First edition 1964
Just in time for Christmas on the Food Channel Nadia G is hosting a special series about cookery legend Fanny Cradock." A Celebration of Fanny" is a parody of the "Cradock Cooks for Christmas" TV shows in which the inimitable no-nonsense "cook" shares her unique style of festive gastronomy.Fanny gives advice on choosing, stuffing and carving the bird and makes her mother´s Family Trifle with her very favourite Swiss Roll slathered in apricot jam and sprinkled with a " sweet white wine such as Sauternes". "Its all in the booklet " Fanny keeps reminding us.The programme cuts back and forth from cuts of the original show to Nadia G cooking sensible modern takes inspired by Fanny´s abominations.If you are new to Fanny, or are of the generation like me that experienced Fanny first time round, you must catch this wonderful spoof.
While on the subject of Fanny I want to share with you the 50th anniversary of one of her greatest triumphs.If you can lay your hands on a copy this would make a very novel Christmas present for someone who would enjoy a nostalgic reminder of what TV chefs were like in the mid 60's.
It is 1964 and the last year in the UK when a crime was punishable by death,and the year the first edition of The Daily Telegraph Cooks Book was published.For many the majority of its recipes should have faced the death sentence.Its author,a preposterous character, who the foodies loved you to loathe was causing a culinary stir across middle class England. Her signature maquillage of a French clown or pantomime dame brought the same terror as might be experienced by a child witnessing the appearance of a kabuki performer.Her demeanour was of a woman in constant search of an argument. Terrifying, strange and rather grand – and that was just her cookery.From the mid-1950s to 1976, she was the "Queen of British cuisine". She was to be utterly reviled and disgraced during her lifetime: Her name:Fanny Cradock, Britain´s first celebrity chef.She introduced a well-off dinner party generation,my mother among them, to canapés and prawn cocktail. She and her monocled husband Johnny, appeared dressed for a ball, rather than for working in a kitchen.An early memory I recall is of her cooking in the kitchen in evening wear with long 3/4 length gloves.The pair delighted and astonished television audiences in hundreds of early cookery programmes, starting in 1955. In Kitchen Magic they put on airs as they demonstrated souffles ( “what goes up must come down” ) and eclairs.While piping rosettes of cream onto a trifle -- "they're frightfully important" -- Fanny would dispense pearls of wisdom for anyone looking to one-up the Joneses. ."Don't tell that woman next door [how to do it]," she warned, "and then you've got a bit of one-upmanship ... which is always satisfying." It was not a parody, however, but Fanny and Johnny's genuine idea of how our social betters wined and dined.She introduced a whole generation to ASPIC.What happened to aspic, does anyone still use aspic?
The Daily Telegraph Cooks Book by Bon Viveur was a pioneering influence on me as a child growing up in a 60´s kitchen. My parents were ardent Telegraph readers and the first column my mother would turn to, even before she put pen to the crossword, would always be "Bon Viveur”, Fanny Cradock´s early anonymous role as a food critic working alongside hubby Major John Craddock.
Her name probably won't mean much to people under the age of 40, but if your televisual memory extends to the mid '60s and beyond she will need no introduction.
Daily Telegraph readers knew the drill better than most.The forthright Bon Viveur columns, which acknowledged the contributions of Fanny's much-put-upon partner Johnnie, but which were unmistakably hers in tone and content, carried housewives from the dregs of rationing right through to the brashness of Thatcher's Britain.
The Daily Telegraph was the couple´s passport to stardom in the late 1940s. Fanny wrote fashion items and beauty tips for its pages under a brace of noms de plume. In 1949, shortly after her first recipe book, The Practical Cook, was published, the paper’s women’s editor asked her to take some weekend breaks in the country to see if any “worthwhile” restaurants had emerged since the war. Fanny and Johnnie visited hundreds of hotels and restaurants in Britain and abroad. They accentuated the positive, and wrote only about good ones.
The dual lure of the Daily Mail and the new Associated-Rediffusion independent television channel however was impossible for Fanny and Johnnie to resist, and they defected in 1955.The Telegraph regarded it as a separation rather than a divorce, and by 1959 the duo were back in the fold. The Daily Telegraph Cook's Book became one of 1964's bestsellers, by far outselling John Lennon´s “In His Own Write”, as it soared to the top of the charts.
