Monday, 30 March 2015

Too Cloche for Comfort

If you go down to the woods today, you're sure to be in for a big surprise - especially if Fanny and Johnnie are down there. They are on the look out to pick up a couple of wild ones, they just can't resist them. It's something they've done ever since World War Two when they found themselves in Warwickshire while Johnnie was invalided. Desperate times called for desperate measures. They just couldn't satisfy their needs in town, especially in Johnnies condition, so made regular visits out into nature and amongst the protection of the trees and open fields, where they suspected no-one would disturb them on their mission. That was where it was all happening, and all naturally. Nothing improper going on you'll understand, just a bit of fresh foraging for fungi.

Fanny Cradock Mushrooms

Fanny does concede that mushrooms of all varieties, and especially buttons, cups and large flats, can be found quite easily in greengrocers and supplied by professional mushroom growers. Fanny herself prefers the kind grown naturally, untouched by human hands, and only aided by a spot of horse manure, which of course helps. Fanny says there is a lot of confusion floating around about eating wild mushrooms, which is mostly nonsense. According to her, the skins of harmless mushrooms peel away easily and in large pieces while the skin of harmful toadstools does not. Fanny isn't keen to accept responsibility for our health though, and suggests wisely we check with someone 'who knows' before we pick up any wild ones. I'm not sure if Fanny knows or not?

Fanny Cradock Mushrooms

Fanny once fed her 'tree mushroom' soup to a great society hostess who fawned over the fungi. While complimenting Fanny she told her in an awful tone about the terrible labourers who ate those 'awful tree mushrooms' and then wondered why they were ill. She was unaware that she too was gobbling them up. The mushrooms that is, not the labourers. Presumably Fanny wasn't trying to poison her guest, but she never clarifies.

Fanny Cradock Mushrooms

Fannys recommendation for cooking marvellous mushrooms is to do so 'sous cloche' or under glass. Not only do they benefit greatly from being prepared this was, it is also a simple but impressive way of serving them. It's new to me, and seems more than a little Heston, but what the heck. Fanny says 'cups' are best for this, with their medium size and 'ragged edge of white skin over their accordian pleated brown insides'. Fanny makes a base for the mushrooms of French Toast with a beaten egg and a little milk soaked into a thick slice of bread before it is fried. The chosen mushrooms are piled on, topped with some parsley, salt, pepper and a little cream before being covered with a cloche (or ordinary glass bowl if your purse won't stretch) and baked for 20 minutes or so. I just happen to have a cloche which I have only ever used for cakes and cheese. I never expected it would be heading oven-bound!

Fanny Cradock Mushrooms

The Champignons sous Cloche should be served immediately, still under glass to the table, and presumably unveiled with an exaggerated theatrical flourish. Not so much Heston style smoke and mirrors, but a little puff of steam. The finished mushrooms have retained all their woodland moisture, making them very soft and spongy, and full of flavour. As you cut into them, their juices run darkly into the hot cream, herbs and pillowy eggy toast. It's a magic combination. If you weren't surprised by Fanny and Johnnie in the woods, you will be mightily mystified by these miraculous mushrooms. So, go now, abandon your dreary dinner guests and run off in search of some wild ones of your own.

Fanny Cradock Mushrooms

Thursday, 26 March 2015

You say To-may-to, I say To-mah-to

Fanny Cradock opens Part 18 - which focuses on Exciting Winter Vegetables - with a plea. Her plea is for us to make good use of British vegetables, which are after all the finest in the world, even if they have 'suffered just a little bit by the time they reach our doors'. Fresh vegetables, local and in season is her campaign, cooked properly, naturally, which means the Cradock way. She was very big on seasonality, even producing a hanging wall chart to be hung in every kitchen as a constant reminder of the monthly expectations. Additionally Fanny begs us all (with some humility) to 'put an end to boiling' and over-cooking. Escoffier has taught us, and Fanny reminds us, that no-one can cook limp, flabby, inferior vegetables and expect to achieve perfect results.

Fanny Cradock Tomatoes

Vegetables should be fresh and lively. Fanny gets hers down the market, but the poor barrow boys' knees must start to jitter when they see her approaching. You see, Fanny insists on fondling the merchandise, despite calls to 'not handle the goods, Madam.' How else can housewives be sure they are buying vegetables in perfect condition? Fanny is wise to the sneaky market traders trying to shovel shoddy vegetables into bags from behind the barrows, so always says 'Please show me what you want me to buy before putting it in my bag.' If they refuse, Fanny recommends walking away. I have no doubt she did on a regular basis.

