Monday, 16 July 2018

What's The Name of The Game?

The thought of Fanny Cradock with a shotgun in her hand terrifies me beyond belief. I think we should all be terrified. She's out and about looking for the 'crowning glory' of English cookery. Game birds. On top of t all, she's not happy. She has become 'astigmatised' looking for a poulterer to cater to her needs, but alas her beloved birds have dwindled from her failing sight. Any remaining ptarmigan, capercailzie (as she calls them), woodcock or snipe should be especially terrified. Those are her favourites. You can almost hear the blood dripping and smell the smoke from the cartridge shot as she proclaims that they 'make wonderful eating'. Terrifying.

Fanny Cradock Cooking with Game

The thought of Fanny Cradock with a dead carcass in her kitchen terrifies me beyond belief. As Fanny licks her lips, she wonders if Scottish folks might still be able to get their hands round a neck of a capercailzie, but she doubts it. Fanny reminisces about the 'snipe of her childhood' which she has scarcely seen since. They are the hardest birds of all to shoot on the wing as they have a curious zig-zag flight. You believe she is talking from experience. You believe that the barrel of the shotgun is still warm. Well before the Spice Girls, you believe she did her own zig-a-zig-ah and blew the blighters out of mid-air anyway. They eat terrifyingly beautifully.

Fanny Cradock Cooking with Game

The thought of Fanny Cradock inventing the 'overhead' instagram-ready flat-lay shot terrifies me beyond belief. Fanny has her perfect meal-based social media snaps all planned out. It may be a Moroccan Couscous eaten in a tent in the Sahara Desert at 110°F, of course sitting in the shade. It may be a Provençal Octopus Stew. Fanny has fished the baby octopus herself from the 'wavelets on the sands' on a moonlight night. Her terrifying hands gripped tightly on the poor little babies. It may be a roast partridge, with trimmings, followed by English Stilton, brandy and a cigar. Yes, Fanny smokes cigars. Johnnie approves very much. He is no doubt too terrified to say otherwise.

Fanny Cradock Cooking with Game

The thought of Fanny Cradock with the garden secateurs in her hands terrifies me beyond belief. They are well sterilised, of course, and always close to hand. But still. Terrifying. Fanny does not like the shape of modern game scissors. She also does not like the modern service of woodcock. Her preference is to travel to Denmark, perhaps with her secateurs still close to hand, for service in the classic manner. The Danes have the decency to leave the heads on, you see. The Danes then split the skull open to expose the brain. The Danes then pick the brains out. The Danes think the brains are a delicacy. The Danes are just as terrifying as Fanny.

Fanny Cradock Cooking with Game

The thought of Fanny Cradock with a pigeon in her hand terrifies me beyond belief. They can be eaten all year round, and require no hanging. Strangely, they are rarely seen flying anywhere near Fanny's house. Served best with their breasts ripped from the body and covered in puff pastry. We all love a puffed up breast. Fanny suggests, with one final terrifyingly loud cackle, that if you really want to show off, serve them resplendent with feathered wings. If you weren't terrified before, you will be now.

Fanny Cradock Cooking with Game

Friday, 6 July 2018

Yon Olden Pond

We don't know all that much about Fanny Cradock's Mum. We know she was an actress. We know her name. Bijou. It may be that she chose that name however. Fanny told us she believed in Fairies. She played a good game of golf, and once almost qualified for Wimbledon. She danced like thistledown, whatever that was like. She drove a car wildly, but brilliantly. She would only play cards with men, as 'women cheat'. She seemed to know, as Fanny told us she kept 'all her lovers' until the day of her death.

Fanny Cradock Fruit Salad

Thanks to the part-work, however, we know that she was a 'gorgeous cook', although at times Fanny describes her cooking as 'erratic', with things never tasting the same twice. As ever with Fanny, the truth is often hidden behind a good story. We know what Bijou didn't like. Fanny tells us. She passionately disliked anything in the shape of a pond. We don't know how she felt about actual ponds. Just things that appeared like ponds. Shaped like ponds. Based on ponds. Ponds were out as far as Fanny's Mum was concerned.

Fanny Cradock Fruit Salad

So, Fanny tells us, Bijou invented a method (Fanny refuses to call it a recipe) for Fruit Salad which ensured that it could in no way be mistaken for a pond. For they often do, don't they? When I think 'Fruit Salad' I immediately think 'pond'. Don't you? I actually immediately think of a tin of soft pieces of fruit, with one bright pink cherry half and one slightly wrinkly grape. Bijou detested little bits of fruit floating in a vast pond or even a puddle of weak fruit juice, water and sugar which is barely fit for human consumption. No ponds. No puddles. We can only assume lakes were out too.

