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

Friday, 5 October 2018

Fanny Takes The Biscuit

Fanny Cradock just loves tiddling things up. She can't leave anything alone. Nothing is safe from her nimble fingers, cunning plans and decorating box of tricks. Plain old things bore her to tears. The nasty neighbours would talk about you over the fence if you served them something basic, or even if they spied it on your plate... Why on earth would you have something 'ordinary' when you could transform it into 'extraordinary' in a flash? 'Stripped down' and 'modest' were not in Fanny's vocabulary.

Fanny Cradock Biscuits

Even the simplest of biscuits could be tiddled up from basic to fancy. Shortbread is often thought of as a simple biscuit, but in Fanny's world this needn't be the case. Fanny is not suggesting that we all spend hours and hours in the kitchen creating ridiculous showstoppers (ahem, biscuit Chandelier anyone?), however with a little bit of imagination and some store cupboard essentials, the nasty neighbours may just be, reluctantly, voting you as Star Baker when the pop round for afternoon tea.

Fanny Cradock Biscuits

Fanny's shortbread is made from a mix of ordinary flour and Rice flour (for a crunch), butter and caster sugar. The butter is beaten with the sugar, and then the mix of flours gently added in to combine. The mixture resembles breadcrumbs really, but should clump together between your hands if you give it a good squeeze. Think of this nasty neighbours and cackle loudly as you do it.

Fanny Cradock Biscuits

Fanny then rolls out the crumbly mix and begins the transformation from unvarnished to embellished. A third of the dough is cut cleverly into leaf shapes. Fanny does this freehand, so do I. I don't have any leaf cutter, but you may do. A third are cut into simple rounds with a very ordinary cutter. The final third are also cut into rounds, with the centre of half of those cut with a piping nozzle to make rings. All from the same austere mixture. The simple rounds are to be glazed with egg white and scattered with almond flakes. Leave the rest bare and bake for around eight or nine minutes. Just time to lean over the fence and gloat to those neighbours.

Fanny Cradock Biscuits

Let the tiddling begin! The almond rounds are already tiddled, so set them on a rack to cook. Carefully, they will be soft until they do. The rounds with holes become like Jammie Dodgers, filled with jam. I have used Rhubarb and Gin jam for mine. Gin helps everything. This is not enough tiddling for Fanny however. Slice a coloured glacé cherry in half, plonk it in the centre and add a sprig of cut Angelica. There is no explanation of why, but tiddle away and ask no questions. The leaves are tiddled with melted chocolate chips, covering only half the leaf. Tiddling done, the nasty neighbours will think you've been at it for hours...

Fanny Cradock Biscuits

Monday, 6 August 2018

World's Quorn Fakin' Mad

I've eaten everything from the Fanny Cradock Cookery Programme I have made. So far. I've tucked into an array of sweet omelettes, despite my better judgement. I've wolfed down green mashed piped potatoes, although my eyes have said 'no'. I've willingly deep-throated bananas smeared with jam and nuts. I've gladly gobbled eggs transformed into a variety of disguises without complaint. I've swiftly swallowed all kinds of things Fanny has made to go further than my purse, or my mind, was able to stretch. Until today. I. Just. Can't.

Fanny Cradock Quorn Ham Soufflé

Of course, as I've made Fanny's fascinations minus the meat, at least I've this far been safe in the knowledge that her creations may taste okay. I like vegetables. I've steered clear of using processed meat substitutes, mostly, simply because I rarely eat them myself. However, on a recent trip to the supermarket I was 'amazed' to see so many 'fake' meat products. Perhaps bemused. Perhaps perplexed. Perhaps baffled. Who was buying these things made to look, taste and feel like meat? Before I knew it I was hearing the self-service checkout beep in shame as I loaded up my bag. With. Sliced. Ham. Vegetarian Sliced Ham. What was I thinking?

Fanny Cradock Quorn Ham Soufflé

I hadn't gone completely loopy. I was curious, and of course Fanny was guiding me to make a Cold Ham Soufflé with her, so part of me didn't want to miss out. Would this ham-hoax cut the mustard? Fanny starts by mincing up her ham. Mine minces fabulously, just like a seventies game show host. Fanny makes a velouté sauce, essentially a white sauce made with stock instead of milk, as the backbone of her dish. Mine whips up like the best bad-ass dominatrix. Or so I've heard anyway. Fanny sets her soufflé with Aspic. I need to adapt the recipe a little, adding Agar Agar to the stock, boiling and then making the velouté like a cutie. That's just how I rock. Nearly.

Fanny Cradock Quorn Ham Soufflé

I can barely bring myself to touch the phoney-ham. Thankfully I am able to distract myself by whipping up egg whites and double cream. Separately of course. Fanny staples. All good here. I. Can. Cope. Except I can't. The pseudo-ham is mocking me. The whole sorry lot needs to be folded together and plopped into a wetted soufflé mould, so that it will come out smoothly. Fanny has taught me that. She hasn't trained me to cope with the horror of this. It's time to chill. The soufflé. And. Me. Too.

Fanny Cradock Quorn Ham Soufflé

However, the shudders continue as Fanny suggests a stomach-churning staging. Apparently what this bogus Cold Ham Soufflé needs is to be topped with a further glaze of Aspic-y Agar Agar before being surrounded by more rolls of fabricated ham. It looks convincingly like the one Fanny made. I am sure it will feel faithfully like it too. Oh. The. Smell.  I have absolutely no doubt that this sham-ham would also taste just like the one Fanny made. I. Am. Not. Trying. It. Sorry. Not. Sorry. Does anyone want it?

Fanny Cradock Quorn Ham Soufflé

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