Monday, 24 July 2017

The Exile At Castle Rising

Fanny Cradock could never be accused of sitting still. By the time she exploded onto our TV screens in 1955 she'd already had more than a handful of other, diverse, careers. She even continued some of them, using different names for each one, while she baked soufflés and piped swan choux buns for us all. Primarily she wrote. She wrote newspaper columns. She wrote cookbooks. She wrote Children's books. She wrote travel pieces. She wrote nasty letters to people who referred to her as Fanny Craddock. It seems she wrote from the moment she woke up until she fell asleep again. If indeed she ever did sleep.

Fanny Cradock Castle Rising

She wrote because she was good at it. She wrote because people wanted to read her words. She wrote because it earned her money. By the time the 1970s came along, she'd written nearly ninety books, thousands of weekly newspaper columns and so many nasty letters she'd no doubt worn out a whole factories worth of typewriters. She'd written so much, even she had lost count. Her first books were works of fiction, all penned with the usual Cradock charm but under pseudonyms. She claimed that her first novels were dictated to her from writers beyond the grave, so, according to her publicity, she would only earn a typists fee. Ever the marketeer. In the 70s she hit upon a scheme that was a little more lucrative. Tax evasion.

Fanny Cradock Castle Rising

Most of her money was tied up in property, her television shows were becoming less frequent, with more demanding contract demands from her making Fanny Cradock more expensive and less appealing, and sadly the weekly part-work wasn't quite the money spinning retirement bundle she had hoped for. She'd long longed to return to her works of romantic fiction. Upon discovering that 'new' authors were eligible for tax-free earnings on 'new' writing for up to ten years in Ireland, she pretty much packed her bags and set up her typewriter in the Emerald Isle. The Castle Rising saga was born, or rather re-born as she already had the first few volumes furtively written. She'd never published fiction using the Fanny Cradock name before...

Fanny Cradock Castle Rising

Capitalising on her celebrity, the series of books proved popular, but also became well-read in far flung places where no-one knew how to spell her name wrongly. The books were borrowed and bought the world over. Noses were buried into them, and impatient readers demanded the next, just as one was published. Fanny kept up regular appearances on TV chat shows, travelling to Europe for Nationwide and a series of society shindigs to keep up the illusion she was still 'around', risking a visit from the Tax-man every time she set foot on home soil. However her BBC file (which I was amused to discover was refereed to as The Fanny File) was clearly marked with the Top Secret information of where she was living. Essential for continued contact for work, and of course to send the cheques to.

Fanny Cradock Castle Rising

The place was Doneraile in Southern Ireland. Her and Johnnie stayed there for a few years, before seeking alternative tax-free roots, writing or plotting the ten Castle Rising family saga instalments. There was a planned eleventh, which never made it. Perhaps her ten years ran out. Perhaps her loyal readership had enough. Perhaps the publishers had already torn all their hair out trying to put right the huge number of historical inaccuracies and impossibilities contained within the saga. Perhaps Fanny had found another way to make some money. I wonder if she loved her time 'incognito' in Ireland. I passed through the town where she lived the other day, having arranged to see the house. However, the woman who was helping me said 'Ah, if only you were here tomorrow...' despite that being the day I'd said all along. All part of the Irish charm. So, the mystery of where she lived remains, for now. I'll just need to go back. The town appears to pay homage to Fanny Cradock on it's welcome sign though. At least that's what she would think.

Fanny Cradock Castle Rising

Monday, 17 July 2017

Twisting My Lemon, Man

With the sun making a hopefully sustained appearance, Fanny's mind has turned to ice in her latest attempt to cool her temper while looking after any number of children during the summer holiday. She knows that they will be sweetness and light (they had better be). She knows that they mostly like ice creams. She knows that the smaller ones show a marked preference for ice lollies. She knows that she needn't give us a recipe for those though. She knows that lollies made from sweetened fruit juices will be better for 'them' than the synthetic ones you buy in shops. So, Fanny proclaims, Give Them Lollies.

Fanny Cradock Lemon Whipped Ice

Well, except for today. You see, as Fanny says, no recipe is required for lollies. She wants to give us a recipe. It's what she does. Imagine an issue of the part-work without recipes? That would never do. Without recipes how would Fanny fill her time? It may be a holiday, but Fanny is still busy. So today, Fanny would like to suggest her Lemon Water Ices to us all. The recipe and the ingredients are fairly simple, so at least we won't overheat in the kitchen preparing these, but it will keep us amused while the children play. Alone. Without us. It's how Fanny prefers it.