Fanny Cradock Fruit Salad

Bijou's famous invention involved slicing up the fruits - seasonal is best, whatever is to hand - and layering them in a tall, glass vase with little sprinklings of icing sugar between each section. Perhaps even a drop or two of liqueur, if it is liked. Bijou liked. Lemon juice is also required for apples and pears (and bananas if used) to prevent discolouring. The vase is then left in ordinary domestic refrigeration overnight where the fruit will 'make it's own juice' which will in no way resemble pond water. Never.

Fanny Cradock Fruit Salad

To make absolutely sure that your Fruit Salad looks nothing like a pond, it must be served in a pumpkin. Hollowed out of course. The discarded flesh can be cooked separately, but Fanny warns that pumpkin is an acquired taste - like custard-apples, mangoes, sweet potatoes, lychees, sweetcorn and heaven forbid, avocados - so proceed with caution. Unless you're a millennial. Fanny does give a recipe for Pumpkin Soup in a bid to 'turn' all the 'haters'. She is confident, however, that her mothers Fruit Salad will not be hated by anyone, especially those with an aversion to ponds. Or cheating women.

Fanny Cradock Fruit Salad

Friday, 22 June 2018

Cinq or Swim - My 5th Fannyversary

Can you remember what the heck you were doing on this day five long, weary years ago? Sometimes I can barely remember what I was doing five minutes before, but that date in 2013 is etched into my memory. It had been a long time coming, well at least the thought had. I'd become a *little bit* obsessed with Fanny Cradock, especially the Cradock Cookery Programme part-work. I wanted to celebrate it, and her. somehow. I started this blog, hoping that she would be able to teach me some of her tricks. So, five years ago today, I quickly wrote the first post and hit 'publish' before I could think about it too much. So, in the five years since, what exactly has dear old Fanny taught me?

Fanny Cradock Grape Jelly

Number One - Fanny is always right. Never argue with her. Never veer from her instructions. Never query her methods. Never skip an ingredient (well, ok, I skipped all the meat, but you know what I mean). Never wonder why. No need to, Fanny is always right. I've published 277 posts in those five years. The recipes have always worked. The results have always been good, if a little surprising. The smile on my face has always been wide. Fanny has always been right. Always.

Fanny Cradock Grape Jelly

Number Two - above all, garnish and presentation. Fanny made this her mantra for the part-work. Recipes are one thing. Good ingredients are another. Technique is essential. It's all well and good making a sensational dish that you know people will enjoy, but if it doesn't also look spectacular then no-one will remember it. No-one will talk about it. No-one will rave about you. No-one will say Fanny was right. And she is always right. Garnish and presentation are key. And if that's retro-tastically over the top, more the better. Don't you agree?

Fanny Cradock Grape Jelly

Number Three - believe in yourself. Fanny did, extraordinarily so. She created herself to be the most fabulous Bon Viveur, the most celebrated television cook, the most widely published person across different genres. She's taught me to 'go for it'. Write lots, tell people about everything Fanny related. I've written this blog every week for five years. I've written articles, papers and presentations about Fanny. I've written my Masters dissertation about her, and will soon include her in my PhD. I'm writing a book. She'd be delighted (I hope). So am I. I love writing and I love spreading the word about Fanny, just as she always did. I hope you are enjoying reading it.

Fanny Cradock Grape Jelly

Number Four - if in any doubt about anything, think What Would Fanny Do (#WWFD)? It will be the best option, hands down. No contest. Remember, she is always right! She has never let me down. Not once. Number Five - if life gives you grapes and wine, squidge them up, make a jelly. Save some for the garnish and presentation. Add food colouring. Present it in a way that only Fanny could. Write about it, let the world know all about Fanny. She did. So do I. And I will, for years to come. I hope you'll still be joining me, and Fanny, for my next Fannyversary. And the next... and next... I *thought* I was obsessed five years ago. Little did I know. Oh dear...

Fanny Cradock Grape Jelly

Sunday, 17 June 2018

She's Crazy Like A Fool, What About It Daddy Cool?