I was only twelve at the time and it was like learning to read something surreal, a culinary version of Rudyard Kipling´s ´”Just So Stories”, full of whimsical oddities.Fanny´s strange ideas were perhaps a little beyond me as a minor.I was too young to get the nuance of the captions like "Fine fish is never boiled”, or "Oh that poor spud!" Nevertheless it left a marked impression on me even though its physical evidence now seems to have vanished without a trace.I looked up at my mother´s kitchen wall constantly to see what was in season on the spin-off purchase she had mail ordered, the Bon Viveur Cooks Calendar, printed on cloth.Fanny Cradock wrote with aplomb and humour and a brisk Edwardian no-nonsense authority, unsympathetic to namby pamby ideas about electric toasters and instant coffee.I can imagine her throwing an acolyte's less-than-perfect culinary offering straight out of the window without a backward glance and without even pausing for breath. She would not countenance mutton ("divorce meat") but to make “Tripe which is not like stewed knitting “she gave detailed and strict instructions, and woe betide the reader who deviated from them even by a single teaspoon of “fécule de pommes". Herbs are characterised as "bad-tempered, secretive and choosy", "a prickly customer" and "a bit of a bully". Takes one to know one I suppose.
And it doesn't disappoint. It's bonkers and idiosyncratic,a thoroughly entertaining rant, but at the same time infused with a profound knowledge of cooking and a deep love of food.I don't believe for one minute they wrote it together; I like to imagine Fanny, reclining on a chaise-longue, with a fag in one hand and a gin and tonic in the other, barking the prose out at Johnnie, who's sitting upright in a hard-backed chair and desperately scribbling to keep up.The whole book is a delight, and here are a couple of Fanny´s specific cake-related tips that I am sure would bring a smile to Mary Berry´s face.
Subduing lumpy icing sugar
“Old, lumpy icing sugar can be a beast to sieve. It can soon be slapped into submission [I picture Johnnie quaking here, or possible shivering with pleasure - yeuch!] if you tuck it under a thick fold of paper and bash it with a rolling pin. After this treatment it runs through a sieve if you just shake and tap”.
Eclairs and cream buns
“will never have any surplus goo in the middle after baking if the mixture is made properly in the first place. Therefore the moronic advice to scoop goo out with the handle of a teaspoon should be treated with the contempt it deserves”.
And finally, the first lines of a chapter entitled "Let your starches breathe":-
“Please do not stifle your starches. Stop pawing them. Pastry prefers to remain aloof. It bitterly resents being stroked and patted. Such treatment makes it close up on itself and settle into a leaden sulk. Baking powder only gives it violent indigestion and successfully ruins flavour and texture, too”.
Many people couldn´t stand Cradock, but I adored her. Perhaps she was a subliminal signal to me that I would later revere drag queens.Beyond the epic snobbery and egotism, the lack of empathy, the overbearing insistence on her way and her way only, and the horrific comedy eyebrows she was an excellent cook and a first-rate if terrifying instructress. I can't remember a time when, thanks to this book, I didn't know about soupe au pistou and beignets d'aubergine, the true and correct meaning of the term "au gratin", how to make a perfect profiterole with “No Goo”, and most importantly, life-alteringly crucial to me, how to produce the perfect omelette, for which I gladly forgive her all her sins.
I will always love this book, but if you don´t already own an original edition and are looking for a second hand copy beware. In 1978 it was revised. Gone are all the cartoons, replaced by tasteful woodcuts, lots of the humour has been toned down and much of the snobby, endearing chatter is gone....even though most of the recipes are essentially unchanged, as a book it's worth holding out for an original.
Make sure the copy you are buying is one of the earlier editions, look for the blue spine and the cartoon of the butler with the boiled egg on the front.
Closely followed in 1967 came "The Sociable Cook´s Book" Culling more extracts from Bon Viveur's column in The Daily Telegraph. What is a Sociable Cook? Apparently "Someone who is completely unruffled by unexpected extra mouths to feed".
Fanny had a good innings at the Telegraph.The Bon Viveur columns survived till the mid eighties.
But having reviled and rebuked so many it was time to step down and relinquish her culinary crown.She had lost her grip on the nation.There was no forgiveness for her ritual dismembering in public of housewife Gwen Troake and from them on it was time to hand over her role,if reluctantly to a new generation of TV chefs.There were new ways to sell an omelette.She was well worth the tantrums,the bullying,the pretentious spun sugar and underneath all that couverture was a television genius who could turn some pretty dull ingredients into something pretty spectacular.