Monday, 26 June 2017

Another Brick In The Wall

School's out for summer, in Fanny Cradock's world at least. A little early in the real world perhaps. She is imagining that all over the country harassed mums are being pestered by the cry "Mum, I'm hungry" and just have no idea how to respond favourably to the relentless badgering. There is no need to feel so tormented however, Fanny is on hand. She devotes an entire part-work exclusively to filling-up the perpetually ravenous young folks. Young people, Fanny reckons, are always easier to handle when their stomachs are well-filled. Especially if they are teenagers.

Fanny Cradock Breakfast Bricks

It's not only tumultous teenagers tummies that Fanny is concerned with though. It's their outfits. She simply cannot understand the lack of enthusiasm among the female of the species, in particular, for wearing pretty party frocks. Shockingly the 'gear' they prefer can be summed up as 'The Absolute Minimum'. This normally means, notably in the summer months, 'disreputable' rolled up jeans and equally disreputable bare feet at the end of a day spent incessantly 'trotting about'. Fanny's wrath is saved for skimpy hot pants and gingham outfits, again with 'the minimum', this time over 'the front'. Teenage girls eating habits are like their fashion choices - an inelegant preference for wolfing at the wander and for chomping on 'wedges and wodges' (whatever they may be), particularly in the garden. I don't think Fanny approves.

Fanny Cradock Breakfast Bricks

Fanny still has a suitable snack for them though. She says we should dispense with fancy French names for down-to-earth things at this time (which presumably do not deserve the effort) and simply call them what they are. Bricks. Ones you can eat. That's what she suggests here for those barely gingham-covered reprobates. She borrows the idea, but of course makes them suitable for the English home, from a trip to Tunisia. A considerably conventional ceremony with a cabinet minister's wife showed Fanny how they were made. Presumably Ferrero Rocher weren't around then. The wife was not welcome in her husband's home for the formal occasion (doubtless not because of her chosen attire) but instead was banished to her 'separate and primitive chamber' known as the kitchen. She took three hours to make the 'bricks'.

Fanny Cradock Breakfast Bricks

Fanny says that she is not 'screwy' enough to think that we would spend three hours making snacks for inappropriately dressed teenagers. I am saying nothing. So she has modified the recipe to suit the occasion, or lack of occasion, which ever it really is. Instead of a 'Tunisian paste' made of semolina and water, extravagantly, and lovingly, prepared and cooked on a griddle, she uses shop-bought puff pastry. This allows the 'bricks' to be made at speed to fill the eager youthful mouths, but to otherwise remain authentic. I imagine that this would be the prime concern for the denim-clad teenagers trotting around Fanny's garden.

Fanny Cradock Breakfast Bricks

In Tunisia, squares of paste are filled with freshly milled parsley, minced veal and an egg yolk. Folded into triangles (as surely all 'bricks' are) and deep fried. I switched the veal for some chopped vegetarian sausages, but otherwise I stuck with authenticity all the way. The resulting wedges, or wodges, as indeed they might be, are ideal as hand-held hunger hinderers, especially for garden wanderers in hot pants. Guaranteed to fill up the exposed tummies of teenage girls. And tasty too. No need to be stuck away, shamefully, in the kitchen for hours on end, when you could be outside showing all the shame on your face for the fashion choices of the young. Perfect summer holiday pastime.

Fanny Cradock Breakfast Bricks

Thursday, 22 June 2017

Feeling Fruity for my Fourth Fanniversary

Do you remember what you were doing four years ago? It's not something I generally spend a lot of time wondering. Mostly it would just be an ordinary day, doing ordinary things, in ordinary ways. However, I remember very clearly what happened four years ago for me. It was no ordinary day, and no ordinary day has occurred ever since. It changed my life. Four years ago, I wrote my first blog post.

Fanny Cradock Plum Meringue

I have no idea what I expected to happen on that day, other than I would sit down, type my thoughts down about dear old Fanny and hit 'publish'. For me, it was always about having fun, celebrating Fanny and making myself giggle. If anyone else read it that'd be a bonus. Well, four years on, it's been, and continues to be, all those things and so much more. I've loved every minute, hour, and day since then. I think I've grown to love Fanny even more too. I find myself sticking up for her a lot, we've become firm friends. I mean, I've yet to whack an assistant or pee in my plant pots, but, well, I think she's mostly great.