Fathers Day is not one that everyone cherishes, it can be a harsh reminder of loss for some, while others celebrate. Fanny's Father died in 1961, just as her career was well and truly taking off. He lived long enough to see her become a success, following in his footsteps with a variety of careers, an array of publications and a diversity of nom de plumes. Born as Archibald Thomas Pechey in deepest Essex, it didn't take long for him to invent new names and personas to hide behind, or perhaps just to remain hidden.

Fanny Cradock Father

His chequered story is often hard to unravel. Like a mirror to her own life, truthful details are a nuisance, especially when they get in the way of a better, more fanciful story. Archibald was a storyteller. According to Fanny he wrote over eighty novels, publishing the eightieth on his eightieth birthday. Fanny baked a cake to celebrate, with eighty candles. She threw him a wild party, stretching out until three or four in the morning. Perhaps there were eighty guests.

Fanny Cradock Father

Fanny referred to him as 'our Father who art in Shepton Mallet' as he preferred to live alone in later life, in peace and quiet. Archibald published under the pseudonym Valentine. A swish of camp-ness which Fanny would no doubt have appreciated, but also borrowed almost from his real-life ancestors, the Vallentins, who were distillers in London. Fanny claimed that her Father was no gastronome however, and ate whatever was put in front of him. Worse still, he knew nothing of wine. He rarely drank. He probably had no time, given he had to deal with Fanny, her Mother and juggle writing at least three books a year. And plays. And songs. He was quite a hit.

Fanny Cradock Father

Valentine himself also had a pseudonym. The rather more dowdy sounding Mark Cross was the name which adorned the jackets of his thriller series. Valentine had penned the successful play Tons of Money, which made him just that. However, the combination of a wife who liked to spend faster than he could earn, and a penchant for gambling put a strain on finances. Fanny wrote that gambling gave him his worst moments. Moving round the country to avoid debts and debtors ended with Archibald/Valentine in the bankruptcy courts. Mark Cross was created as a way out, to continue to write, and earn, to be known and to keep busy. The word 'prolific' seems to have been invented for him, before being passed on to Fanny.

Fanny Cradock Father

Fanny went on to publish more books than her Father. She too wrote plays and novels, adding children's books, newspaper columns, magazine features and of course cookbooks to her repertoire. She worked under so many names, at times for fun, at times for financial reasons, at times I would imagine just to cope with the huge volume of work that just kept pouring from her typewriter. Dear Daddy set the blueprint, in name(s) and in spirit too. I wonder if his distilling family are still producing today? I'd raise a glass to him, and to all Fathers.

Fanny Cradock Father

Thursday, 7 June 2018

Stiff Supper Flip

From time to time, despite our best efforts, or perhaps as a result of them, the cupboard is well and truly bare. Maybe we've forgotten to go shopping or perhaps we've simply eaten everything in blooming sight. Either way we all know the dreadful feeling of peering into the kitchen and discovering... Nothing. We look again. Open every door. Check the fridge. The cupboards again. There must be something. Panic! Then, out of the corner of one eye, you spot it...

Fanny Cradock Soufflé Omelette

An egg. Perhaps we'd not all immediately be jumping for joy, secure in the knowledge that we'll be eating well after all. It's just an egg. Not a meal. Nothing to feel excited about. Fanny thinks differently. She always does. We know this by now. She's determined to encourage us to crack open that solitary egg, grab our griddle pans and give out a celebratory whoop as we whip up a hunger-busting meal. Yahoo!

Fanny Cradock Soufflé Omelette

Well, kind of. We know that Fanny is a little bit obsessed with one particular type of egg-based meal. She loves them in all forms. Savoury. Sweet. Substantial. Small. She'll have them all. However you'd be forgiven for imagining that Fanny had well and truly flipped (some might say, finally) were she to suggest that one little egg, all on it's own, could be remodelled into Fanny's favourite. An Omelette. Not any old ordinary omelette though. C'mon, that just wouldn't be Fanny, now would it?

Fanny Cradock Soufflé Omelette

When times are tough, Fanny's Griddle Soufflé Omelette comes to the rescue. The griddle, you see, cuts down on one ingredient which Fanny herself would normally add to a Soufflé Omelette cooked in any other way. This is amazing. Fewer ingredients all round. The redundant element is simply, erm, water. For griddles, the egg is simply separated. The white is beaten to an absolute maximum stiffness. No semi-stiffness welcome. Maximum stiffness. The yolk is beaten lightly with a fork and turned gently into the whites until they are creamily blended. If you have a knob of cheese, add it. Salt and pepper are essential.