Fanny Cradock Lemon Whipped Ice

As these aren't lollies, the little ones will need to be sitting down to get stuck in. Fanny, cunning as ever, has a plan to keep them occupied for a while ahead of that though - get them to lay the table first. Whether it's the patio or dining room when the summer weather is in a very bad temper (worse than Fanny's) or on the terrace or plonked in the garden itself when the sun shines, the table should be resplendent. Hand embroidered chiffon organza from Madeira and matching napkins folded like water-lollies. That's what Fanny recommends, which is fairly niche it has to be said. Matching your dishes, side plates, salt and pepper pots and bowls with summer flowers will provide the perfect setting to induce good manners amongst the young, apparently. It is never too early to teach them which knives, forks and spoons to use so that they are not totally embarrassed when they go to grown-up parties.

Fanny Cradock Lemon Whipped Ice

Even the holidays are school days, seemingly. Always a chance to learn something new. Including how to make Water Ices. Fanny uses lump sugar for hers, cold water, lemons and egg whites. That's it. Saving a few lumps behind, Fanny places the remainder in a small pan with cold water and slowly heats it until they dissolve, without boiling. Once dissolved though the heat is raised to boiling, then lowered again to a simmer for ten minutes. During this time Fanny rubs her remaining lumps on the lemon rinds until they become yellow and collapse. After the ten minutes, they are added to the hot sugar syrup, stirred to dissolve and then chilled. I added the rinds again for added lemon-y-ness but don't tell Fanny.

Fanny Cradock Lemon Whipped Ice

When cold, the lemon juice is added, then the strained liquid is frozen in an ordinary freezing compartment until the edges are well crystallised but the centre is NOT set. At this stage, stiffly whipped egg whites are added and the whole mixture whipped again, before returning to the freezer one more time, until required. Fanny insists it is served piped (which is easier said than done) into long coupe glasses, with the simple addition of some summer fruit on a wooden cocktail stick on the side of the rim. Apparently any child will agree that this enhances the service of this quite delicious and light water ice. Well mannered, well taught and well frightened children especially.

Fanny Cradock Whipped Lemon Ice

Monday, 3 July 2017

Shakin' Up Your Soda

Fanny says that she seems to acquire children at an alarming rapidity. She says that there is always a gaggle of other people's about, as well as her own. The truth is probably somewhat different, given the reports that she had a often difficult relationship with her children, who she seemingly abandoned along the way. Perhaps she's getting confused. It's the summer heat. It's the summer holidays. She claims to love children, but admits that they can be a confounded nuisance under her feet when she is extremely busy, which is all the time as we know. One answer she has at her disposal whenever possible is to turn them out into the garden, terrace, local field or playground (seemingly anywhere), if it is not pouring with rain. Perhaps that's where she misplaced her own offspring...

Fanny Cradock Soda Bread

Tupperware seems to be the other solution. And a large bell. Oh and a split stable door in the kitchen leading out to the garden. At meal times she rings the bell (or presumably gets someone else to do it, why bother ringing your own bell when an assistant can do it for you?) and doles out, in plastic beakers, hot soup or cold drinks, depending on the vagaries of the English weather, and a filled luncheon box for each child, or teenager. Only adults are allowed indoors. Meals are dispensed over the half-open stable door, meaning there is no need to lay a table or do any clearing up. Or let the young ones inside ever. Fanny says that they prefer it this way, and frankly so does she.

Fanny Cradock Soda Bread

So what does she pop into these primitive 'Happy Meals'? The contents need to be filling and easy for Mums to prepare. Who wants to spend their days wondering 'What on earth can I give them today?' Housewives should be able to keep them relatively happy without killing themselves with extra cooking from now until they go back to school again. Perhaps that's when Fanny opens both parts of the split stable door and lets them back into the house? Although, with some attempt at compassion and empathy, Fanny does share that at that time the house returns to being like a morgue through which a hurricane has spread. She is so full of contradictions.

Fanny Cradock Soda Bread

Today she suggests a simple soda bread to keep them fully amused. Quick to make, filling and tasty, it meets all the requirements. She borrows the recipe from a 'super-Mum' she knows who has seven children and still manages to be a championship golfer as well as run her home without help, dye and lay her own carpets, make tents, clothing and curtains, and even do her own carpentry and electrical work. So Soda Bread should be a doddle. Mix the flour, salt, bicarbonate of soda and cream of tartar in a bowl. Rub in some butter, add in buttermilk and mix to a dough. If you're feeling fancy, add cheese. I do. Or if you think they are in the mood for sweet, add sugar and sultanas. Shape, mark with a deep cross and bake for half an hour and you are good to start flinging it into tupperware tubs and tossing it over the half-opened stable door as you head out for a round of golf. Perfect parenting.

