Monday, 26 September 2016

Fanny Italia #4 - Wine for today, hopefully

Fanny Cradock may have felt that Italian food ran the 'gamut of A to B' but surely when it comes to wine, which was always Johnnies domain, more can be said. I'm hopeful that my very first trip to Italy, staying in Turin and touring round the Piedmont region, will be a boozy affair. With some trepidation I open the volumes that Fanny and Johnnie have written together on wine in search of a flicker of good news to keep me bouyant ahead of departure. It seems promising - their original wine book from 1954 includes and additional letter of the alphabet - all the way to C... And maybe by the time Johnnie wrote his 'Wine for Today' in 1975 things will have moved on considerably?

Fanny Cradock FannyItalia Wine

In 1954 the aim was to inform the who knew little or nothing who had a desire to know more. Their purpose was to encourage, stimulate and maybe assist newcomers to gastronomy to consider wine, taste wine and study wine for themselves. That's exactly what I want to do in Italy. Perhaps they can help me after all? Fanny and Johnnie steer me through food choices (none are Italian), how to cook with wine (Vermouth is perfectly happy in the kitchen), ordering wine in restaurants (most wine waiters are ignoramuses, so you must guide them), drinking wine at home (apparently no excuses are necessary), hosting a wine tasting party (choose four for a modest affair) as well as a summary of wines by region. Well, French at any rate. If we must consider Italian wines, start by considering Asti Spumanti, a frivolous drink. Fanny says only one word is required. Don't.

Fanny Cradock FannyItalia Wine

The Bon Viveurs do admit that Italy does have at least one good wine. A red. Barolo. It has a certain amount of bouquet which is lacking in nearly all the others. The faint praise continues, with a faintly positive description of it having a faint resemblance to Burgundy. Perhaps the wine sessions and visits to vineyards that I have booked up will provide a faint whiff of pleasure while I am there?

Fanny Cradock FannyItalia Wine

There is a glimmer of hope. In the 1970s, Johnnie, presumably free from the shackles of Fanny's French obsession, does say that the quality of Italian wine has greatly improved. Finalmente! Italy, being one of the oldest, and biggest, wine producers in the world, finally gained the support of their government to establish the Denominazione di Origine Controllata, or D.O.C. based of course on the French system, which has helped immensely. Johnnies advice is to always buy D.O.C approved wines. Good news. The good news continues as he says that Italy does not often export it's best wines, only those of medium quality.

Fanny Cradock FannyItalia Wine

Johnnie is especially drawn to Piedmont, where he describes Barolo as the 'king of wines' or the 'wine of kings'. Either will do nicely for me. Protected by law, it is aged for at least three years in oak barrels, turning orange red in colour and still remaining dry. Johnnie says Barbaresco is similar but matures faster. He recommends I also watch out for Sizzano, Lessona, Gattinara, Fara, Ghemme, Boca and Mottalciata, all of which need time to mature. I am hopeful they will have matured sufficiently by the time I arrive. And then there is Carema, Barbera d'Asti (which is very good drinking), a dry red called Freisa, Dolcetto, Grignolino, Cortese and Erbaluce di Caluso. There is even a sparkling red which carries the scent of roses called Brachetto. I'll be simply spoiled for choice. And that's before the Vermouth is opened. There will be no need to reach for the Asti Spumante.

Fanny Cradock FannyItalia Wine

Thursday, 22 September 2016

Fanny Italia #3 - Common Market Cookery - Italy

We know that Fanny Cradock was no fan of Italian cuisine. We know that she felt it was inferior to her beloved French. We know she described it as running the gamut of 'A to B' compared to the 'A to Zee' of France. We also know however that this did not stop her writing about it all the time. Italian cookery was featured throughout the partwork, and even graced two distinct books written by Fanny. In 1974 she published her Common Market Cookery book on Italy, based on her jaunts to the continent for BBC TV's Nationwide programme, followed by the Bon Viveur book of Pasta Cookery in 1975, in partnership with the British Pasta Information Bureau. Not bad for someone who really wasn't fond of the grub.

