Monday, 12 September 2011

Fanny Cradock

Sorry if you opened this blog thinking Fabulous Fanny was about something else entirely. If its ladies bottoms you are after-carry on surfing.The fabulous Fanny the blog title refers to is Fanny Cradock, cook extraordinaire, wearer of garish blue eye shadow and the woman with the thinnest plucked eyebrows since Bette Davies.
 I first heard of Fanny Cradock when BBC4 started playing reruns of her "Fanny Cradock cooks for Christmas" show a few years ago. As I watched her, resplendent in pink chiffon stabbing a goose violently with a fork telling viewers in her plumy tones to "imagine the goose is someone you don't like but are too well bred to do anything about " I was fascinated.
The fantastic Fanny Cradock
Fanny Cradock was probably the first chef to become a TV personality. Her creative french inspired cooking (she said her "god" was Georges Auguste Escoffier) was considered very daring and exotic following the post war drabness which rationing had created. Her attention to detail with food presentation turned simple dinner parties into works of art. She famously dyed mashed potato green and made brandy butter towers in the shape of Christmas trees to accompany her mushroom stuffed turkey. 

Her own appearance was also fairly splendid. Whilst she prided herself on being frugal claiming her purse would "never stretch to ham, gammon would have to suffice" her dresses were by Hartnell, Dior and Balenciaga. She also never wore an apron claiming " cooking is a cleanly art, not a grubby chore"
Fanny displaying a typically elaborate looking dish
The image she portrayed with her long suffering husband Johnny was of a kooky upper class lady. With her condescending slightly intimidating manner and constant stream of tips regarding etiquette which she handed out whist she prepared her dishes made her appear one step from Royalty. The reality was that she had at times in her life been quite destitute,had been married three times (the third time bigamously) and had worked as a cleaner and sold items door to door. Her big break came when she began writing for various publications including The Telegraph when her and Johnny became restaurant critics for a column called “Bon Viveur”
Fanny and the famously henpecked Johnny
Fanny started cooking on TV in 1955 and continued for over twenty years. Her recipes were elaborate and often covered in butter and brandy. Some of her inventions were quite eccentric including her "Green Cheese Ice Cream" and  being from the generation who had survived rationing she had a particular fondness for offal, one highlight being veal brains cooked with cream.Her carear effectively ended in 1976 when she was asked to appear on the program "The big time" to comment on an item called Cook of the realm. A housewife called  Gwen Troafe had won a competition to create a menu for Edward Heath and Lord Mountbattenmenu and horrified viewers watched as Fanny lambasted poor Gwen's menu, even pulling  a face as if she was being sick when Gwen described her meal of duck with bramble jelly. The general consensus was that she had been far too high handed and she was never booked to cook on television again.The haughty air and rudeness which had made her such a tour de force was her undoing.

She is remembered with if not fondness, then respect by many well known cooks. Delia Smith claims Fanny was the reason she started cooking and Jamie Oliver has also cited her as an influence.I for one think with her slightly barmy "Whatever happened to baby Jane" appearance she is a total legend. Every Christmas she apparently always wore a dress made from a length of velvet Norman Hartnell had used to cover the queens coronation gown and it wasn't unheard of her to do a cooking demonstration in a tiara.It should be noted that she was also one of the first public figures to campaign against fertilisers and artificial flavourings in food. Vive Le Fanny


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