Fanny Cradock Soufflé Omelette

The ingredient list is zooming up, but we will forgive Fanny. I cannot however forgive her for rubbing a piece of pork fat on a dry heated griddle. I spray a little oil before following Fanny's instruction to 'dump' the 'foamy mixture' onto it over a low heat. Working quickly, Fanny says we must shape it using spatulas and knives, one in each hand, into an oval. Turning with the spatula when brown on one side, tidying up any rough edges with the knife. There you have it. A light, fluffy, foamy, stiffly-beaten Griddle Soufflé Omelette made with one lonely, neglected and resurrected egg. It's dead nice, but what can I eat now...? *stares into kitchen*

Fanny Cradock Soufflé Omelette

Tuesday, 22 May 2018

Viennese Dreams - This Means Nothing To Me

Aspiration. That was what Fanny Cradock was all about. Every television appearance. Every recipe in the booklets. Every magazine interview she gave. Aspiration. She understood that food could be the key to unlocking the otherwise hard-to-climb social ladder. She made everyone feel that by introducing new ideas, combinations and recipes to their otherwise ordinary everyday lives they had some hope of escaping. Changing. Dreaming. Yearning for something that had once seemed completely out of reach.

Fanny Cradock Austrian Puffs

Pancakes may not immediately spring to mind as the saviour of society, but Fanny had a plan. Her trick was always to take very ordinary ingredients and make them extra-ordinary. Today, television cooks often rely on exotic, new or as-yet undiscovered ingredients. Fanny had eggs and flour. Everyone made pancakes. Hardly anything to shout about, never mind to give you a leg up the ladder of success. Imagine though if you made Austrian pancakes at home. Everyone would be envious. Imagine if they were really more like a cross between crumpets and pancakes. Everyone would be envious. Imagine if they were to be described as 'souffléd'. Everyone would be envious. Stretch your imagination even further and don't even call them pancakes. They are 'puffs'. Everyone would be envious of your Austrian Soufflé Puffs, wouldn't they?

Fanny Cradock Austrian Puffs

Fanny thought so. She thought transforming two humble eggs, one ounce of flour and one fluid ounce of water would induce a hankering for Vienna at home. She whisked up the egg yolks until they were list and fluffy. She probably got someone else to do this for her, by hand. However I have a passion for my modern mixer at times like these. Next, the flour is whisked in until smooth, followed by the water. In a separate bowl (thank heavens I have two, don't we all?) the whites are beaten until very stiff, before the yolk mixture is gently folded in. The resulting puffy clouds would be happy floating over any well respected opera house.

Fanny Cradock Austrian Puffs

To elevate them into Austrian Soufflé Puffs however, local chefs are trained to make tricky architectural, cylindrical cuffs from greased parchment paper. Fanny has another idea. Why not make good use of those otherwise discarded tins that we all have filled with Mandarin Oranges that we all enjoy so much. They are the perfect size, and once cleaned and carefully opened and trimmed at both ends are ideal for our Austrian Puffs. Simply brush them lovingly with oil, place on a hot griddle pan ready to dollop your soufflé in. Maybe save a Mandarin segment or two for garnish.

Fanny Cradock Austrian Puffs

Fanny includes an elaborate pic-strip where Dianne, just 19 and apparently never before tackled these wonders, makes Salzburger Nockerln on a griddle with ease. In the excitement, neither say how long to cook them for, or how to know when they are ready. We are instructed to turn the tins over, with a carefully placed cloth to avoid scalded hands, 'half way through', whenever that might be. Dianne gently eases the Puffs out of the tins and simply dusts them lightly with icing sugar. Perhaps she'd already eaten the Mandarin Oranges. Perhaps she'd suddenly been lifted out of the drudgery of Fanny's kitchen and climbed her own ladder to a more successful life elsewhere. We shall never know. The pancakes, erm crumpets, erm Austrian Soufflé Puffs are light, fluffy and elevated well above the ordinary in any case.

Fanny Cradock Austrian Puffs

Monday, 30 April 2018

Stop Messin' About!

I was so very fortunate to be invited to the launch party for the new book, The Kenneth Williams Companion, written by my lovely friend Adam Endacott. The launch was held at the iconic Elstree Studios - the room was filled wall-to-wall with celebrity friends, colleagues and fans of the late great Kenneth. It was the 30th Anniversary of his death, but the mood was upbeat and the room was ready for a celebration! Between innuendos and various cries of 'ooooh matron' reverberating around the room, I managed to grab a quick chat with the author... Adam, no messing' about - the launch party was a hoot... 

