Monday, October 29, 2007

On Avoiding Gardening

My favourite Saturday mornings are those when I wake to a warm and still sleeping household, pad downstairs to a beautifully tidy kitchen and make a cup of tea before I've properly woken up. Often there's a bit of last night's left-over takeaway (my favourite brekkie of cold curry and a scoop of naan bread while the kettle boils); sometimes a bit of chicken absent-mindedly torn from the carcass in the oven with a dollop of chilli sauce (I like to roast off a couple of chickens at a time, so there's always something for lunch the next day). Rarely there are the softening remains of a plate of cheese, as this only happens when friends call round on a Friday night, and as Friday night is Gardener's World night, this is not something I like to encourage.

I reckon on having a couple of hours to get the weekend jobs out of the way, and by ten I'm watching Saturday Kitchen with endless cups of tea and the papers. I like the excerpts of old TV chefs preparing food before strange and unusual backdrops. Anthony Carluccio appears to be the master of backdrops. I like the little ranty strops that Rick Stein works himself into doing his face-to-camera shots. And afterwards there's Rachel Allen teaching us to suck eggs. Tonight we face Nigella pretending to cook fast food in her warehouse mock-up of a London kitchen.

One of these days they'll bring back the Fanny and Johnny Cradock cooking shows. Food rationing in the UK was finally lifted in 1954, and I suppose Fanny and her day-glo coloured food was a natural reaction against the austerity of the weekly 2oz butter / 3oz sugar / 1 egg rations. I grew up on her cooking, as my mother embraced with enthusiasm the food dye and piping bag during the psychedelic sixties. A favourite dinner party staple from my childhood seems to have been green butter (or was it mayonnaise?) piped into shells around the base of dariol moulded chicken towers. And potatoes piped around everything, often stiffened with beaten egg and moulded into baskets holding back mountains of green peas or a vast sea of prawnage. And Russian Salad. Remember whole melons cut into basket shapes, balled out and stuffed with melon balls and red grapes? And everything garnished with bunches of watercress, especially the roasted pheasant's bottom. Unmistakeably British. I learned to pipe before I could ride a bike. The first cookbook I received was the Hamlyn All Colour Cookbook, and by the time I took my O Levels I'd cooked the entire book. That classic black front cover and the impossibly tall Dundee cake...
I've a torn out review of the Fanny Cradock show between the pages of Frances Mayes' Bella Tuscany. Everyday food mixed with more elaborate recipes. Aide and fawning husband Johnny delivered the best-ever cooking ad-lib: "If you're very lucky your doughnuts will come out looking like Fanny's." I'm with Edith at the link below, on modern TV cooks...

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