TWO FAT LADIES
Trill two upper classed English voices to the sound of some old trombone belting out trad jazz. It's the Two Fat Ladies singing the introductory theme tune to their TV series of the same name. And they're "itchin to get into your kitchen". I'm not being politically incorrect here by calling them fat. The Two Fat Ladies were indeed fat and by the sound of their cut glass accents, could very well be Ladies. They were the greatest thing to hit the celebrity TV chef circuit in the UK since Fanny Craddock.
If you're from the States and Australia, the chances are you will have heard of them too, as their un-PC, no nonsense, down to earth but incredibly posh and British approach to cookery has taken those particular nations by storm too.
But why? What was the secret of their success?
They promoted the use of lard. They looked like men in drag. They were old and badly dressed. They were a bit like bag ladies but with more jewellery. One of them smoked, was a former alcoholic, and wore bright red nail varnish and diamond rings as she plunged her fingers into all manner of food. Almost surreally they drove a vintage Triumph Thunderbird motorcycle and sidecar wearing goggles and old leather bike jackets.
We loved them and it was probably for those very reasons that we loved them.
Clarissa Dickson Wright and the late great Jennifer Paterson sped round the UK countryside like a culinary Dick Dastardly and Mutley. They burst into monasteries, rowing clubs, country houses, rugby clubs, stately homes, private schools, Women's Institute fetes, and old fishing villages to cook lots of terribly British Food for the locals.
The thing I loved about them was how almost shockingly unhealthy they were.
"You could use low fat crème fraiche here," one of them would pronounce, "But quite frankly what would be the point of that?"
"I've never been fond of rabbit food myself," pondered one, referring to a salad. "Yes, I much prefer eating rabbits themselves", the other would reply. "I totally agree - rabbit is a splendid food but a bit out of fashion these days because of the fluffy bunny brigade".
You could almost hear the sharp intakes of breath across the country. Here were people on prime time national TV telling us to eat Thumper, Bambi and their mates and cook with full cream and lard. In the first series, Jennifer would even smoke while cooking - this must have been too much, as in the next two series she was only allowed to have a fag at the end of the shows.
That was almost the most sublime part for me. After cooking a warren of rabbits in vats of butter followed by a mountainous strawberry shortcake bursting with clotted cream and calories, the two ladies would recline outside the kitchen. A glass of wine in one hand, and in Paterson's case, a "post coital" fag in the other, they would muse about the day's events to the setting sun.
Despite their love of all things fatty - they hated junk food. "You see all these people eating on the streets these dreadful Mr. McDonald's hamburgers. I ate one once. Someone made me. It tasted like something died on a wet bun," said Paterson.
You can easily see the appeal of The Two Fat Ladies overseas. Here were two Brits who were quite clearly as mad as hatters cooking the sorts of food that the rest of the world think the British eat on a regular basis. Huge, rich, meaty stews with dumplings, roasted venison, veal, partridge, quails, pigeons, rabbits. Rounded off with huge stodgy hot puddings with names like Spotted Dick, Jam Roly Poly, Plum Duff, Yorkshire Parkin and vats of lumpy English custard. Yummy!
Actually the recipes or "receipts" as the ladies would charmingly call them, weren't as traditional as you'd think. True there was a huge amount of meat, game and offal in them but they did have quite a few continental dishes up their vast sleeves too.
Another thing I loved was the really poor lighting and almost 1940's, Second World War, public information film, "getting by on your ration book" feel about the camera work. Forget the crazy camera angles and trendy Brit Pop sound track which accompanies Jamie Oliver on The Naked Chef. Forget the soft focus and intimate sexy close ups of Nigella Lawson on Nigella Bites. This was low light, low budget TV and you got the impression that the camera man was constantly waving away clouds of smoke from Jennifer's cigarettes between takes. To me the food always looked pretty unappetising at the end of the show, yet great crews of rugby players, bikers, priests and choir boys would tuck in with gusto, and they couldn't have been wrong. Could they?
Sadly with the death of Jennifer Paterson (from lung cancer) in 1999 the Two Fat Ladies are no more. However, their fans live on. The Food Network featured them in a number of 30 minute viewer phone-ins and Nielsen TV ratings averaged a 47 percent higher rating than that of the same period a year ago. A Fat-a-Thon weekend was held donating one of their motorbike jackets. More than 10,000 people responded.
The series is often repeated in the UK on BBC or UK Food. The US had to bring back the series after huge complaints from viewers demanding it was resurrected after the first series was abruptly cut short. Check out the hundreds of fan messages on their forum.
I'm not sure that I'd be "itchin" to get the Two Fat Ladies into my kitchen. Once there, they would throw away the soya and skimmed milk and replace it with a churn of buttermilk. They'd bin our low cholesterol, organic non dairy spread and get out a bowl of beef dripping. Then they'd roll into the garden and shoot the two large pigeons that perch on our tree, roast them on a spit and afterwards munch hot buttered scones with extra cream and jam.
Mmmmm hot buttered scones with cream and jam! On second thoughts, why not let them in?
You can also read the reviews or buy a double pack of their books Cooking with the Two Fat Ladies & Obsession , Jennifer Paterson's Seasonal Receipts (sic) from amazon.com. Or catch them on video here - Volumes 1 & 2 - Volume 4
GOOD COOKS and COOKING:
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Solar Cola - a healthier alternative
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