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

Monday, 5 June 2017

Je Suis Arrivé - Cradock En Tours #2

As I arrive in Tours in preparation for my Fanny presentation, I am greeted by the wonderful Gare De Tours. A spectacular square with fine, elegant buildings, intriguing side streets, smoking tabacs and enough bread and pastry tumbling out of the local boulangerie to keep me going for ever. Just as impressive as Fanny had said it would be. She told me that wherever I go, if I elected to follow her, she would have been sure to have been there before. Just a short hop to my hotel, which it turned out, had an unexpected Hollywood Red Carpet theme. I would spending the next few days in Ginger Rogers. I don't think Fanny had done that.

Fanny Cradock Arrivè en Tours

The town itself is easy to navigate with old streets lined with poky peek-holes. Bliss for a nosey person like myself. Fanny's advice was to seek out the Mayor, the Postman or the gendarme, and study their shape. If they are oval, ask them where to eat well. Fanny says to never, and she repeats never, follow Americans. Shunning both pieces of advice, I following the smell of food, I made my way along Rue Colbert which was lined with restaurant after brasserie, each setting out its stall in a friendly, familiar manner - letting the diverse menus speak for themselves. No pushy marketing or cajoling required. The choices were endless. Which small, square table enticingly set with wine glasses to sit at? I walked back and forth several times before settling on 'Aux Lapin Qui Fumé', after all the Smoking Rabbit seemed like the kind of place Fanny would have approved of.

Fanny Cradock Arrivè en Tours

Rue Colbert really was the perfect place to sit and watch Tours go by. A Tours perhaps different to the one visited by Fanny, but essentially the same. Fanny says to ensure I spend well on food, after all the sights are for free. She is not wrong. Opposite was a small vegetarian café - Shanti - which gave it's hours as Monday to Friday 8:30am - 2pm, but I never saw it open. A more elegant neighbour, Restaurant La Ruche, attracted a slightly older clientele deep in conversation. Their young waiter was tall and slender, as thin as a rake, able to contort his body, folding himself in half to serve food as if he were a ballet dancer moonlighting at Maxims.

Fanny Cradock Arrivè en Tours

Fanny says that if you are rich and have the digestion of a goat, not to bother with her suggestions. Neither apply to me. The menu at the Smoking Rabbit was perfect. A choice of Grande Salades promising to tumble off the plate appealed greatly. I passed on the Salade Vegetarienne and went instead for the Salade Fruites. Piled high with leaves and fruits, topped with a dash of local honey to balance the goats cheese crostini, pink grapefruit (which was expertly cut) and a light, engaging dressing. For dessert, I had to order a firm favourite of Fanny. We've made it together. Soufflé Glacé presented as an homage to Grand Marnier. It did not disappoint.

Fanny Cradock Arrivè en Tours

I was delighted to note all the wines were offered by the glass, bottle and ideal for moi as a solo diner, half-bottles. The local AOC Touraine was winking at me. C'est Tres Jolie. My evening à la Rue Colbert was perfect. An eclectic pick'n'mix of people, old shuttered apartments flung open to the world, but without obvious signs of life. Gentle queues for mysterious packages formed and dissolved at Pharmacie Colbert, mingling effortlessly with well-to-do ladies meeting to quaff champagne and American tourists attempting to strike up unlikely conversations with strangers. They seem to have followed me, Fanny would not be amused. Sitting un-noticed, un-disturbed and un-rushed, I just enjoy the scene, the food and the wine. What a warm welcome to Tours.

Fanny Cradock Arrivè en Tours

Tuesday, 30 May 2017

Presenting My Fanny - Cradock en Tours #1

In a somewhat bold move, I'm taking Fanny Cradock back to France. It's the least I can do. She absolutely loved the place. She told anyone and everyone she was half-French, she supposedly spoke fluent French and recommended above all others the French way of cooking, drinking and living. I hope she'd be thrilled to know I was heading over to the Continent to tell a conference full of Food, History and Culture folks from around the world all about her. Well, as much of my research as I can squeeze into my allotted time slot anyway... I might need to talk very quickly. So long as I remember to refer to her as Cradock, not Fanny. Academics aren't keen on the 'F' word being said aloud.

Fanny Cradock en Tours

I've no idea what they'll all make of her, or me for that matter, but I'm looking forward to it greatly. As ever, Fanny is on hand to chaperone me throughout my stay. Back in 1959 she published a guidebook to help other ordinary people to Wine and Dine in France. Well, it might be rude not to do just that. The book is crammed full of her personal suggestions on how to find the very best meals that France, the country supreme in fine eating and drinking, can provide. It couldn't possibly be comprehensive, Fanny does not pretend to list ALL France's eating places, but she gives it a good go with 450 of her 'very favourites'. She insists that we do not pay any attention whatsoever to her competition motoring organisations symbols of recommendation, which are based more on lavatories than assessments of wining and dining.

Fanny Cradock en Tours

Each recommendation is chosen to give me a 'high and assured level of delight at the table'. This may cause some raised French eyebrows as a solo diner. When Harry Met Fanny this is not. The book is not designed for mere commoners looking for adequate food at a low price. It is for those willing to pay a higher price for fine cuisine. This may be an expensive trip. The conference is in Tours, a place I have never been to before. I wonder if Fanny's recommendations will still hold true? Before I explore though, she continues to warn against complaining and fussing about the lavatories. I haven't been, but perhaps I will. I'm nervous now. I simply should 'use the pedals' without complaint, as some of France's most primitive establishments provide some of France's most memorable meals. Eeek.

Fanny Cradock en Tours

Her first port of call en Tours is the Brasserie Bordeaux, which is apparently brightly decorated and run by a Madame and her daughter, who do above average treatments with vegetables. My eyes are watering already. Perhaps I'd be safer at Hotel Métropole, which has a rather plain restaurant but an exceptional Gâteau Maison. Or maybe La Rôtisserie Tourangelle is more me. It's knitted into the ancient streets as naturally as Madame Defarge knitted names into the steps of La Guillotine. It has frilly curtains and lavish portions, setting a pattern of provincial chic. Fanny knows me so well.

Fanny Cradock en Tours

But what should I eat while I am there? Fanny has this covered too, as you might expect, with her 1973 Common Market Cookery book on the acknowledged centre of the Gastronomic World, France. Eating in France seems to be all swings and roundabouts. French folks spend one eighth of their incomes upon their bellies, Fanny proudly declares. Is it just me, or does that seem low? I should watch out for the service of vegetables. They will be served AFTER the main meal apparently, which may be tricky for me as a vegetarian. On the plus side the French seemingly have 480 different ways to cook a potato, which can't be bad. Can it? Only one way to find out. I will report back in equal measure on Tours itself, my tours of the lavatories, the Madames and as many of the potato variations as I can muster... Will you join me?

Fanny Cradock en Tours

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