Monday, 21 October 2019

Keep Calm and Fanny On!

I chose the name of this blog mainly because it made me smile. I hoped it would make others smile too. It still makes me smile, all these years later. I had no real idea way back then that it would come to symbolise Fanny Cradock's life just so much. She really did keep calm, and Fanny on. She never looked back. She always pushed forward. She kept going. She forged many, many careers. She (mostly) succeeded in all of them. I wonder what the heck she would've thought about little old me writing a book about big old her...?

Fanny Cradock Biography

Fanny died twenty-five years ago. Even today though, mention the name ‘Fanny Cradock’ to anyone, young or old, and they tend to simply snigger, make an innuendo-heavy reference to doughnuts or squirm at the thought of long-forgotten meals disguised under layer-upon-layer of ever-increasingly bizarre food-colourings and flourishes of garnish. She is, at least, remembered. She was hard to forget.

Fanny Cradock Biography

Her legacy collapsed faster than you could say ‘freshly baked soufflé’ when she died. It became popular to talk her down; laughing at her appearance captured as if in aspic on YouTube, discussing the ‘shocking’ way she treated her assistants and husband-come-sidekick, Johnnie, repeating rumours that she ‘couldn’t cook anyway’, was rude to everyone she ever met and spent her days swanning around her kitchen in elaborate ball-gowns barking orders as she went… However, there is much more to Fanny Cradock than even the most elaborately pencilled-in eyebrow might suggest. The ‘real’ story is just as weird, wonderful and wacky as the myths that persist…

Fanny Cradock Biography

Fanny Cradock had many careers; she was the mistress of reinvention before Madonna had even considered it. She was an entrepreneur, business-woman, activist, journalist, food critic, travel guru, food demonstrator, fiction writer, children’s author, cookbook creator, media personality and, as she is most remembered, a television cook - the first ‘celebrity chef’. Fanny deliberately created the over-the-top persona which catapulted her into the living rooms of millions of British viewers in the 1950s, riding high as the ‘television celebrity chef’ until the 1970s, enabling her to remain in the hearts and minds of the public to this day.

Fanny Cradock Biography

For Keep Calm and Fanny On! – The Many Careers of Fanny Cradock I have taken (hopefully) an amusing, entertaining and lively look at her life and work. I've been locked in her own archives, those of the BBC and others, through speaking to those who knew her best – friends, family, assistants, colleagues, and those fortunate enough to experience her charisma, uniqueness, nerve and talent over the decades.

Fanny Cradock Biography

With a Foreword from Nicholas Parsons and contributions from Dame Esther Rantzen, Gyles Brandreth, Sir David Attenborough, Nick Owen, Prue Leith, Diana Henry and Evangeline Evans, Keep Calm and Fanny On – The Many Careers of Fanny Cradock re-draws, re-evaluates and re-tells the remarkable story of Fanny Cradock.

Fanny Cradock Biography

I do hope it might make you smile.

My Book is available to buy direct from the Publisher, on Amazon, from Waterstones, WHSmith, Foyles and, as they say, all good bookshops. I'm sure even the bad ones will be able to order you a copy...

Thursday, 3 October 2019

Murder, She Didn't Write...

Fanny loved a good murder. Not that I am suggesting she had been in any way involved in one, you understand. No, she loved the intrigue, the mystery and most of all she loved to be able to solve it all and take the glory. She just wasn't always very good at it. She let small things, such as the lack of evidence, and, well, you know trivial things like the truth get in the way. For Fanny, the story always came first, and then any authentic (or otherwise) affirmation could be made to fit. What she really needed was someone renowned for solving murder cases on her side. An assistant if you like. Someone like, erm, Jessica Fletcher would have been ideal. A crack team.

Fanny Cradock Muder She Wrote Cookalong

Fanny was convinced that her Victorian gastronomic idol, Mrs Agnes Marshall, had been murdered, possibly by her husband, possibly by someone trying to erase her memory in favour of Mrs Beeton (who Fanny despised and discredited throughout her career), deliberately suppressing her lucrative business and good name 'at the height of her fame'. Her actual cause of death had been carcinoma, which Fanny believed was indistinguishable from good old-fashioned arsenic poisoning. We don't need to ask how she knew this. She had clearly researched this part of the story well...