Fanny Cradock Tomatoes

So, shop local, in season, and choose well is the campaign slogan. It is odd then that the first recipe in this part that Fanny wants to share is one she chooses to showcase out of season produce. The tomato. By her own reckoning, British Tomatoes are readily available in the Summer, and only imports are available in Spring (at least in the 1970's). She ploughs on though, pairing it with an onion and some cream to really showcase it's erm, natural favour and freshness. Perhaps this was all that was in her bag on returning from the market when her requests to cop a feel were refused?

Fanny Cradock Tomatoes

This is a favourite side dish for Fanny and she is excited to share it with us. This must be why she is so confused. Poor Fanny. Let's play along. She selects an onion, which should have a paper thin skin that 'practically rubs off' when you touch it. Any green shoots poking out, please reject it as 'old and on-the-bolt' only suitable to plant and grow for flower decorations. Slice your perfectly rubbed onion finely and add it to a pan of hot oil over a low heat. Slice your tomatoes in half and make criss-cross cuts over the sliced surfaces and place on top of the onion. Add a few sprinkles of herbs and cover the pan completely with a lid or tight fitting foil to allow the vegetables to poach and fry very gently until tender. After seven minutes, peek in and turn the tomatoes over, returning the pan to the low heat to continue cooking.

Fanny Cradock Tomatoes

All that remains to be done is to 'swill in' some cream and allow it to heat through without boiling, before transferring the dish to the table. Fanny uses real (of course) very thick cream, I have chosen soured cream. It may be a reflection of my mood. Fanny serves this side dish with triangular croutons of bread. We've made that together in the previous part. I have to be honest, it is an odd little dish, but perfectly tasty and presentable. Hardly an 'exciting winter vegetable' to kick off a campaign though is it? Certainly not boiled and limp. In season? Doubtful. Well, at least the cream is British!

Fanny Cradock Tomatoes

Tuesday, 17 March 2015


Fanny was super keen on preserving things - before tins and jars of anything and everything were ready available, she'd be busy all year round collecting up whatever was in season and stuffing it away for another time. Whether it was fruit, vegetables, meat or even cream she'd describe ways to halt its decline, seal it securely and stash it safely. I think it was a habit she continued even after the supermarket shelves were packed tighter than one of her Kilner jars. She'd be horrified now that fruits and vegetables are flown in from far lands whatever the season. Do we even know what's 'in season' anymore? Everything is just 'there' when we want it. It was for resourceful Fanny too, but only because she (or more likely her army of assistants) made it so.

Fanny was always careful to stress in her recipes to use fresh when available, and canned, tinned or jarred when not. She assumed you had also been squirrelling away all your goodies. That way her knowledge could be shared all year round, and any time you dipped into one of her many books, if you found something you particularly fancied, you could have it. No need for daily flights full of food. Her very favourites were always things you could whip up at a moments notice to impress. And nothing more impressive than a fruity dessert in winter using last summers very best fruit.

While Fanny reaches to the backs of her larder cupboard for a jar of her very own peach halves to induce dinner party jealousy, I wander to Real Foods and pick up a jar of organic ones from Biona. Only the best will impress you see. Fanny whips up her favourite fruit, preserved in her favourite way with her favourite pastry (or paste) - the Choux. For Fanny, it's the most impressive, most versatile paste and she was on a mission to convert every housewife in Britain to use it.

For this dish, it's not Profiteroles or Eclairs, but mini tarts. Sorry, tartlets. Fanny of course despises the word tart in the kitchen or the bedroom. I've never used choux in this way before but it's whipped up in the usual way - melt some butter in water, fling flour in until it foams, beat and beat until smooth. Then leave to become very cold at room temperature (never a fridge) and beat an egg in. Normally it's piped into shapes, but Fanny uses it here to line well oiled tartlet moulds. She presses it in with two teaspoons, but I found fingers were best. Well scrubbed of course. They are then weighed down with oiled greaseproof paper squares and baking beans and popped into the oven.

When baked and cooled, Fanny fills them with custard. Sorry, I am taking a hopefully not too horrific shortcut here with Ambrosia, well it is all very last minute and is carefully preserved in the tub. She then carefully places on a peach half and covers with redcurrant jelly. I found some lovely looking (and veggie!) quick red jelly from Greens to use this time tough. It reminds me of the jelly you used to get on strawberry tarts when I was young. Tastes like it too. The tartlets are gorgeous, the choux makes them feel quite light (and deceptively chewy) and with a premature taste of summer with the peaches I am happy. After all that work to preserve the fruits so carefully, the finished tartlets really won't last too long with me!

I am entering these summery tartlets into a new blogging challenge from Jen's Food and United Cakedom celebrating all things pastry... Check out the other baked goodies!