Fanny Cradock Soda Bread

It's a little flat and scone-like, but a tasty treat all the same. Well, it will do. Minimum effort and all that. The little dears will need a drink to wash it down though. Fanny laments that we are not more like the French, who will give their little monsters youngsters watered down wine from age five onwards. Instead she suggests a Milkshake. Made from vegetables. They'll, erm, never guess. She whizzes up grated carrot, diced celery, chopped parsley, watercress and spinach with a little milk, fresh orange juice and water, before passing through a sieve to remove all traces of leftover veg. She whizzes again with added yoghurt and serves the frothy creation with straws, and at least one ice cube per child. You wouldn't want to be cruel to the children on a hot day now, would you?

Fanny Cradock Soda Bread

Monday, 26 June 2017

Another Brick In The Wall

School's out for summer, in Fanny Cradock's world at least. A little early in the real world perhaps. She is imagining that all over the country harassed mums are being pestered by the cry "Mum, I'm hungry" and just have no idea how to respond favourably to the relentless badgering. There is no need to feel so tormented however, Fanny is on hand. She devotes an entire part-work exclusively to filling-up the perpetually ravenous young folks. Young people, Fanny reckons, are always easier to handle when their stomachs are well-filled. Especially if they are teenagers.

Fanny Cradock Breakfast Bricks

It's not only tumultous teenagers tummies that Fanny is concerned with though. It's their outfits. She simply cannot understand the lack of enthusiasm among the female of the species, in particular, for wearing pretty party frocks. Shockingly the 'gear' they prefer can be summed up as 'The Absolute Minimum'. This normally means, notably in the summer months, 'disreputable' rolled up jeans and equally disreputable bare feet at the end of a day spent incessantly 'trotting about'. Fanny's wrath is saved for skimpy hot pants and gingham outfits, again with 'the minimum', this time over 'the front'. Teenage girls eating habits are like their fashion choices - an inelegant preference for wolfing at the wander and for chomping on 'wedges and wodges' (whatever they may be), particularly in the garden. I don't think Fanny approves.

Fanny Cradock Breakfast Bricks

Fanny still has a suitable snack for them though. She says we should dispense with fancy French names for down-to-earth things at this time (which presumably do not deserve the effort) and simply call them what they are. Bricks. Ones you can eat. That's what she suggests here for those barely gingham-covered reprobates. She borrows the idea, but of course makes them suitable for the English home, from a trip to Tunisia. A considerably conventional ceremony with a cabinet minister's wife showed Fanny how they were made. Presumably Ferrero Rocher weren't around then. The wife was not welcome in her husband's home for the formal occasion (doubtless not because of her chosen attire) but instead was banished to her 'separate and primitive chamber' known as the kitchen. She took three hours to make the 'bricks'.

Fanny Cradock Breakfast Bricks

Fanny says that she is not 'screwy' enough to think that we would spend three hours making snacks for inappropriately dressed teenagers. I am saying nothing. So she has modified the recipe to suit the occasion, or lack of occasion, which ever it really is. Instead of a 'Tunisian paste' made of semolina and water, extravagantly, and lovingly, prepared and cooked on a griddle, she uses shop-bought puff pastry. This allows the 'bricks' to be made at speed to fill the eager youthful mouths, but to otherwise remain authentic. I imagine that this would be the prime concern for the denim-clad teenagers trotting around Fanny's garden.

Fanny Cradock Breakfast Bricks

In Tunisia, squares of paste are filled with freshly milled parsley, minced veal and an egg yolk. Folded into triangles (as surely all 'bricks' are) and deep fried. I switched the veal for some chopped vegetarian sausages, but otherwise I stuck with authenticity all the way. The resulting wedges, or wodges, as indeed they might be, are ideal as hand-held hunger hinderers, especially for garden wanderers in hot pants. Guaranteed to fill up the exposed tummies of teenage girls. And tasty too. No need to be stuck away, shamefully, in the kitchen for hours on end, when you could be outside showing all the shame on your face for the fashion choices of the young. Perfect summer holiday pastime.