Fanny Cradock Plum Meringue

Whether you've read all two hundred and fifty two of these posts, or this is your first, I totally appreciate it and hope that you enjoy it as much as I do. Thanks! Readers, tweeters and bloggers have come and gone and come back again. Some have disappeared forever. Where did they go? I miss them! It's been a whirlwind of harmless green vegetable food colouring and aspic, but you know what, everything so far has worked out. People tell me all the time 'oh yeah, but Fanny couldn't cook' or 'gawd, her recipes are terrible, inedible, aren't they?'... I've just found them to be incredible. Well, not especially the Eggs in Aspic, but more often than not!

Fanny Cradock Plum Meringue

Her signature 'thing' seems to be taking something which is not very much and making it seem like it's something really special. That can't be bad can it? Like taking an egg or two, a few plums, some milk and a dash of caster sugar and creating a dessert to make you smile? It's one of Fanny's favourites, meringue. She suggests making it in a 'complicated' shape for which she gives 'complicated' instructions which just seems too 'complicated' for me. Her shape is basically four circles joined together. I think after four years together I can go a bit freeform with mine, and dare I say it it, 'better'?

Fanny Cradock Plum Meringue

Instead of circles I whip up the meringues following Fanny's technique, and fashion a suitable 4-shaped design on baking parchment. If Fanny has taught me anything over the years, it's to pipe, pipe, pipe, so I do. Fanny says it might look as if it demands skill from the cook, but it doesn't. The meringue case bakes in around an hour, and emerges looking somewhat tanned. Fanny's meringues always do, I don't know why. Someone will. Fanny fills her case with confectioners custard made from the yolks, and then tops with poached plum halves. It feels like a fitting celebration of our four years together. In wedding anniversary terms, four years is Fruit, apparently. Will you join me and Fanny for four more? I do hope so - there is so much more Fanny Fun to come!

Fanny Cradock Plum Meringue

Monday, 12 June 2017

I am still L'Affiné - Cradock En Tours #4

Some of the un-intentional language exchanges at the Food History conference have made me smile, some have made me snigger, some have seen me laughing out loud. But all have left me feeling totally ashamed. My French is so poor - whether at the conference, in a Tabac, the Carrefour or in a side-street brasserie, I have always been greeted with "Ah, it's OK, I speak English..." when I make a fumbled attempt. Can I blame Fanny for providing me with a limited selection of French vocabulary in her 'No Spik French' section? The language skills of the other conference presenters are impeccable, how easily they can switch between languages. The confusion has been all mine. Sessions led by an Italian, listed in English, have turned out to be delivered in French. Simply because, well, they can.

Fanny Cradock L'Affiné Tours

Not only the command of English and a host of other second languages, but the phrasing intrigues me. I often am made to think of words I use everyday in a very different way. Some words make more sense with alternative pronunciations. I can clearly see their origin. Why have I never noticed before? My absolute very favourite of the conference was the women, who, I thought announced part-way through her presentation that "I will F*ck You's now". Bold. She certainly got my attention. Until, I realised she had actually said "Focus". "Folk. Use."

Fanny Cradock L'Affiné Tours

I should make a note now not to throw in any of Fanny's dodgy French translations to my presentation. For now, my mind is foc-oo-sed on food. Last night as I wandered along Rue Colbert deciding where to settle, my eyes were drawn to a Bar À Fromages. L'Affiné. They proudly displayed a Gratin Végétarien on their menu. I was won over. The friendly waitress also explained, in perfect English, naturellement, that they did plates of local cheeses too, all I would need to do is decide how many portions I would like. She suggested fifteen or twenty as ideal, but more if I wished. This seemed like a lot of cheese to me, but when I saw my dining neighbours plates arrive, I was envious. Until that is, my Gratin appeared, blue and bubbling. With salad, bread, water and a matched local wine. They know how to make you feel at home here.

Fanny Cradock L'Affiné Tours

It seems almost impossible to determine what people in Tours do. How do they earn a living? Everyone appears to be just as I am, while there at least. Plenty of time. Just enjoying the world, and the food. No-one appears in a hurry. No-one looks stressed. No-one looks chained to their mobiles. Perhaps there is barely time with all the food and wine to be consumed? Fanny is no help whatsoever, as far as she is concerned, local people are simply there to serve her.