Fanny Cradock Muder She Wrote Cookalong

Fanny planned to write a book about Mrs Marshall and her demise, reintroducing the world once again to her recipes. She tried to get hold of the archives to allow her to investigate further, but they remained mysteriously out of her reach. Or perhaps didn't match her theory. She really needed Jessica to step in. Jessica stumbled across a Murder wherever she went. Jessica never, ever, found herself unable to solve a murder. A rogue clue. A flash of an eye. A misplaced fragrance... Whatever it was, Jessica always uncovered the truth, confronted the murderer and somehow managed to get them to confess (with only a minute or two to spare before the episode ended) everything without much of a fuss. Fanny needed Jessica.

Fanny Cradock Muder She Wrote Cookalong

Sadly, the two never came together, but can you imagine what a killer episode that would've been? Perhaps Fanny would not have taken kindly to being upstaged by dear Jessica however, and arranged for her to be 'disposed of' too... We can only guess. She surely, or at least 'allegedly', would have snuck some arsenic into a tempting dish. Jessica loved to eat. So much so that there is going to be a Murder She Wrote cookbook (squeal!) published soon, by the wonderful Jenny Hammerton, and this recipe is one which might just feature there. It's not a recipe by Fanny Cradock, but it is given a Fanny-meets-Jessica twist... It is part of a wonderful #MurderSheWroteCookalong

Fanny Cradock Muder She Wrote Cookalong

It's a cheesy ball. It came via an actress by the name of Jane Withers, which seems appropriate as this is exactly what would have happened if Fanny had looked at her. Jane appeared in Murder She Wrote, twice, but most notably in an episode called Who Killed Jessica Fletcher? where Jane pretends to be Jessica, and, well, ends up being murdered. Jane made these cheese balls by mixing together some soft American Kraft cheeses, which I have subbed for available and retro British ones. Jane mixes in chopped onions and Worchester sauce (I'm using the more veggie friendly Hendersons Relish) before rolling it all into a giant ball (not an entirely easy task) and covering it in chopped pecans, parsley, or both. I think Fanny would take complete credit for this, especially as Jane had well and truly withered already. She would definitely do 'both'. She would then convince Jessica to solve the mysterious case of Mrs Agnes Marshall before serving this at the celebratory buffet afterwards... Would Jessica dare to tuck in...?

Fanny Cradock Muder She Wrote Cookalong

Tuesday, 13 August 2019

Drumroll please... My 6th Fannyversary!

Fanny would be raging with me. She may ex-communicate me. This could be it. She'd be spinning in her grave, or whatever the equivalent might be for cremation... Birling under her bush? You thought she was furious when dear Sara tried to tidy away her spatula BEFORE she was finished with it. You've seen her face when the lovely Gwen Troake tried to serve her a humble Bramble. These incidents pale into the background like Johnnie at the very best cocktail party Fanny ever held. I. Forgot. My. Fannyversary.

Fanny Cradock Drum Cake

Yes, can you believe it? Six years have passed since I began this blog, one sunny day late in June. Six years! I have lasted longer than any of Fanny's assistants, and up until now I think she has been pleased with my progress. I have tackled task after task with gusto. I have prepared dish after dish with a smile on my face. I have eaten colour after colour without fear. All the while, with Fanny at my side, I have learnt the Cradock way. As it should be...

Fanny Cradock Drum Cake

However, the Cradock way is not to miss a milestone. The Cradock way is not to let things slip. The Cradock way is not to miss an opportunity to celebrate all things Fanny. I am sorry. So sorry. Sorry to Fanny. More sorry than Sara ever was. More shamefaced than Gwen appeared to be. More apologetic than Johnnie had to be day in and day out. Sorry enough to bake a cake to somehow make up for it. A belated celebration. Will Fanny ever forgive me?

Fanny Cradock Drum Cake

This cake was among the first that Fanny insisted I make with her. One of the first rungs on her culinary ladder. I hope it appeases her, a little. Her famous Cherry Cake, with fruit that never sinks, except they do, sometimes. Fanny has a natty suggestion for decoration too. Not known for keeping quiet, never one to pipe down, barely able to be ignored, Fanny in cake form may be a loud, banging, colourful drum. Wouldn't she?

Fanny Cradock Drum Cake

The past six years have been a hoot. Fanny has taught me so much. I have learnt so much about Fanny too. 2019 is quite a momentous year for Fanny. Or it would have been. Fanny would have been celebrating her 110th birthday, had she still been around. Quite a thought. Fanny died 25 years ago. Part of my reason for blogging is to keep her alive in some small way, fighting for Fanny to be fixed in our minds for years to come. She may just forgive me yet... For I have some super exciting celebrations planned as the year draws to a hold, which will hopefully let the celebration of Fanny continue apace. That's the real reason I 'forgot', I've been busy in the background. Watch this space, as they say...