Fanny Cradock Breakfast Bricks

Thursday, 22 June 2017

Feeling Fruity for my Fourth Fanniversary

Do you remember what you were doing four years ago? It's not something I generally spend a lot of time wondering. Mostly it would just be an ordinary day, doing ordinary things, in ordinary ways. However, I remember very clearly what happened four years ago for me. It was no ordinary day, and no ordinary day has occurred ever since. It changed my life. Four years ago, I wrote my first blog post.

Fanny Cradock Plum Meringue

I have no idea what I expected to happen on that day, other than I would sit down, type my thoughts down about dear old Fanny and hit 'publish'. For me, it was always about having fun, celebrating Fanny and making myself giggle. If anyone else read it that'd be a bonus. Well, four years on, it's been, and continues to be, all those things and so much more. I've loved every minute, hour, and day since then. I think I've grown to love Fanny even more too. I find myself sticking up for her a lot, we've become firm friends. I mean, I've yet to whack an assistant or pee in my plant pots, but, well, I think she's mostly great.

Fanny Cradock Plum Meringue

Whether you've read all two hundred and fifty two of these posts, or this is your first, I totally appreciate it and hope that you enjoy it as much as I do. Thanks! Readers, tweeters and bloggers have come and gone and come back again. Some have disappeared forever. Where did they go? I miss them! It's been a whirlwind of harmless green vegetable food colouring and aspic, but you know what, everything so far has worked out. People tell me all the time 'oh yeah, but Fanny couldn't cook' or 'gawd, her recipes are terrible, inedible, aren't they?'... I've just found them to be incredible. Well, not especially the Eggs in Aspic, but more often than not!

Fanny Cradock Plum Meringue

Her signature 'thing' seems to be taking something which is not very much and making it seem like it's something really special. That can't be bad can it? Like taking an egg or two, a few plums, some milk and a dash of caster sugar and creating a dessert to make you smile? It's one of Fanny's favourites, meringue. She suggests making it in a 'complicated' shape for which she gives 'complicated' instructions which just seems too 'complicated' for me. Her shape is basically four circles joined together. I think after four years together I can go a bit freeform with mine, and dare I say it it, 'better'?

Fanny Cradock Plum Meringue

Instead of circles I whip up the meringues following Fanny's technique, and fashion a suitable 4-shaped design on baking parchment. If Fanny has taught me anything over the years, it's to pipe, pipe, pipe, so I do. Fanny says it might look as if it demands skill from the cook, but it doesn't. The meringue case bakes in around an hour, and emerges looking somewhat tanned. Fanny's meringues always do, I don't know why. Someone will. Fanny fills her case with confectioners custard made from the yolks, and then tops with poached plum halves. It feels like a fitting celebration of our four years together. In wedding anniversary terms, four years is Fruit, apparently. Will you join me and Fanny for four more? I do hope so - there is so much more Fanny Fun to come!

Fanny Cradock Plum Meringue

Monday, 12 June 2017

I am still L'Affiné - Cradock En Tours #4

Some of the un-intentional language exchanges at the Food History conference have made me smile, some have made me snigger, some have seen me laughing out loud. But all have left me feeling totally ashamed. My French is so poor - whether at the conference, in a Tabac, the Carrefour or in a side-street brasserie, I have always been greeted with "Ah, it's OK, I speak English..." when I make a fumbled attempt. Can I blame Fanny for providing me with a limited selection of French vocabulary in her 'No Spik French' section? The language skills of the other conference presenters are impeccable, how easily they can switch between languages. The confusion has been all mine. Sessions led by an Italian, listed in English, have turned out to be delivered in French. Simply because, well, they can.

Fanny Cradock L'Affiné Tours

Not only the command of English and a host of other second languages, but the phrasing intrigues me. I often am made to think of words I use everyday in a very different way. Some words make more sense with alternative pronunciations. I can clearly see their origin. Why have I never noticed before? My absolute very favourite of the conference was the women, who, I thought announced part-way through her presentation that "I will F*ck You's now". Bold. She certainly got my attention. Until, I realised she had actually said "Focus". "Folk. Use."

Fanny Cradock L'Affiné Tours

I should make a note now not to throw in any of Fanny's dodgy French translations to my presentation. For now, my mind is foc-oo-sed on food. Last night as I wandered along Rue Colbert deciding where to settle, my eyes were drawn to a Bar À Fromages. L'Affiné. They proudly displayed a Gratin Végétarien on their menu. I was won over. The friendly waitress also explained, in perfect English, naturellement, that they did plates of local cheeses too, all I would need to do is decide how many portions I would like. She suggested fifteen or twenty as ideal, but more if I wished. This seemed like a lot of cheese to me, but when I saw my dining neighbours plates arrive, I was envious. Until that is, my Gratin appeared, blue and bubbling. With salad, bread, water and a matched local wine. They know how to make you feel at home here.

