Monday, 22 May 2017

Don't Question the Digestion Suggestion

Fanny has taken an unexpected few weeks off. Not, as you might assume, to travel to fabulous places, rest and eat fabulous food. No, she's been furiously checking over and analysing what she has shown us so far, and has been actively making forward plans for future culinary adventures. She does deserve a break in all fairness. She's been beavering away for the past forty-three weeks solidly producing weekly magazines entirely for our benefit (ok, and for significant financial gain) stuffed full of recipes and ideas to free us from the shackles of domestic drudgery. By making certain we never leave the kitchen.

Fanny Cradock Berry Biscuit Base

The reason for this slight pause in proceedings is to ensure that the next half of the part-work is as thrilling as the first. Yes, we are half-way through, by Fanny's calculations. It may have taken Fanny almost a year of non-stop whipping, beating and piping, but it's taken me close to four years. Fanny thinks we're only just beginning to master the basics. Fanny originally planned the part-work to be a glorious technicolour collection of ninety-six. Little did she realise that it would come to a premature end rather abruptly after a more modest eighty. So, in reality, I'm well past half-way, by my calculations. I do often wonder what would be found in those missing sixteen parts, but perhaps that's a concern for another day.

Fanny Cradock Berry Biscuit Base

Today, we must focus on observing how the old and familiar and the new and unfamiliar not only start coming together very closely but at the same time lay down fresh foundations for further, forward adventures. The old and familiar Fanny has in mind are digestive biscuits. The new and unfamiliar is making them into a fancy, French-style flan. Fanny does not think the word Tart is suitable for polite company, either in the kitchen or the bedroom. Except here, her Biscuit Based Fruit Flan is also called Tarte aux Fruits d'Eté. Ooo-la-la.

Fanny Cradock Berry Biscuit Base

She bashes the biscuits to crumbs, thinking no doubt about someone that she never really liked very much with every mighty blow. She adds melted butter and presses the thick paste 'of moulding consistency' into a flan ring, moulding it into a flan shape. It's a flan you see. While it chills in ordinary domestic refrigeration, she whips up some very thick confectioners' custard to cover the base with, followed by any choice of berry that your heart should desire. Simple. Just a bit of a glaze with a suitable fruit jelly (I use my homemade Bramble) and it's all done.

Fanny Cradock Berry Biscuit Base

Fanny hasn't wasted any time on this recipe, proposing instead that we 'repair our memory gaps' on the absolute basic techniques so that we have them at our finger tips for the journey ahead. I think she means, please take some time to read back over my previous blog posts. Thanks Fanny for the plug. We will soon be trying hundreds of new things, and we must be able to depend on the basics. If our foundations are secure, there will be no limit to the magnificent confections which we will be able to achieve working together. I'm excited, and appreciate the opportunity to tuck into this tasty tart(e) in anticipation meantime as I segue gracefully from 'basic' to 'advanced' in the capable hands of Fanny. Are you by my side?

Fanny Cradock Berry Biscuit Base

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Right Royal Recipes Fit for A (Greedy) Queen

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

Fanny Cradock The Greedy Queen Annie Gray

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

Fanny Cradock The Greedy Queen Annie Gray

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

Fanny Cradock The Greedy Queen Annie Gray

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

Fanny Cradock The Greedy Queen Annie Gray

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

Fanny Cradock The Greedy Queen Annie Gray

Monday, 8 May 2017

Skools Out 4 Eva

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

Fanny Cradock Semolina Pudding

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

Fanny Cradock Semolina Pudding

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

Fanny Cradock Semolina Pudding

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

Fanny Cradock Semolina Pudding

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

Fanny Cradock Semolina Pudding

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

Tak Gud för Rødgrød

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

Fanny Cradock Redcurrant Rødgrød

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

Fanny Cradock Redcurrant Rødgrød

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

Fanny Cradock Redcurrant Rødgrød

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

Fanny Cradock Redcurrant Rødgrød

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

Fanny Cradock Redcurrant Rødgrød

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

The Spirit of July

At this time of year, we're all constantly thinking about the summer ahead, filling our minds full of eternal sunshine, endless days of fun, food and frolics in the park and packing our bags ready to jet off for our uninterrupted, precious, dearly-held holidays. Fanny is no different. She is forever telling us about the glorious 'foreign' recipes she has collected on her travels, and that we should be presenting to our guests, encouraging us to always refer to our creations with their French names. Except today. It's all about the wonderful world of the all-natural, all-British ingredients. Almost.