The book launch came about as Sir Tim Rice said if you’re having one then I’d love to come along! I hadn’t even thought about it and it became a celebratory afternoon at Elstree Studios which was very special indeed. It acted as a thank you to so many people who had been a part of the book and also to showcase and commemorate a genius and his work.

Fanny Cradock Kenneth Williams

And I guess if Sir Tim suggests an event, you go with it... maybe a musical will be on the cards one day? But first, the book - rather than a biography it's a complete record of Kenneth's work - how did you go about researching this encyclopaedic, ultimate companion to Kenneth's career?  

Researching was a combination of things. I set out to watch and listen to everything that exists and I did so that took some time - so many episodes of Hancock’s Half Hour, as an example. The BBC Written Archives in Caversham were a good start and then combined with looking through Radio Times and TV Times and other resources - it all came together along with memories from those whom he worked with. This would often lead to an introduction or producing a copy of a lost project. In all it took about five years and then writing and putting it altogether. I hope it will be well received and become a go-to book for Kenneth’s career.

Fanny Cradock Kenneth Williams

When people mention Fanny Cradock, they often reference her ‘cooking in ballgowns’ which she only really did in 1955/56 at the beginning of her career - I get a sense that Kenneth was similarly trapped in an image of himself forever. What do you hope that the book will reveal or ‘set straight’ to people about his wonderful career?

He was indeed and the way the diaries have been edited depict a very sad, lonely man but this was not the case at all. He had a lot of love, full of fun and a wicked sense of humour. Yes, he had his mannerisms and mystery’s about him but then we all do. This book is a celebration of a man who did so much more than 26 Carry On films for which he has become best known for. I hope it is very much a testament to a remarkable career over a 40 year career. He did it all and hopefully this will stand as a reference work that will be referred to by fans and researchers alike for many years to come.

Fanny Cradock Kenneth Williams

I was thrilled to see a clip at the launch of Fanny and Kenneth together on the TV show 'What's My Line?' in 1974, but how do you think Kenneth and Fanny got along when they met?

I reckon they did very well. Kenneth liked strong women who would stand up to him and Fanny would definitely have done that! There is an excellent playful relationship between them when she appeared on What’s My Line? Kenneth expresses his love of watching her on the television with his Mum, Louie. Two very British eccentric personalities that I think got on well and enjoyed some good banter.

Fanny Cradock Kenneth Williams

Yes, they seemed to have their very own Carry On! He says 'I adore you - you stuffed all those mushrooms up that chicken!'... Ooooh matron indeed! What about food? Did Kenneth have any favourites or places even to eat? What would he have made of Fanny’s creations?

Kenneth always said that he hated cooking and the most he could do was a boiled egg. He would have his meal with his Mum most evenings. Lorraine Chase said that he would have one main meal a day which was steak and a glass of red wine. Kenneth often entertained chums in restaurants such as Joe Allens and others which have since sadly closed down. In Joe Allen’s he would have the secret burger which has become my order each time that I’m in there! He would drink wine, Campari and soda water or gin and tonic. He had a delicate stomach so I’m not sure how well Fanny’s creations would have gone down but I should think her French cuisine would have been a hit certainly! He did however cook an omelette on Pebble Mill but sadly this is a lost episode. He did share the kitchen with Rustie Lee and Nanette Newman for breakfast television.

Fanny Cradock Kenneth Williams

I would LOVE to see those clips too! Fanny also did a spot on TV-Am, what a shame they missed each other - I'm sure Fanny would've made his eggs very special... What would Kenneth think of all this marvellous chronicling of his career do you reckon? By the way, I’m sure Fanny would’ve loved to have done the catering for your party...

The legacy he has left behind and what we can treasure for decades to come. It may seem corny, but I do feel Kenneth has been with me on this journey and I’d like to think he has given his blessing. I’m told by his chum that he would have liked me, which I’m rather chuffed about. Even if he didn’t approve, then I hope he would appreciate and reflect on what a body of work he actually had. I would have loved for Fanny to have done the catering - especially with her choux pastry!

Fanny Cradock Kenneth Williams

She would probably have replaced Kenneth's face on those cupcakes with her own mind you... If you want to read all about Kenneth's career, you can find The Kenneth Williams Companion here