Fanny Cradock Drum Cake

Tuesday, 26 February 2019

Joyeux Anniversaire Fanny Cradock

Today would have been a very special day for Fanny Cradock. I do find it a little odd to celebrate 'special days' when someone is no longer around, but hey, this is Fanny Cradock we are talking about. If she were still with us today, Fanny Cradock would have been celebrating her birthday. A Big Birthday. She would have been a staggering one hundred and ten. Quite what she would be doing is anyone's guess. One of the many things about Fanny, you could never predict what she'd get up to, what mischief she might be behind, or indeed what she would be saying. No-one ever could. Thankfully.

Fanny Cradock Happy Birthday

One thing that could be predicted, year on year, at least while Johnnie was alive, was that he would make an incredible fuss of her on her significantly special day. Legend has it that every year on her birthday he would send her a very formal invite to a very special, secret event to mark her very momentous day - another year with Fanny in the world! All would be revealed 'at appropriate times'. I think to think of Fanny being blindfolded and led to the nearest airport on her way to some exotic, mystery location by a rather giggly, excitable Johnnie. She was a terrible driver, by all accounts (and police reports) so there would be no danger of her driving herself, Bird Box-style. That would be too scary.

Fanny Cradock Happy Birthday

For a more low-key celebration, in keeping with the occasion, Fanny is showing us how to make a very simple version of her very favourite luxurious pudding. The Crème Marie Louise, or the Empress Marie Louise Pudding if French is simply too much to handle. Fanny usually makes it with a collar of set chocolate surrounding a large dessert. Dare I say, like a mahoosive chocolate trifle, although Fanny would simply never describe it as such. She made it at the Royal Albert Hall for an audience of 6750 people. For this, oh-so-simple version, no chocolate collar is required and the ingredients needn't stretch to feed thousands.

Fanny Cradock Happy Birthday

Fanny, without any elaboration, takes eggs yolks and double cream, plonks them in a roomy bowl and sets them ready to whisk. She recommends getting someone to help here, it really is a two-man job. My assistant today is my trusty KitchenAid mixer, my modern-day extra pair of hands! Fanny then softens some perfectly ordinary chocolate chips over a simmering double-boiler. When soft, she beats them vigorously until they are cool and thick. Then, with the yolks and cream whipping away (or being whisked for you), Fanny suggests we simply 'dump' the melted, whipped chocolate in and continue to whisk. Do try NOT to dump it down the side of the mixer...

Fanny Cradock Happy Birthday

As we might expect, Fanny is not finished here. No Fanny Cradock pudding would be complete with a final flourish. A splash of rum. Some Orange Flower Water. Then Rose Water. All whacked together, served on top of a little piece of sponge cake, with a little chocolate leaf or two, and just because it's her birthday, some glacé cherries. It tastes (if you care to dip a perfectly clean finger into the bowl and try it... Shhh... I won't tell Fanny) like a deluxe, boozy Turkish Delight. Simply keep it cool in ordinary domestic refrigeration until the plane lands, bringing Fanny and Johnnie home from their magical mystery tour and the real celebration can begin. Happy Birthday Fanny Cradock.

Fanny Cradock Happy Birthday

Thursday, 14 February 2019

Fancy a Banquette?

Fanny Cradock is in the mood for a spot of remodelling. In the kitchen that is, where else? And there is simply no-one that she would trust with the job apart from her good self, and Johnnie, to a lesser extent. She would especially not trust an architect or designer, who very probably cannot even fry an egg, to possibly know what is in her mind. How would they understand what she wanted from a kitchen? It's not like she could tell them or anything... Oh...

Fanny Cradock Kitchen Planning

Fanny feels that her thoughts, working patterns and culinary life are simply beyond the comprehension of mere designers. Having worked 'alongside' Fanny for all these years, I may be inclined to agree. Fanny's pet peeve are kitchens with work surfaces which face the wall. They mean that lighting is inevitably poor, and to cook is wearisome - relying on our experience and 'Housewives Braille'. Presumably housewives would be unable to read the partwork with ease as they prepare dish after dish. That will never do. And don't even think about getting Fanny started on cluttered-up cupboards...