Fanny Cradock L'Affiné Tours

It seems almost impossible to determine what people in Tours do. How do they earn a living? Everyone appears to be just as I am, while there at least. Plenty of time. Just enjoying the world, and the food. No-one appears in a hurry. No-one looks stressed. No-one looks chained to their mobiles. Perhaps there is barely time with all the food and wine to be consumed? Fanny is no help whatsoever, as far as she is concerned, local people are simply there to serve her.

Fanny Cradock L'Affiné Tours

Speaking of which, it would appear to be a shameful waste not to sample the delights of the dessert menu while I am here. Fanny makes sure my eyes do not pass over Le Mini-Baba-Au-Rhum. OMG. Rum. Almonds. Chantilly Cream. This is exactly how I expect them to taste, based of course on Fanny's expert tuition. The rum is incredibly strong. In a good way. Fanny would undoubtedly have had ones such as these in her time. This is what she wants us to eat, to make, to enjoy. Together.

Fanny Cradock L'Affiné Tours

Thursday, 8 June 2017

Je Cherchez L'Hôtel Metropole - Cradock En Tours #3

My mission - I just HAD to find the most celebrated hotel in Fanny's guidebook to the Tours - the rather splendid sounding Hôtel Metropole. She'd already mentioned it strongly in her guide to Wining and Dining in France. What might today's Gateaux de la Maison be? Would Fanny perhaps have tasted the very same one, in the very same setting? More details were given in the tour guide Holiday in the Touraine she published in 1956. With the address in hand, 14 Place Jean Jaunes, I set off to explore. A lack of data plan on my mobile meant I was transported back to the time that Fanny was writing. Just as in the 1950s, armed only with Fanny's guide, I had limited information, but a great supply of hope and belief.

Fanny Cradock Tour of Tours

A short walk from the Gare de Tours, the main square in the town centre appears to be undergoing a period of change. Regeneration we might call it. Many of the Grande Hôtels stand empty or have been re-propositioned with a variety of other uses. Surely the Hôtel Metropole would not have succumbed to such progress? The leafy square spreads out as if to make room for the expansive tram system which now strides the Rue Nationale, seemingly splitting the city in two. Stretching from north of La River Loire to the somewhat appropriately named (perhaps) Winston Churchill Boulevard in the south, the tram sees to be well used and smooth running. I never used it, preferring to walk.

Fanny Cradock Tour of Tours

In Place Jean Jaunes itself, people find comfortable spots in the various pavement cafés and those strange enclosed perspex spaces which many restaurants favour now, neither seemingly attached to the main restaurant nor flying absolutely solo. Islands of meeting and eating space. Without facilities. Fanny noted this was also the case in 1956, where celebrated chefs around the Touriane region told her 'we put the cooking and wines first, the ambiance and toilettes last', so it seems nothing has changed.

Fanny Cradock Tour of Tours

I wander round several times. Hôtel De Lille. Hôtel De L'Europe. Grand Hôtel. Hôtel De L'Universe. all there and all splendid buildings, giving the air of being THE 'place to stay' in town, just as Fanny suggested. Fanny noted that the Hôtel De L'Universe was plain to see in particular, even by the most myopic. So, I wasn't in need of an eye examination, but where was the glory of the Hôtel Metropole? Fanny was by now teasing me with details of their Crêpes Bordelaise, which apparently no-one, not even Fanny herself, can cook better that the chef there.

Fanny Cradock Tour of Tours

Hôtel Metropole had an ample eighty bedrooms, so would surely be in plain sight too, myopic or not. Wandering up and down Place Jean Jaunes in search of number 14 it did not appear to be so. Just as I was about to consult Fanny's guide to popular French phrases for weary travellers, No Spik French, and attempt to order a Daily Mail each day, or where to find the best dentist (as these are surely the essential phrases) in the hope that someone took pity on my French abilities and replied in English so I could ask about the Metropole, I saw it. Standing proud and smug, taunting me and jeering at me for not noticing it sooner. Also crushing me completely by having transformed itself into an H&M. The closest I could get to sharing a space where Fanny had been would be to buy a t-shirt.

Fanny Cradock Arrivè en Tours