Fanny Cradock Spirit of July

Fanny says they are indisputably (and, be honest, would you argue with her?) the very best in the world. She always maintains that 'this island' grows the finest fruit and vegetables of all. However, when she's in a particularly 'wry' mood she is compelled, for honesty's sake, to add "they just suffer a little when they reach some English doors!" Presumably she isn't talking about us, her dearly devoted followers? After all she is showing us the correct way to ensure that no produce suffers in our hands. Unless aspic is involved.

Fanny Cradock Spirit of July

With summer in mind, and feeling a little nostalgic for the sunny days of youth, Fanny wants to revive an adult-only version of a childhood staple - a whipped fruit cream dessert. I was obsessed with Angel Delight when I was young, loving almost every flavour (even banana). So easy to buy, so easy to make, so easy to enjoy. Fanny has grander ideas of course, making good use of British strawberries, especially those which may not be perfect enough (yet) to simply enjoy with cream. She brings us the throughly British Spirit of July. or L'Espirit de Juillet, for those that simply cannot resist.

Fanny Cradock Spirit of July

It's not only the desserts that are making Fanny reminisce. She's caught sight of herself in the mirror, in-between frantic cooking sessions. It must be hot in the kitchen and she's tired. Her face is burning up (only a little) and is looking a little, erm, shall we say, saggy. Before getting stuck into her Spirit of July, she reaches for an un-skinned and completely un-continental cucumber. She quickly tops and tails it, and rubs the pieces you'd normally throw away over her face for an 'instant' face-lift. Her clammy flesh muscles tighten and her face cools instantly, she tells us. She doesn't forget her sticky, sweaty neck or back either, for maximum cooling down possibilities. I am so glad she felt the need to share.

Fanny Cradock Spirit of July

If we haven't lost our appetites, and to distract ourselves from Fanny's flushed face, we should throw ourselves into whipping up egg whites, whipping in whipped cream, whipping together Maraschino, Kirsch and icing sugar, and whipping through blitzed strawberries. The resulting whip is light and fluffy, and must, Fanny insists, be served in old-fashioned champagne glasses topped with a single, fresh, presumably acceptable looking, strawberry. This must be the all-British way. I was lucky if my Angel Delight made it beyond the mixing bowl in reality. Guaranteed to whip you back in time, or straight ahead into summer, whichever you desire. That's the spirit...

Fanny Cradock Spirit of July

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Cat Got Your Tongue?

Some days we all just want to keep things low key. We might be feeling a little bit quiet. We might be feeling a little bit flat. We might be feeling just a little bit ordinary. Nothing wrong with that. Nothing much to shout about. Maybe we just want to have something comforting and familiar in our lives. Fanny always has the answer, and it's usually cake. As it happens her solution here is her 'signature' with a twist. The cake is normally flat, normally ordinary, always comforting, always familiar. So, imagine it with oooopmh, and you have her Swiss Roll, presented as a Gâteau...

Fanny Cradock Blueberry Gateau

Fanny has her own ideas on how a Swiss Roll should be made, and we've made them a few times together before. For my money, they always work, always produce a light, spongey cake panel and always go down well. She shoots hot sugar into eggs as they whisk, until a light, yellow, fluffy double-in-size mixture is created begging for you to fold in some flour and bake. She calls it the 'Swiss Roll Which Will Never Crack', and like her smile, it doesn't.

Fanny Cradock Blueberry Gateau

This time, Fanny bakes it in a perfectly ordinary 8-inch round cake tin, all lined and ready with greaseproof paper. It bakes for longer than an ordinary, flat Swiss Roll, but comes out just as springy and light. Fanny splits it carefully with a large knife and spreads it either with homemade jam, or when it is available scum from the jam. Yes, scum. Perhaps she really means something very different, she often does, but to me scum is the frothy stuff that rises to the top when you make jam. You skim it off and throw it away. Does Fanny really spread it in her cakes?