Fanny Cradock Kitchen Planning

Fannys aim is to ensure that the kitchen is the absolute hub of the home - after all we all spend so much time in there. It should be a place that visitors realise is not simply the room from where 'the grub' comes, or indeed the room where family or friends are inevitably drawn. Fanny thinks her job, in her kitchen, is to keep people out of it, not woo them in. Of course, this may be to avoid the social embarrassment of visitors realising that there are a small army of cheery weary assistants busy preparing all the food that Fanny passes of as her own...

Fanny Cradock Kitchen Planning

Fanny knows that readers must work within the limits of their incomes, and could not possibly hope to have a kitchen just like her own. However she feels by showing you a DREAM kitchen (as hers is, without question) she can inspire readers to achieve similar things in the much 'smaller units' that they no doubt have. I mean, who needs FOUR cookers like Fanny? Fanny knows that we are all 'suckers' who would like to submit ourselves to collecting useless exhibition type gadgets. They are a menace, and should be scrapped from any kitchen if not used once in any given calendar year. The exception are items purchased directly from Fanny herself, available at a very reasonable cost to readers of the partwork, to help them in their hour of need to set up a DREAM kitchen like Fannys. Also, never (unless you are Fanny) install a seventeenth century knife grinder in your kitchen merely for decoration. A menace.

Fanny Cradock Kitchen Planning

Fanny provides drawings and plans for an ideal kitchen - in no way 'architect-like' or as if she were herself, or had consulted, a designer. No. Fanny provides inspiration through little touches and flourishes that Johnnie has made himself. Once all the work is done though, you will need an area, should you be fortunate enough to have space, to settle down and enjoy a well-deserved coffee. The must-have for a dreamy DREAM kitchen is naturally a banquette area, complete with 'copper effect' curtains and psychedelic hallucinogenic-inducing accessories. Look how pleased Fanny is with the final results. You too could be like Fanny. Just on a more moderate budget in line with your own income, naturally.

Fanny Cradock Kitchen Planning

Thursday, 10 January 2019

Curl Up and Dye

Some retro touches from the past remain exclusively in the olden days. They never get revived. There's no rhyme nor reason for it, just overlooked I suppose. Or forgotten. Perhaps the skills have left us. Perhaps the will has gone. Perhaps the tools were gifted to the local charity shop in haste. Fanny's personal favourite retro touch is of course the garnish, exclusively for presentation. It's the ultimate. So much so that she often sets 'the young ones' to learn the techniques with tables full of basic ingredients to be embellished with the very simplest of tools. If one of the tools missing from your own kitchen drawer is the humble butter curler, you'd best make a dash to that charity shop and retrieve it immediately...

Fanny Cradock Buttercream Cake

I can't remember the last time I saw curled butter. Fortunately for me, I happen to have a butter curler to hand, from a failed attempt to recreate Fanny's gloriously green Brandy Butter 'tree' for Christmas. I clearly need additional practice. I'm sure Fanny would sit me down at the table and set me to work on an endless mountain of butter crying out to be curled and loved if she could. Fanny being Fanny doesn't settle JUST for curled butter of course. Why would you when you could have curled BUTTERCREAM to lift your cake from the ordinary to the extraordinary in a few gentle strokes?

Fanny Cradock Buttercream Cake

Fanny says to make a standard batch of her basic buttercream. Version 1. Naturally, she has several variations. Version 1 is butter whipped up all softly and creamily, with twice the amount of icing sugar blended in. Normally she adds an egg yolk too, for good measure and perhaps for a touch of colour. Normally I would add one too. Normally however I would take extra care NOT to drop the yolk, which I had just rescued from the white, down the kitchen sink... Normally it wouldn't be the last egg in my house. Normally I would worry endlessly about this, but nothing about this venture is normal anyway. As is normal with Fanny, icing and cakes, a massive burst of colour is involved anyway...

Fanny Cradock Buttercream Cake

Fanny splits her buttercream into two and colours each a tasteful shade. Fanny has taught me to go one better in every walk of life, so three colours for me! Once tinted, the buttercream needs to be shaped into, err, well butter shapes and popped back in the fridge to harden up. This is not normal for buttercream. Fanny explains that this is an invention of a nameless Farmer's Wife from the nineteenth century. She made her own butter, and enjoyed shaping it using her butter curlers. She apparently also liked to colour it up and set it on top of her cakes. She didn't have a fridge naturally, but did have a stone slab in the dairy to keep her handiwork cool... Hmmm, I wonder if Fanny is simply just making this story fit her own fiendish plans. Either way, we must salute the anonymously curly Farmer's Wife for her buttery endeavours.

