and enjoy, something that touched on history, celebrated diversity and was an opportunity to try out new recipes. For the residents who contributed, we wanted them to be proud of the book they were part of. 

Mainly we wanted​‘Tastes of Thamesmead’ to be something you could hold in your hands and enjoy, something that touched on history, celebrated diversity and was an opportunity to try out new recipes.

Floro and Hannah

The Book Launch

The book was printed and arrived ready for the book launch in October 2020.

Maybe the best thing was us all meeting finally, looking at the book together, who else was in it and all the different food and recipes. Lots of people enjoyed it. 

This was some of the feedback we got:

It’s made me discover a menu I had never heard of, and the means to make the meals are simple and easy to understand.’

I felt the book was something I could really relate to, hearing the different stories of those featured. We lived in Thamesmead in 1980s, I can relate to the culture explained and the hardship at that time, compared to how Thamesmead has changed a great deal today.’

When I read a book like this, it reinforces to me how much talent resides here, what a beautiful green and blue space it is and how bright the future looks for Thamesmead.’

The Final Cookbook

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The Book and Film

You can view and print the final book above and here is Riordan Tyson’s short film on the project.

Not all the stories and recipes made it into the book and we know there is so much more. Just from conversations we had at the book launch we learnt more about Vietnamese cooking here for example and other old recipes we had never heard of.

We are still collecting recipes and stories, so if you have a recipe you love perhaps passed down to you, or a good food story from Thamesmead please email thamesmeadnow@​peabody.​org.​uk and let us know. We would love to hear from you!