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 souffl├ęs 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