Fanny Cradock Buttercream Cake

The Farmer's Wife uses her butter curler to scrape curls of buttercream which she then arranges on top of a freshly baked cake in an amusing pattern. Fanny did the same in her honour. I did too, although I used one of the many White Christmas Cakes I made before the festive season using Fanny's fabulous formula. The colourful insides now matches the colourful garnish. The cake has a kind of crocheted feel to it, reminiscent of a tea-cosy. I clearly need more practice with the curler. Surely, however, Fanny would be pleased? Perhaps not. One type of garnish Fanny does NOT subscribe to is that used by Italian pastry cooks. She seems to take issue with all things Italian. For Fanny, nothing is more 'potent for putting you off' your food that all the colours being too bright, especially when they are 'swirled and curled up together'. Make your mind up Fanny. Bright orange, green (luckily I would never use green for icing, always blue) and, god forbid, another colour, makes for a 'horrifying, brash appearance' which is off-putting in the extreme. I feel well and truly 'told off'. Excuse me while I slink off to the corner, curl up and hide... I'm taking a massive slice of cake with me though. Welcome to the New Year...

Fanny Cradock Buttercream Cake

Thursday, 18 October 2018

Bonkers Conkers

This time of year always makes me think of conkers. I long to spend days throwing sticks up into the tall trees in the hope that a spiny capsule will come tumbling down, soon to be prised open to reveal a mahogany prize. Dried out for a while, never soaked in vinegar nor baked in the oven (cheating was not on my agenda, even as a child), nailed through the centre and strung on a long piece of twine. Ready for battle. I wasn't a violent child, or particularly competitive. However, I had to be conker champion.

Fanny Cradock Chestnut Meringue

Fanny seems to have indulged in the same pastime as myself. Skipping through her garden, collecting chestnuts in a wicker basket. Wearing gingham ribbons. Singing a happy tune. No doubt. Or, more likely, sending someone out in the howling rain to scarper round furiously shoving the fallen jewels into their pockets while she barks at them from the kitchen door. Either way, she ended up with quite a collection of chestnuts that would not be strung nor whacked to pieces in the name of a playground game.

Fanny Cradock Chestnut Meringue

Fanny's prized nuts were far too delicious to be wasted on leisure pursuits. She plunged them into slightly smoking hot oil in the deep fat fryer, causing the oil to seethe up madly. Just as she herself did when the garden haul was less than bountiful. Fanny's chestnuts split not with heavy strikes, but with the heat and tension. Once things have cooled down a little, they are shelled and skinned, boiled and drained, wiped and rubbed, through a sieve. Perhaps Fanny would be seething at me, as I bought some ready cooked and vacuum packed. And a food processor.

Fanny Cradock Chestnut Meringue

Fanny has a grand plan for these little wonders. Mont Blanc, or Chestnut and Meringue Cream. She whips up an Italian Meringue, whipping egg whites with hot sugar syrup to cook them. She blows the syrup through  slotted spoon until bubbles appear to know that it is hot enough. I've never been to Mont Blanc (although I have seen it from the skies as we flew over) so have no real concept of what it looks like but Fanny suggests colouring the meringue before piping it, so who am I to disagree? Ignoring the name as the major clue, I wade in with a delightful shade of teal. She builds a meringue case with elaborate pipes and borders. It feels perhaps more like '70s Toilet-Roll Holder Lady' than 'Highest Peak in the Alps', but I'd never tell her.

Fanny Cradock Chestnut Meringue

Fanny adds a splash of sherry, some vanilla, icing sugar and whipped double cream to the whizzed up chestnuts to make a very Christmassy (too early?) tasting paste. Fanny then pipes it using a 'writing pipe' nozzle into a mound of squiggles over and up on the inside of the meringue case. Squiggles. Squiggles? This must be what the Great White Mountain looks like up close. Only one thing left to do. Just like my younger days. Decide on tactics. Take aim. Smash the chestnut mound swiftly, cracking the meringue and, in a departure from the playground pranks, shovel into your mouth as quickly as possible. Conker Champion once again.

Fanny Cradock Chestnut Meringue