Fanny Cradock FannyItalia Pasta

With Pasta Cookery, Fanny was aiming to concentrate on inexpensive dishes for family meals, or entertaining friends, using varieties of pasta which lend themselves to the 'incorporation of left-overs' such as cannelloni, spaghetti or lasagne. Indeed Fanny says they are 'purse-stretchers at the table', only without the inclusion of the astronomically priced at the time Parmesan Cheese. Fanny's main advice is that pasta should never resemble stewed knitting, nor be flabby. Always al dente, slightly firm to the teeth. You would never eat your knitting, would you?

Fanny Cradock FannyItalia Pasta

I'm heading to Turin and Piedmont while in Italy, and as Fanny has already established, these areas are more gastronomic than most. She's still no fan of course, despite, or perhaps as a result of, the skill of Italian chefs of being past masters at conjuring up delicacies from their limited arc of raw materials. Polenta that resembles a bath sponge is one example. Made in a blackened pot, stirred with a vine twig and poured onto a scrubbed wooden table, the Italian family will gather round with their forks ready to eat it. Only on 'high days and holidays' will a little meat or dried fruits be added. You get the impression that Fanny hasn't had a good experience while in Italy, although this book is supposed to be a celebration and an encouragement to visit and recreate the dishes.

Fanny Cradock FannyItalia Pasta

Fanny recounts all her travels across Italy, and details the food, and regional specialities that she has found. More than enough for a book. All in about 150 recipes. Not just pasta, but hors d'oeuvres, soups, pizzas, rice, fish, poultry, meat, vegetables, eggs, cheese, sauces, salads, puddings and ice-creams. All showing what a limited diet those poor Italians have. It's not their fault, they just don't have access to the ingredients. They are limited. And poor. Not Fanny's favourites at all.

Fanny Cradock FannyItalia Pasta

And don't get her started on the breakfasts. I'll need to watch out for the Italian businessmen, and women in particular, as well as students of both sexes, standing around in slit-alleys of minute cafés gulping coffee, dunking their buns with reverberating sucks. It sounds dodgy. I shall take Fanny's warning, and order large cups of coffee with additional jugs of hot water. I'm sure no-one will be offended. So, I think I am ready to make my way to Italy now and enjoy all that it has to offer. Which Fanny says is not much. Thanks Fanny. All that remains is for me to learn the names of all the pasta shapes. If I do them alphabetically it will be easier I think. All I need to do is learn A and B. Italy here I, somewhat nervously, come.

Fanny Cradock FannyItalia Pasta

Monday, 19 September 2016

Fanny Italia #2 - Do Italians Do It Better?

In 1964 Fanny and Johnnie published a volume which would safely guide readers all over Europe, but safely outside the Iron Curtain. Their aim was to be extensive but not comprehensive. How could they be after all? All they could do was to impart their considerable knowledge and hope that their readers, who were sending in around ten thousand fan letters a week, would be inspired to try somewhere new. Fanny clearly asks 'Why always go to the Algarve?' as her starting point. I wonder how many of those tens of thousands of 1960s readers were even venturing abroad? How many used the guide to explore beyond the Algarve, perhaps, like myself, into Italy?

Fanny Cradock FannyItalia Bon Viveur

Fanny's previous writing almost put me off my upcoming trip to Italy altogether. This book lets me plan my own route, and thankfully that includes flying. Fanny still has words of warning however, for the wary tourist. She claims that 'souvenir hunting' from tourists seems to be a national sport, so it is unwise to leave any items unguarded. And if the Italians aren't stealing all that you own, they are apparently trying to steal your hard earned money. According to Fanny, the tourist is regarded as 'fair game' so it is wise to determine the price of anything you plan to buy, hire or enjoy. Another thing to worry about. Or perhaps not, as Fanny notes it is entirely different in the North, where I will be spending my time. Apparently there is a 'gay friendliness' there which means locals have a tremendous interest in the well-being of tourists, in direct contrast to the 'tourist-piracy' which persists in the 'deep south'. Well, thank goodness for that. Things are looking up.

