It was some time in the mid-Sixties when things began to change in my mother’s kitchen. First we got a fridge. Farewell mesh-doored meat safe, farewell flecks of curdled milk floating in your tea. The second thing that happened was Fanny Cradock. This was a brief love affair – my mum later transferred her culinary trust and affection to Delia Smith – but while it lasted its impact was astonishing. Expenditure on piping bags, time spent tracking down a butter curler and a grapefruit knife, foods coloured contrary to the laws of Nature: the responsibility for this and much more could be laid at Fanny’s door.
My mother was a typical post-war housewife, a thrifty provider of good, plain cooking. It’s hard now to picture a time when every pantry contained packets of blancmange powder, when olive oil was something you bought at the chemist for use in cases of earache. But so it was. Our kitchen bible was a 1937 edition of Cookery Illustrated & Household Management. I have it still. It has recipes for Boiled Smelts and Cabinet Pudding, hints on the best season to buy capercailzie (September to November) and not one but two home remedies for lumbago.
In the Beginning was Philip Harben, but we didn’t know about him. When Fanny burst upon the scene we had only just acquired a television, so my mum was an impressionable cookery-show virgin and Fanny Cradock swept her off her feet. Not only did Fanny cook wearing lipstick and no apron, she was also a seductive blend of straight talking and aspirational glamour. Old enough to have weathered wartime rationing and prescient enough to recognize that the British public was ready for something new: tiddled-up food.
Where did she spring from, this born-for-television phenomenon? She’d been a travel journalist and a restaurant reviewer, presumably before her eyebrows and oak-smoked voice made her instantly recognizable. She was also a prodigious sausage machine of novels and, somewhat surprisi
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