Fanny Cradock L'Affiné Tours

Speaking of which, it would appear to be a shameful waste not to sample the delights of the dessert menu while I am here. Fanny makes sure my eyes do not pass over Le Mini-Baba-Au-Rhum. OMG. Rum. Almonds. Chantilly Cream. This is exactly how I expect them to taste, based of course on Fanny's expert tuition. The rum is incredibly strong. In a good way. Fanny would undoubtedly have had ones such as these in her time. This is what she wants us to eat, to make, to enjoy. Together.

Fanny Cradock L'Affiné Tours

Thursday, 8 June 2017

Je Cherchez L'Hôtel Metropole - Cradock En Tours #3

My mission - I just HAD to find the most celebrated hotel in Fanny's guidebook to the Tours - the rather splendid sounding Hôtel Metropole. She'd already mentioned it strongly in her guide to Wining and Dining in France. What might today's Gateaux de la Maison be? Would Fanny perhaps have tasted the very same one, in the very same setting? More details were given in the tour guide Holiday in the Touraine she published in 1956. With the address in hand, 14 Place Jean Jaunes, I set off to explore. A lack of data plan on my mobile meant I was transported back to the time that Fanny was writing. Just as in the 1950s, armed only with Fanny's guide, I had limited information, but a great supply of hope and belief.

Fanny Cradock Tour of Tours

A short walk from the Gare de Tours, the main square in the town centre appears to be undergoing a period of change. Regeneration we might call it. Many of the Grande Hôtels stand empty or have been re-propositioned with a variety of other uses. Surely the Hôtel Metropole would not have succumbed to such progress? The leafy square spreads out as if to make room for the expansive tram system which now strides the Rue Nationale, seemingly splitting the city in two. Stretching from north of La River Loire to the somewhat appropriately named (perhaps) Winston Churchill Boulevard in the south, the tram sees to be well used and smooth running. I never used it, preferring to walk.

Fanny Cradock Tour of Tours

In Place Jean Jaunes itself, people find comfortable spots in the various pavement cafés and those strange enclosed perspex spaces which many restaurants favour now, neither seemingly attached to the main restaurant nor flying absolutely solo. Islands of meeting and eating space. Without facilities. Fanny noted this was also the case in 1956, where celebrated chefs around the Touriane region told her 'we put the cooking and wines first, the ambiance and toilettes last', so it seems nothing has changed.

Fanny Cradock Tour of Tours

I wander round several times. Hôtel De Lille. Hôtel De L'Europe. Grand Hôtel. Hôtel De L'Universe. all there and all splendid buildings, giving the air of being THE 'place to stay' in town, just as Fanny suggested. Fanny noted that the Hôtel De L'Universe was plain to see in particular, even by the most myopic. So, I wasn't in need of an eye examination, but where was the glory of the Hôtel Metropole? Fanny was by now teasing me with details of their Crêpes Bordelaise, which apparently no-one, not even Fanny herself, can cook better that the chef there.

Fanny Cradock Tour of Tours

Hôtel Metropole had an ample eighty bedrooms, so would surely be in plain sight too, myopic or not. Wandering up and down Place Jean Jaunes in search of number 14 it did not appear to be so. Just as I was about to consult Fanny's guide to popular French phrases for weary travellers, No Spik French, and attempt to order a Daily Mail each day, or where to find the best dentist (as these are surely the essential phrases) in the hope that someone took pity on my French abilities and replied in English so I could ask about the Metropole, I saw it. Standing proud and smug, taunting me and jeering at me for not noticing it sooner. Also crushing me completely by having transformed itself into an H&M. The closest I could get to sharing a space where Fanny had been would be to buy a t-shirt.

Fanny Cradock Arrivè en Tours

Monday, 5 June 2017

Je Suis Arrivé - Cradock En Tours #2

As I arrive in Tours in preparation for my Fanny presentation, I am greeted by the wonderful Gare De Tours. A spectacular square with fine, elegant buildings, intriguing side streets, smoking tabacs and enough bread and pastry tumbling out of the local boulangerie to keep me going for ever. Just as impressive as Fanny had said it would be. She told me that wherever I go, if I elected to follow her, she would have been sure to have been there before. Just a short hop to my hotel, which it turned out, had an unexpected Hollywood Red Carpet theme. I would spending the next few days in Ginger Rogers. I don't think Fanny had done that.