Fanny Cradock FannyItalia Bon Viveur

And then Fanny gets to the food. I've never been to Italy, and am looking forward to tasting all that the nation has to offer, but Fanny has a warning for me. It's limited. Far more limited than the cuisine of her beloved France. She says its 'runs the whole gamut from A to B.' Despite the limitations, there is at least variety, but mostly the food revolves around oil and pasta. Seemingly the Italians also add goat and all manner of feathered objects, all lumped together under the name uccelletti. In my pursuit to avoid thrush, lark, blackbird, bullfinch, quail, woodcock, turtle-dove and the strangely named figpecker (although I like the sound of that one), I shall scour every menu making sure uccelletti and their numerous feathery frames do not feature.

Fanny Cradock FannyItalia Bon Viveur

I'm heading to Piedmont, where Fanny says I can look forward to good grazing, flourishing orchards, vineyards and rice fields. So, rather more than the limitations of A to B? Although she points out that dishes will be highly seasoned, I can expect a high incidence of garlic, cream, cream cheese and butter. Doesn't sound too bad, does it? With White Truffles on risottos, polenta, agnelotti, gnocchi, beans, golden peaches, cheese and chestnuts surely I will eat well? I'll skip the wild boar and partridge. Oh and the frogs. But otherwise all sounding good. There is even mention of cakes and chocolate.

Fanny Cradock FannyItalia Bon Viveur

You'd imagine that Fanny might be a fan of Italian wine at least? She does concede that they can be very interesting and pleasant, but sadly there will be no 'great ones' for me to sample. The Italians do not lavish the same care and attention on their production as the French you see. The best I will find is Vermouth in Turin, which is perfect for me, and exactly where I will be. Elsewhere in Piedmont, the best I will find is Barolo, or it's less potent and fresher cousin Barbaresco. Perfect. I'm not sure what Fanny is complaining about to be honest. She tells me I can expect to find Asti Spumante, which bears no relation to Champagne. It seems that there is simply nothing which Italy can offer which would make Fanny sparkle. Will I discover something to pop my cork? Will the Italians do it better than Fanny describes? Should I have planned a holiday in the Algarve instead? Let's see...

Fanny Cradock FannyItalia Bon Viveur

Thursday, 15 September 2016

Fanny Italia #1 - Bon Voyage!

I'm heading away for a few days next week to a place I've never, ever been before. Italy. There is no real reason why I've never been, I just haven't. People are always telling me that I would love it, it's all about food and wine after all. Even Fanny raves on about it all the time, but it still doesn't change anything. I've never been. Like most of us I am sure, the list of places I want to explore is ever expanding, and Italy just hasn't risen to the top of that list. Until now. It's all come around more quickly than expected. Am I prepared though?

Fanny Cradock FannyItalia Bon Voyage

So prolific was Fanny's writing that she has the perfect guide for any question that I may ponder in life. In 1950, she wrote a charming book called 'Bon Voyage' under the name Frances Dale, telling us, erm, I mean guiding us, how to enjoy our holidays in Europe by car. Surely this will be the only guide I need to get me ready. Fanny has a warning though. "A good deal of careful planning and a good deal of experience are required if the intended holiday-maker is to have both fun and freedom from worry." I wasn't especially before, but I am worried now.

Fanny Cradock FannyItalia Bon Voyage

I'm really not sure that I have enough time to absorb all the information that Fanny says I will require for my first trip. Fanny says I should have started to prepare for this trip as I travelled home from last years one. How will I ever catch up? I supposedly should have been ordering various maps throughout the year, and at various times laid them out on the drawing-room carpet floor, for my family to crawl over while I take after dinner coffee on my stomach. I'm only at the very beginning and already I haven't got the foggiest what Fanny is talking about. Besides, I don't have a drawing-room, or a carpet for that matter. Am I doomed?