Fanny Cradock Blueberry Gateau

I don't have any to hand regardless, so use my homemade Bramble Jelly. We know how Fanny loves a Bramble. In addition to spreading it in the middle and 'clapping' the two halves together again, Fanny brushes it all over the sponge. It feels a little wrong, am I reading the instructions correctly? I should really have more faith in dear old Fanny, soon all becomes clear. She has plans. It's all methodical. Panic over. It's not only for taste, but also for glue.

Fanny Cradock Blueberry Gateau

Fanny takes some Langues de Chat (Cats' Tongues) biscuits that are either homemade or shop bought (I bought some this time), brushes them with more jam and dips them in freshly milled pistachios. She knows this is rather extravagant, so it remains optional. Then, they are stuck round the outside of the gâteau. The glue-jam helps them to stand proudly. A cheerful border of freshly whipped cream, a little icing sugar and a whipped egg white is piped around the inside, before the centre is piled high with the chosen berries. Fanny choses blackcurrants. I chose blueberries. Suddenly the day feels less flat, less ordinary and more familiar as I tuck quietly into a hearty slice of this satisfyingly spongey surprise. And *maybe* another one too. Just don't shout about it.

Fanny Cradock Blueberry Gateau

Monday, 10 April 2017

Fanny's Hot Flush

Fanny is feeling the heat. She's loosening off her ruffled collars, slipping into something more appropriate for the sudden and unexpected heatwave that has just descended upon us, and pondering ways to 'stay cool'. Fanny wants to make 'life cooler' for everyone. She has a few tricks up her not-so-cool polyester sleeves that she has picked up on the Continent, where temperatures soar in the summer (just in case you didn't know that), over the years...

Fanny Cradock Chilled Tomato Soup

The first has nothing to do with food at all. It is something which is hardly ever copied on this Island either. No, here we tend to open the windows wide open and draw back the curtains or blinds in the hope of making our kitchens cooler. Silly us. The French have the right idea - they draw their shades over open windows so as to exclude the heat of the sun. This does result in a whole new set of kitchen skills to be gained however, but Fanny thinks it is worth it. Who needs to see? French families, she notes, seem to be able to work by braille they draw so many curtains and blinds down until the sun goes away. Maybe try cooking in a blindfold to get used to it.

Fanny Cradock Chilled Tomato Soup

If that doesn't appeal, Fanny recommends big jugs. Yes, her homemade lemonade is an excellent thirst quencher, and great big jugs of it are essential. Or perhaps something to suck on? Homemade ice lollies cost practically nothing and they reduce those hot weather grizzles and whimperings miraculously. If your issue is keeping things moist in the heat, Fanny recommends greaseproof paper. To cover your sandwiches that is in the refrigerator, to keep them fresh for hours, with a damp muslin on the top.

Fanny Cradock Chilled Tomato Soup

Fanny hopes the we will all stock up our freezer compartments with ice, just to be ready for any heatwave that comes our way. She recommends moving frozen cubes from moulds to bags to allow more cubes to be frozen in the moulds. Keep going until all your available freezer space is used up, you can never have enough ice cubes. Especially for an emergency chilled soup. Fanny's favourite is Iced Tomato and Courgette, or Potage de Paradis Glacé to those cool dudes on the continent.

Fanny Cradock Chilled Tomato Soup

Fanny blitzes (or passes through a sieve) skinned tomatoes with gently steamed, peeled courgettes. She adds a pinch of caster sugar, lemon juice and rind, onion juice (I grate it) and soured cream. Serve with ice cubes. That's it, unless you want to make more elaborate version. Fanny always teases. This involves making small cucumber balls and adding a few sprigs of mint or parsley. How elaborate. The soup is really tasty, with or without added balls. I think the onion juice makes it very savoury, but still fresh and 'cool'. Fanny is on hand to rescue one last problem which commonly comes with the heat. If yours gets limp and flabby, just pop it into a jar of cold water with a lump of charcoal in it. It should firm up nicely. Cool down, she's on about Cucumbers.

Fanny Cradock Chilled Tomato Soup