Fanny Cradock Arrivè en Tours

The town itself is easy to navigate with old streets lined with poky peek-holes. Bliss for a nosey person like myself. Fanny's advice was to seek out the Mayor, the Postman or the gendarme, and study their shape. If they are oval, ask them where to eat well. Fanny says to never, and she repeats never, follow Americans. Shunning both pieces of advice, I following the smell of food, I made my way along Rue Colbert which was lined with restaurant after brasserie, each setting out its stall in a friendly, familiar manner - letting the diverse menus speak for themselves. No pushy marketing or cajoling required. The choices were endless. Which small, square table enticingly set with wine glasses to sit at? I walked back and forth several times before settling on 'Aux Lapin Qui Fumé', after all the Smoking Rabbit seemed like the kind of place Fanny would have approved of.

Fanny Cradock Arrivè en Tours

Rue Colbert really was the perfect place to sit and watch Tours go by. A Tours perhaps different to the one visited by Fanny, but essentially the same. Fanny says to ensure I spend well on food, after all the sights are for free. She is not wrong. Opposite was a small vegetarian café - Shanti - which gave it's hours as Monday to Friday 8:30am - 2pm, but I never saw it open. A more elegant neighbour, Restaurant La Ruche, attracted a slightly older clientele deep in conversation. Their young waiter was tall and slender, as thin as a rake, able to contort his body, folding himself in half to serve food as if he were a ballet dancer moonlighting at Maxims.

Fanny Cradock Arrivè en Tours

Fanny says that if you are rich and have the digestion of a goat, not to bother with her suggestions. Neither apply to me. The menu at the Smoking Rabbit was perfect. A choice of Grande Salades promising to tumble off the plate appealed greatly. I passed on the Salade Vegetarienne and went instead for the Salade Fruites. Piled high with leaves and fruits, topped with a dash of local honey to balance the goats cheese crostini, pink grapefruit (which was expertly cut) and a light, engaging dressing. For dessert, I had to order a firm favourite of Fanny. We've made it together. Soufflé Glacé presented as an homage to Grand Marnier. It did not disappoint.

Fanny Cradock Arrivè en Tours

I was delighted to note all the wines were offered by the glass, bottle and ideal for moi as a solo diner, half-bottles. The local AOC Touraine was winking at me. C'est Tres Jolie. My evening à la Rue Colbert was perfect. An eclectic pick'n'mix of people, old shuttered apartments flung open to the world, but without obvious signs of life. Gentle queues for mysterious packages formed and dissolved at Pharmacie Colbert, mingling effortlessly with well-to-do ladies meeting to quaff champagne and American tourists attempting to strike up unlikely conversations with strangers. They seem to have followed me, Fanny would not be amused. Sitting un-noticed, un-disturbed and un-rushed, I just enjoy the scene, the food and the wine. What a warm welcome to Tours.

Fanny Cradock Arrivè en Tours

Tuesday, 30 May 2017

Presenting My Fanny - Cradock en Tours #1

In a somewhat bold move, I'm taking Fanny Cradock back to France. It's the least I can do. She absolutely loved the place. She told anyone and everyone she was half-French, she supposedly spoke fluent French and recommended above all others the French way of cooking, drinking and living. I hope she'd be thrilled to know I was heading over to the Continent to tell a conference full of Food, History and Culture folks from around the world all about her. Well, as much of my research as I can squeeze into my allotted time slot anyway... I might need to talk very quickly. So long as I remember to refer to her as Cradock, not Fanny. Academics aren't keen on the 'F' word being said aloud.

Fanny Cradock en Tours

I've no idea what they'll all make of her, or me for that matter, but I'm looking forward to it greatly. As ever, Fanny is on hand to chaperone me throughout my stay. Back in 1959 she published a guidebook to help other ordinary people to Wine and Dine in France. Well, it might be rude not to do just that. The book is crammed full of her personal suggestions on how to find the very best meals that France, the country supreme in fine eating and drinking, can provide. It couldn't possibly be comprehensive, Fanny does not pretend to list ALL France's eating places, but she gives it a good go with 450 of her 'very favourites'. She insists that we do not pay any attention whatsoever to her competition motoring organisations symbols of recommendation, which are based more on lavatories than assessments of wining and dining.

Fanny Cradock en Tours

Each recommendation is chosen to give me a 'high and assured level of delight at the table'. This may cause some raised French eyebrows as a solo diner. When Harry Met Fanny this is not. The book is not designed for mere commoners looking for adequate food at a low price. It is for those willing to pay a higher price for fine cuisine. This may be an expensive trip. The conference is in Tours, a place I have never been to before. I wonder if Fanny's recommendations will still hold true? Before I explore though, she continues to warn against complaining and fussing about the lavatories. I haven't been, but perhaps I will. I'm nervous now. I simply should 'use the pedals' without complaint, as some of France's most primitive establishments provide some of France's most memorable meals. Eeek.