Fanny Cradock FannyItalia Bon Voyage

I must make sure my car is in tip-top shape, because as Fanny reminds me, we 'as an island race' are not generally fluent on other languages. Fanny points out the obvious. "This disadvantage handicaps us from the start." She is right though, I realise, I can not speak a word of Italian. Nothing. I only have a few days to learn Italian. And car mechanics. Oh, and map reading too. It's overwhelming. Not to mention what I need to pack and how much money I need to take, all of which have chapters devoted to explaining Fanny's way. I've never felt so stressed out about a trip before in my life.

Fanny Cradock FannyItalia Bon Voyage

Reading through Fanny's guide, however, I soon realise with some relief that she has taken all the worry out of the trip for me, and has thought of everything. Even when it comes to which underwear I should pack, which is down to my own personal choice, if you are wondering. She's planned what I will do, where I will go, what I should eat, what not to drink, where to shop and what I should say to practically anyone I should meet. With all this worrying I have only just realised that I am flying, not driving. I can't even drive. So all I need to do is relax and enjoy my first experience of Italy, right? Well according to Fanny I should already of course be planning where to go next. Let's just see how I get on with this trip first - will you join me on a series of special blogs as I explore Italy with, and without, Fanny's guidance? Do you have any words of wisdom for me, to add to Fanny's expertise?

Fanny Cradock FannyItalia Bon Voyage

Monday, 5 September 2016

Holy Moly Roly Poly

Fanny Cradock certainly had a vivid imagination. Maybe freaky. Some of her earliest books were written for Children, and were lovingly illustrated. Perfect bedtime stories filled with magical creatures, all with familiar names, who got themselves into a series of relatable mishaps in fancied worlds and landscapes. Things could've been very different if the children books themselves had been enough to keep a good income flowing in for Fanny, instead she looked beyond her charming tales towards food.

Fanny Cradock Roly Poly Clowns

We know, however, that she made the most of her fanciful visions in the food that she created too. Maybe freaky. Often she combined her two worlds into one, and made up things for the young folks to make while their parents busied themselves working through her proper recipes. Her creations might've looked quite at home nestled aside the grown-up recipes as they were often just as colourful, just as over the top and just as bonkers.

Fanny Cradock Roly Poly Clowns

Perhaps Fanny and just been to the Circus, with some rather tipsy clowns rolling into town to entertain her and Johnnie, as she thinks that 'tumbling roly-poly clowns' are ideal for the small fry to make, for no other apparent reason other than for belly laughs. Maybe freaky. Made simply from fondant icing and a few chocolate twigs, there will be no clowning around in the kitchen today.

Fanny Cradock Roly Poly Clowns

Fanny suggests colouring up some plain, white fondant with any harmless vegetable colouring that you like, there is no need to copy her idea of one pink and one blue clown. Maybe freaky. My fondant is ready-coloured for ease, so I'm sticking with red and blue. Fanny makes her chocolate 'twig' arms and legs with softened chocolate dribbled onto greaseproof paper and cooled, but I'm a step ahead...

Fanny Cradock Roly Poly Clowns

Fanny rolls large balls, about the size of tennis balls, for fat bodies, and smaller balls, about the size of ping-pong balls, for heads, to start her clowns transformation to animation. She glues them together with a little egg white. She makes little hats, little eyes, little noses, little mouths, little ears and little spots for their outfits. All from fondant, although the mouths can be little scraps of glacé cherry if you wish. Once assembled, Fanny uses a cocktail stick to gouge out a little hole to stick in the arms and legs at jaunty angles. To make it look as if the clowns are rolling about and laughing, you see. Fanny suggests that you can even pop along to your local travelling circus and scramble under the marquee to collect some soil for them to rollick around in. Although if you do so, Fanny warns you not to eat this. That would be freaky.

