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

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Right Royal Recipes Fit for A (Greedy) Queen

I admit it, I get overly excited when a book I've been waiting on for a long time is finally published. You'll normally find me bashing my way through the bookstore doors first thing on publication day to snap up a copy. It's a thrill. Usually, I have to admit, it's a cookbook. I'm addicted. From time to time, other books hover on my 'must buy list'. None more excitement-inducing than The Greedy Queen, the debut book by food historian, Dr Annie Gray. It's a cunning culinary biography telling the story of Queen Victoria and all she ate. She ate a lot.

Fanny Cradock The Greedy Queen Annie Gray

It's an absolute treat of a book. It's everything I had hoped it would be. It's tirelessly researched. It's stuffed full of food history facts, pictures and illustrated with the odd recipe too. It's written with the kind of humour and knowledge I can only aspire to. The best thing though is the books authenticity - when I read page after glorious page it's like listening to an audio book, I can hear Annie Gray's voice in my head, reading to me, silently aloud. I get that when I read anything written by Fanny Cradock too, there is no mistaking her words. No mistaking she wrote them. No mistaking she meant them.

Fanny Cradock The Greedy Queen Annie Gray

Like Annie, Fanny was passionately obsessed with the intertwining worlds of food, history and royalty. She attached herself to members of the Royal Family whenever she could, whether it was claiming that the Queen Mother credited her with saving the nations stomachs after the war, or in the gossip columns as she sensationally wined and dined with her Royal celebrity chums. Like Annie, she wrote about them too. Her novel, The Windsor Secret, is an entirely fictitious, but no less rumour inducing, account detailing the birth of a love child between Wallis Simpson and the Duke of Windsor, who Fanny counted as friends in real life. We'll never know if it was mutual. With courtesy rather than curtsey, she at least waited until Mrs Simpson died in 1986 to publish her tale, with the added bonus of being able to ride on a wave of retrospective publicity. Fanny was canny.

Fanny Cradock The Greedy Queen Annie Gray

You only have to look at the illustrations in the Greedy Queen and indeed any Victorian cookbook to recognise Fanny's distinctive style for elaborate presentation. She never wanted it to die out, and did what she could to ensure that buffet tables around the country groaned under the flamboyant creations for as long as she could. In addition, she worked incessantly to remind people of the cooks and chefs she admired so much from the time. Whether it was Ices Queen, Mrs Agnes Marshall, Restaurant King, Escoffier or Cuisinier Crown Prince, Jules Gouffé, she recognised and showcased them all. The latter worked as Chef de Cuisine at the Paris Jockey Club, and his brother, Alphonse Gouffé was Head Pastry Chef to none other than Queen Victoria. He translated his brothers cookbooks into English, including one published to make the most of the connection, the Royal Cookery Book.

Fanny Cradock The Greedy Queen Annie Gray

Fanny got in on the act herself, no-one will be surprised to learn, writing a new introduction for a reprinted version in 1973. The insertion is partly about Jules Gouffé, but mostly about Fanny herself and how similar she was to the great man himself, in skill, talent and desire. 'At the risk of seeming immodest' she notes. The Royal Cookery Book is a 'must-have for serious students of the inexhaustible culinary art,' Fanny says, which she feels must be revived, with her help, to save us from 'the total abyss' of fish fingers. It is a must-read book, and sits proudly on my shelves, alongside my must-read collection of Fanny, and now in the company of must-read Annie too. I cannot wait to add more volumes of 'culinary biography' to them. I'm greedy for more.

Fanny Cradock The Greedy Queen Annie Gray

Monday, 8 May 2017

Skools Out 4 Eva

I just can't imagine Fanny Cradock at school. Can you? I can't imagine her being a child at all. She has so expertly crafted her persona and image for our enjoyment, that is hard to picture her in any other way. Especially as a 'nipper'. I can't imagine her impatiently shoving her hand in the air to answer a teachers question. I can't imagine her playing hopscotch in the school yard at break time. I can't imagine her sitting with other children and enjoying a meal at lunchtime. Perhaps she was born a fully formed adult?

Fanny Cradock Semolina Pudding

I know it's not popular to admit it, but I was simply never a fan of school dinners. I'm not someone to look back fondly on the seemingly strange creations that were served up to keep our little minds active and stimulated throughout the day. I just wanted to get them over and done with. Except if there was pink custard. Everything is different with pink custard. It was probably a result of eating well at home, and cooking and baking from an early age too. The school canteen just held no pleasure.