Thursday, 12 March 2015

Wee Blind Mice

Fanny and Johnnie liked to think that they captured the imagination of everyone interested in cooking, even children. They appeared on Children's TV programmes as early as 1958 in a show called Lucky Dip. Apparently this led to 'record-breaking fan-mail' from their young audience and further slots on a show called Tuesday Rendezvous (which was also shown on Fridays, obviously) and even a series of cookbooks for children. The Cradocks love affair with children is brought into question with the books' titles though. Would you purchase a set of books for your wee dears called 'Happy Cooking Children'?

For Fanny, Children's Cookery had to have all the excitement and colour found in the great classical writings (we can presume she means her own here), but with added WHY's and HOW's for the young fans. She believed in 'safety first' to protect the smallest readers from any chance mishaps. Especially for garnish. Fanny recognised that young cooks loved to arrange and decorate, so she made sure that she provided stimulating ideas with 'only simple, inexpensive, edible trimmings' to be used by small chefs.

The weekly partwork always had something for the 'small fry' to try. They didn't often make a great deal of sense, but it was Fannys attempt to inspire. Who wouldn't be inspired by chocolate mice nibbling cheese? These little mischiefs are made from meringues, one of Fannys starter recipes, so perfect for wee ones. Once whisked up, they simply need to be shaped 'like mice' by doming them between two oiled dessertspoons and dried out in a low oven. Fanny's Top Tip - Try to make sure they are flat bottomed, broad in the behind and narrow to the nose. Easier said than done, for beginners. As she is keeping it simple for the children, she refrains from saying 'quenelle' but that's what she means.

With safety first in mind, Fanny suggests melting the chocolate to coat them by taking a packet of chocolate chips, plonking them in a bowl and whacking it on the bottom of the low oven until a wooden spoon can make them a bit squidgy. Then, beat them 'very hard' until they are smooth. Just as well to introduce the super keen young ones to Fannys favourite techniques at an early age. I opt for both milk and white chocolate chips, just to be fancy. The cooked meringues are them 'wiggled' in the chocolate and their 'overcoats' left to dry on greaseproof paper.

To complete the illusion of mice, small slivers of almond are added for ears, and I've added sugar balls for eyes. Fanny is always one for realism though - so mice must have tails. She suggests cutting small lengths of string, dipping them in the melted chocolate and attaching them. So bang goes the 'safety first' message. How many poor wee inspired souls choked on the string tails I wonder? Fanny justifies this veering from the rules by pointing out that Sugar Mice you buy in shops have string tails, so that's OK then. Authenticity. To delight the little ones' parents to the point of no return, the completed mice should be displayed a top a large chunk of big holed Emmental Cheese. Fanny warns us not to be fooled by our sneaky cheesemonger keen to sell us the more expensive and smaller holed Gruyère. I say set the chocolate mice on him should he try...

I'm entering this into the new challenge linky thing from Belleau Kitchen, Simply Eggcellent, which celebrates all things eggs, check out all the other ideas so far! 

Monday, 9 March 2015

Going Dutch in the Oven

Sometimes Fanny Cradock makes suggestions that are widely applicable to a range of different situations. She'll say that such and such a cake is suitable for rustling up quickly perhaps when so and so just happen to pop round unexpectedly. Other menus are carefully crafted to stun the neighbours that you never really liked very much, convince uncertain bosses that promotion is the best option or to dazzle old chums on a heaving buffet table when entertaining. From time to time though she suggests something that's just so specific it's hard to imagine anyone thinking 'oh yes, that's just what I've been waiting for.' The final 'bread' in this partwork is just that - apparently it's simply perfect for when you are entertaining Dutch friends at Easter and are struggling to think what to serve them for breakfast. Always a dilemma.

The answer is Dutch Easterbread. or Oesterbröd. There can't really be many perfect choices for this situation. It's fortunate that Fanny herself happened to be in Amsterdam one Easter Sunday to taste this. Fanny doesn't disclose if any other traditional Dutch delicacies were taken on that particular trip. She does admit to having an 'overwhelming compulsion' to eat almond paste and crystallised fruits though, so was naturally drawn to this traditional Dutch bread which is filled with a fruity marzipan-y concoction. In Fannys mind, it would be too shameful to serve something from our own fair isle I imagine.

This recipe starts off with a standard batch of white bread dough. While it's proving, get to work whipping up some butter until it is 'creamily soft'. In Fanny's favourite kitchen implement, a roomy bowl, mix together ground almonds, icing sugar (sifted of course), glacé cherries (I've got some lovely retro-tastic multi-coloured ones), raisins and finely diced candied Angelica. It's all Fannys favourite things. Angelica has such an unusual taste, I love it. It's a favourite botanical in gin, which is probably why I love it so much! It's long overdue for a comeback in it's own right though I reckon. This nostalgic mix is bound together with an egg white to make a fairly firm paste.