Fanny Cradock Roly Poly Clowns

Monday, 29 August 2016

Mmm-mmm-mmm-America

I'm not sure if Fanny ever went anywhere near America, but of course by the time she was pulling the partwork together in the 1970s, America was coming over here with a vengeance. Or at least the food was. So, Fanny being Fanny, she had to include a nod to our Stateside cousins on her culinary ladder, and the American Club, or 'three-decker', Sandwich appears to be it! She scarcely needs to give instructions for it, but simply cannot help herself...

Fanny Cradock Club Sandwich

According to Fanny, and according to generally accepted patterns, the American Club Sandwich should be made with toast, sliced tomatoes, hard-boiled eggs, lettuce hearts, real mayonnaise, thinly sliced mixed brown and white chicken flesh and bacon. This appears to be the reason Fanny feels the need to explain it however, as according to her, what can be found in 'less reputable restaurants' is generally anything but!

Fanny Cradock Club Sandwich

Wherever Fanny has been tucking into her Club Sandwiches, she seems to have been served 'revolting bottled wallpaper paste masquerading as mayonnaise'. She probably wouldn't be best pleased with my jar of Hellmans then? It is labelled as 'real' mayonnaise however. It seems to get worse, her sandwiches have contained rather tatty bits of outsized lettuce. That's not the worst of it, the chicken has been replaced with scraps of rabbit and one or two rag, tag and bobtails of the coarsest streaky bacon. I'm sticking with cheese.

Fanny Cradock Club Sandwich

Fanny reckons, if made well, the Club Sandwich is one of the most filling and most delicious you are likely to come across. The toast must be made fast under a pre-heated and very fierce grill or it will fly apart when handled and somehow constitute a peril 'once again' for people with bought teeth. Luckily I still have all my own, but although my toast is made fast, it is made in the toaster.

Fanny Cradock Club Sandwich

As I'm avoiding the chicken and the bacon, I need not pay heed to Fanny's advice that they be economically used, with the chicken the merest shards from the carcass and the bacon definitely not in brine. My cheese slices are fresh from the pack, and on offer (two for £2) at the supermarket, surely that will do. Fanny might approve after all, she says at the end of the day practically anything can be made to make a Club Sandwich. Being American, they simply cannot be considered to be 'classic' and therefore we can do anything we like with them. Thanks y'all.

Fanny Cradock Club Sandwich

Tuesday, 9 August 2016

Roll Out The Beryl!

I'm very excited to learn that a new authorised biography about Beryl Reid is about to be published - so excited that I just had to speak to the author, Kaye Crawford, to find out more, and of course uncover if there were any connections to Fanny! There must be...

"They were so different but, of course, Beryl was rather a gourmet herself. She absolutely loved cooking, and hosting dinner parties. She even went so far as to publish her own cookbook, Food and Friends, a collection of recipes interspersed with memories. Fanny gets a few mentions in my book! Beryl's niece recalled a rather disastrous dish Beryl attempted one Christmas that I'm sure must've been a Fanny creation. It was called Oeufs en Gelée, Boiled Eggs in Aspic! It was apparently revolting."

Fanny Cradock Beryl Reid

Yes, it is one of Fanny's very special favourites, I'll be making them soon, perhaps to enjoy while I read the book! This picture of them makes me smile - will I be smiling when I read your book? 

"Oh I hope so! Beryl was such a complex lady, very unconventional and totally unique. I've tried to get behind the laughter and see what the real Beryl was actually like. There's laughs a plenty though, with Beryl there couldn't be anything else! The book came about by accident really. I was in the middle of moving house and had to wait around for an electrician, so I just grabbed the first book on my shelf which was Beryl's 1984 autobiography, So Much Love. It's a wonderful book, but Beryl didn't write it, she dictated it to a chap called Eric Braun, usually after they'd shared a few glasses of brandy! As I read through it, I thought 'I'm sure there's more to this lady than meets the eye' and I wanted to find out more."