Fanny Cradock Semolina Pudding

It seems that Fanny and I shared this view. She wants to re-educate us all, starting with semolina. Before we all panic and make horrid faces, she is very clear that this will version will bear no resemblance to any school or canteen semolina that we would know. She goes further, chalking up in big letters on her imaginary blackboard the words THIS IS A SEMOLINA PUDDING WHICH YOU WILL NOT FIND REPELLENT.

Fanny Cradock Semolina Pudding

She underlines this by calling this pudding 'Delicious French Version of Semolina' which she translates as 'Flamri de Semoule'. Perhaps she didn't pay much attention in French lessons either. Fanny brings some water to the boil, shoots in icing sugar, stirs, then adds the semolina. Her instruction is to stir it continuously, which I do, until the spoon will stand erect in it alone, which it does. Off the heat, she beats in an egg and when completely blended, some stiffly whipped egg white. This mixture is then transferred to an oiled pudding bowl ready to be steamed. Luckily I always have one at hand, ready.

Fanny Cradock Semolina Pudding

Two hours later, it's ready to be unfolded. Fanny warns that if you take a premature peek the pudding is liable to collapse. She includes a photo of one, made by one of her naughty assistants who peeked, to hammer home the message. It's flat. It tasted fine, apparently. Fanny says to always remember that you can salvage any mistakes, but of course it is best to not make them in the first place. I take the instruction and leave mine. It's not flat. Fanny demands that it is served with fresh raspberries and raspberries sieved to make a juice. She tells us that no-one will complain if a little gently whipped double cream is also added. So I do. No-one complained. This pudding shares nothing with my memories of semolina, and is indeed delicious. Every day is a school day with Fanny.

Fanny Cradock Semolina Pudding

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

Tak Gud för Rødgrød

When I was growing up, the only mention of any food which was remotely Scandinavian came via the Swedish Chef on the Muppets, and I couldn't exactly follow what he was on about. Could anyone? Fanny Cradock was on it though, travelling to Scandi countries since the 1950s and bringing back the essential recipes she found to inspire us. No hurdy-gurdy. Even she struggled with the linguistics though, so the Muppet-gibberish would not have helped. Thankfully, she tells us, nearly everyone in Denmark speaks a little English.

Fanny Cradock Redcurrant Rødgrød

Fanny always found the Danes courteous, immensely friendly, sun-loving and somewhat, erm, gay. She found the country intensely clean, kitchens, for example, were spotless, which had the added bonus for travellers wearing white clothes. They could be worn again the next day, and sometimes even for a third. Even mens cuffs stayed grime free. She noted that Danish people were very colour-conscious, using it with boldness and imagination. So when it came to anything from home décor to food garnish, life was a brisk little harlequinade. It's the home of Hans Christian Andersen after all, so we shouldn't be surprised.

Fanny Cradock Redcurrant Rødgrød

Fanny says you simply must eat Danish food. Done correctly, it is most definitely not a punishment. Oh, unless you sample their soi-disant 'French Cuisine', which is terrible. She says it is just about as French as the spelling on her own French menus (at last, she admits it!) and far more expensive than good Danish dishes. Eating the Danish way means enjoying a large luncheon, and for women especially, plenty of cake washed down with copious amounts of coffee and gossip, all enjoyed with a cigar. Sounds perfect!

Fanny Cradock Redcurrant Rødgrød

Fanny brings us her very favourite Rødgrød, or Scandinavian Red Currant and Raspberry Pudding, back from Denmark this time. I love red currants. I love black ones and white too, just to be clear. It's just not quite the season for them. Thankfully I found some frozen in the supermarket, unfortunately mixed with blackberries and blackcurrants. I say unfortunately as I had to spend more time than I cared to separating them for this recipe. Fanny 'emulsifies' them together, I mush them through a sieve, add the pulp back in and give them a good mix. I'm sure that's what she means.

Fanny Cradock Redcurrant Rødgrød

To make the Rødgrød pudding, Fanny covers the bottom of a saucepan with water, brings it to a boil and flings in the emulsified mushed fruit, stirring until it bubbles. She then sweetens it to taste. To transform the mush to miracle, she mixes some potato flour with a little water and shoots it in, stirring well. The fruit mush immediately becomes a glossy, thick. jam-like jelly, glistening in the pan. It must be transferred to a glass serving dish without haste, and chilled before enjoying. Fanny recommends pouring it over a silver spoon to avoid any cracking, and serving with the more affordable whipping cream instead of the expensive double stuff. Take a seat, get your gossip straight and gibbersih-free and pull out your cigars... It's a glorious pud.

Fanny Cradock Redcurrant Rødgrød