Once proved, Fanny says to roll the dough out to a rectangular shape and spread it with the softened whipped butter. Fanny forms her fruity paste into a 'sausage' and rolls it up so that it's inside the dough. Fanny is very particular about the decoration, I'm guessing you wouldn't want your Easter breakfast guests from the Netherlands to be sniggering behind your back at your lack of authentic detail. So, I do as I am told and score the top of the loaf with 'slanty' cuts about 1/4 inch apart all the way down. A quick egg wash and a sprinkle with bashed up loaf sugar (or just ready bashed caster sugar) and it's ready to bake. Just 'until it's ready' - Fanny clearly thinks I'm now able to judge when this will be.

Having helped us to make several Cradock-style loaves now, Fanny is concerned about storage. She thinks it's vitally important, especially if you are new to the job. For busy women (and presumably men) there is 'no mortal use' in caring sufficiently about your families health (or perhaps your Dutch overnight guests) to create 'crusty crusts and an edible crumb with an absolute absence of artificial bleaching agents', unless the resulting beautiful loaves last several days. Fanny's recommendation is simple, once cooled wrap them tightly in ordinary kitchen foil. Then, even if your Dutch guests outstay their welcome and are still popping up for breakfast 2, 3, 4 or even 5 days after Easter, you will be serving them perfectly edible bread on each occasion. If you really want to see them 'rejoice' when they spy their breakfast tray, the trick is to serve this loaf not only with wheels of butter, but slices of cheese and ham rolled up. Oh, they'll be thrilled! Do let me know if you ever have guests from Holland over Easter and you try this. Or if like me, you don't, but simply love a massive slice of fruity, sweet almond bread.

Monday, 2 March 2015

A Cup O' Tea & A Slice O' Cake

Fanny stretches her definitions in the Home-Made Bread part to include a Simple Tea Loaf. Not that I'm complaining, much as her bread has been grand so far, it's nice to have a much 'kneaded' break and a wee slice of cake is very welcome indeed to balance it all out. And well, it's a loaf, so all is well. Fanny says that this particular recipe is the ONLY one in her whole LIFE she has ever found in a leaflet that has been worth making more than once to find out it's quality. Presumably she's not talking about her own leaflets? Which are booklets really, and sometimes contain so many high quality recipes they are more like small books...

Fanny suggests using any mixture of dried fruit for this recipe, just whatever is bulging out of your kitchen cupboards and crying out to be used at the time. I've got a selection of raisins, dried cherries and dried apricots which would seem to fit the bill. I'm lucky that my local fruit and veg shop, Tattie Shaws, sells a great selection of almost everything, including dried fruits. It's like a wee treasure trove in there. It's hard to resist adding some Glacé Cherries into the mix too, no cake of Fannys would be complete without them.

Fanny doesn't specify the tea to be used either. I think I'm being trusted to make more and more decisions all by myself these days. I think I can just about cope in choosing a tea-bag for a loaf. Or can I? Giving myself a shake I head to the kitchen and decisively make a selection. My choice is from TeaPigs, and is a Liquorice and Peppermint, which I hope gives a slightly different flavour to the fruity cake. Fanny would probably raise her considerable eye-brows and remind me that I am among professionals now, and professionals only use blah-de-blah tea but I'm feeling a little rebellious. Also, it's all I have in my cupboard. So kind of rebellious and entirely practical.

The instructions are relatively simple, which is just as well after all these edgy and exhausting decisions. I chop up the apricots and halve the glacé cherries so that all the fruits are almost the same size. Sitting down with a delicate china cup of tea to munch on a gob-full of dried fruit just wouldn't do. A fair amount of brown sugar is mixed in, so much so that I'm questioning Fannys accuracy here, but I plough on. The cold tea is poured on top, and the (self raising) flour, a little salt and one solitary egg is worked in. Very economical. Fanny says the mixture will be very loose, and it is. Reading ahead, I had buttered and floured a loaf tin, so once combined it all gets poured in and baked in a moderate oven for a whole hour.

The finished 'loaf' comes out of the tin very well - that buttering and flouring technique is a good top tip of Fannys. Fanny says if you and your family are able to exercise some self control the loaf can be covered in foil once cooled and left for 24 hours before cutting. My self control is out of control so I take the other option of slathering over some icing glaze, decorating it with more glacé cherries, slicing and getting stuck in. Fanny says if you follow her techniques the fruit will 'stay where you put it' and not sink to the bottom of the cake. Unlike the weather in Edinburgh today though, it is quite dry and a little crunchy (maybe there was too much sugar after all?), but with a cup of tea it is lovely. With butter smothered on it I am sure it'll be even better. If only I'd been able to leave it for a day! Fanny is certainly right (again) - this is one recipe worth hanging on to the leaflet for and making again! I'm sure she meant one recipe not of hers though, undeniably they are well used, aren't they?