Fanny Cradock Beryl Reid
Beryl relaxes at Honeypot Cottage, c. 1980.
We all do! Fanny will be forever remembered for cooking soufflés in a ballgown, but she only ever did that on stage in the 1950s - have you uncovered any popular misconceptions about Beryl that you can share with us?

"In the book I talk about the 'Beryl Reid myth' - there's this idea that Beryl was a reclusive lesbian with 50 cats, an alcoholic who lived in a strange cottage in the middle of nowhere, and only played mad old ladies. But of course, there's absolutely no truth in any of that! I think most people assumed she was a lesbian after the 'Sister George' role. She was passionately against any form of prejudice or bigotry - in her own words, 'I don't care if you're black, yellow or bright purple, but I do care if you're a bore!' In fact, when two elderly ladies came to see her after a show, they said 'Oh we love you Beryl, but we didn't like that Sister George thing you did, we thought it very vulgar!' To which Beryl replied, curtly, 'Too close to home was it dear?'"

Fanny Cradock Beryl Reid
Beryl with Bernard Cribbins and June Whitfield at the BBC, c. 1976
I think I would've enjoyed Beryl's company! Fanny and Beryl both appeared on television Game Shows in the 1970s - do you think it helped their careers or just played into their 'characters'? Or was it just for fun? 

"Beryl was an absolute workaholic, but it came from a rather fragile place. She would make herself extremely ill, refusing to take a holiday, taking everything offered to her. She would say 'I just don't want them to forget me'. She absolutely loved panel shows, especially Blankety Blank. She kept going back because she adored Terry Wogan. When Beryl left, Beryl left too. She felt it would be disloyal to him to go on. But you know, all you really needed to do to get television magic with Beryl was to give her a glass of something and leave the camera on her..."

Fanny Cradock Beryl Reid
Beryl aboard the Orient Express, 1986, to celebrate her OBE.
A little drink always works well for me, camera or no camera... Did Fanny and Beryl ever meet do you think? 

"I don't know if they ever met, but in Beryl's personal archive there's a rather haughty letter from Fanny, inviting - or is it more of a command? - Beryl to come to the Cradock home for a cocktail party. Fanny mentions that she adores Beryl's work, but then commits a cardinal sin and suggests that if Beryl did come, it would get the party (and therefore Fanny's new book) a nice bit of publicity. That was exactly how NOT to get Beryl to attend something! I believe Fanny got rather short shrift in response."

Fanny Cradock Beryl Reid
Beryl with her agent Robert Luff at a celebration lunch, 1986, to celebrate her OBE. 
I can only imagine! The book, like Beryl, just sounds like a hoot, what are your hopes for it?

"It's twenty years since Beryl died. I was concerned that she was in danger of being forgotten. She deserves to be remembered. This will sound trite, but I can honestly say that in the time I spent 'with' Beryl, I came to absolutely adore her. So I took her 'don't let them forget me' as a sort of obligation. I want people to connect with her work, but also, to take something positive form her story, which is 'keep going!' I think the BBC should put together a tribute night, maybe even a drama, would't that be wonderful? But then, I would say that!"

Roll Out The Tribute and the film I say! 

Fanny Cradock Beryl Reid
Beryl as Gran in the BBC's adaptation of 'The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole'
Roll Out The Beryl! by Kaye Crawford is released on August 22nd by Fantom Film books and can be pre-ordered here. Kaye will be giving away a collection of Beryl goodies, including a signed, dedicated copy of the book to one lucky winner - be sure to follow Kaye and Fantom Films on Twitter for more details! Thanks to Kaye for the lovely chat, and permission to use the lovely photos from Beryl's own collection. Can't wait for the book!