Fanny Cradock en Tours

Her first port of call en Tours is the Brasserie Bordeaux, which is apparently brightly decorated and run by a Madame and her daughter, who do above average treatments with vegetables. My eyes are watering already. Perhaps I'd be safer at Hotel Métropole, which has a rather plain restaurant but an exceptional Gâteau Maison. Or maybe La Rôtisserie Tourangelle is more me. It's knitted into the ancient streets as naturally as Madame Defarge knitted names into the steps of La Guillotine. It has frilly curtains and lavish portions, setting a pattern of provincial chic. Fanny knows me so well.

Fanny Cradock en Tours

But what should I eat while I am there? Fanny has this covered too, as you might expect, with her 1973 Common Market Cookery book on the acknowledged centre of the Gastronomic World, France. Eating in France seems to be all swings and roundabouts. French folks spend one eighth of their incomes upon their bellies, Fanny proudly declares. Is it just me, or does that seem low? I should watch out for the service of vegetables. They will be served AFTER the main meal apparently, which may be tricky for me as a vegetarian. On the plus side the French seemingly have 480 different ways to cook a potato, which can't be bad. Can it? Only one way to find out. I will report back in equal measure on Tours itself, my tours of the lavatories, the Madames and as many of the potato variations as I can muster... Will you join me?

Fanny Cradock en Tours

Monday, 22 May 2017

Don't Question the Digestion Suggestion

Fanny has taken an unexpected few weeks off. Not, as you might assume, to travel to fabulous places, rest and eat fabulous food. No, she's been furiously checking over and analysing what she has shown us so far, and has been actively making forward plans for future culinary adventures. She does deserve a break in all fairness. She's been beavering away for the past forty-three weeks solidly producing weekly magazines entirely for our benefit (ok, and for significant financial gain) stuffed full of recipes and ideas to free us from the shackles of domestic drudgery. By making certain we never leave the kitchen.

Fanny Cradock Berry Biscuit Base

The reason for this slight pause in proceedings is to ensure that the next half of the part-work is as thrilling as the first. Yes, we are half-way through, by Fanny's calculations. It may have taken Fanny almost a year of non-stop whipping, beating and piping, but it's taken me close to four years. Fanny thinks we're only just beginning to master the basics. Fanny originally planned the part-work to be a glorious technicolour collection of ninety-six. Little did she realise that it would come to a premature end rather abruptly after a more modest eighty. So, in reality, I'm well past half-way, by my calculations. I do often wonder what would be found in those missing sixteen parts, but perhaps that's a concern for another day.

Fanny Cradock Berry Biscuit Base

Today, we must focus on observing how the old and familiar and the new and unfamiliar not only start coming together very closely but at the same time lay down fresh foundations for further, forward adventures. The old and familiar Fanny has in mind are digestive biscuits. The new and unfamiliar is making them into a fancy, French-style flan. Fanny does not think the word Tart is suitable for polite company, either in the kitchen or the bedroom. Except here, her Biscuit Based Fruit Flan is also called Tarte aux Fruits d'Eté. Ooo-la-la.

Fanny Cradock Berry Biscuit Base

She bashes the biscuits to crumbs, thinking no doubt about someone that she never really liked very much with every mighty blow. She adds melted butter and presses the thick paste 'of moulding consistency' into a flan ring, moulding it into a flan shape. It's a flan you see. While it chills in ordinary domestic refrigeration, she whips up some very thick confectioners' custard to cover the base with, followed by any choice of berry that your heart should desire. Simple. Just a bit of a glaze with a suitable fruit jelly (I use my homemade Bramble) and it's all done.

Fanny Cradock Berry Biscuit Base

Fanny hasn't wasted any time on this recipe, proposing instead that we 'repair our memory gaps' on the absolute basic techniques so that we have them at our finger tips for the journey ahead. I think she means, please take some time to read back over my previous blog posts. Thanks Fanny for the plug. We will soon be trying hundreds of new things, and we must be able to depend on the basics. If our foundations are secure, there will be no limit to the magnificent confections which we will be able to achieve working together. I'm excited, and appreciate the opportunity to tuck into this tasty tart(e) in anticipation meantime as I segue gracefully from 'basic' to 'advanced' in the capable hands of Fanny. Are you by my side?

Fanny Cradock Berry Biscuit Base