“Our duty is to be fat” – Cakes

TITLE: Cakes

NUMBER: Series 1, Episode 4

ORIGINAL AIRDATE: October 30, 1996

SETTINGS: The village of Hallaton, in Leicestershire. Anthea [Kenyon], a friend of Clarissa’s “from my W.I. days,” has asked the ladies to contribute some baked goods for the annual village fête.

“Famous Anthea” (r.).

Traditional village fete.

Traditional village fête.

(Clarissa seems familiar with the village, pointing out Virginia creeper and a buttercross as they arrive. [Or perhaps she’s just a know-it-all.])

Virginia Creeper

Virginia creeper.



For the field trip segment, they gather eggs at Halstead House farm. The episode concludes with the fête itself, where the ladies play a game in which Jennifer gets to hit Clarissa with a wet sponge.

[UPDATE: A reader sent in some “Street View” photos of the locations from this episode as they appear today. Fantastic! – WK]

The house where the ladies do their baking, today.

The house where the ladies do their baking, today. (Very glad to see the place is still overrun with Virginia creeper.)

And the Hallaton village green, where the fete is held.

And the Hallaton village green, where the fête is held.

DISHES: Jennifer bakes a gallete des rois, a pastry made with almonds and kirsch that is traditionally served at Epiphany. She also does a Polish chocolate coffee cake with walnuts (“for the grownups”). (She says to eat this with “lovely iced coffee while you’re reclining by a swimming pool.”)

Clarissa does a gingerbread cake from Yorkshire [an odd choice for summer, but I have made it for Christmas and it’s excellent – WK] and a prune and apple cake from Denmark. [Cooking says the recipe comes from Australian cook Gretta Anna Teplitzky.]

FOOD TIPS AND LORE: Clarissa says baking requires more precision and attention to detail than other cookery does. She also notes that cake batter is best mixed with a metal spoon. [On my favorite episode of The French ChefJulia Child says that ingredients for a dessert are best mixed with a purple spoon, but that’s another story.] When the gallete des rois is served for Epiphany, a ring, bean, or figure of the infant Jesus is included in the batter; whoever finds it in his or her piece is declared king of the feast, according to Jennifer.

Baby in the cake

Jennifer uses instant coffee in her cake icing, saying, “Strangely enough, it seems to resume a taste of coffee, which it never does if you drink it.” (“Tastes more like Oxo,” Clarissa comments.)


ON HEALTHY LIVING: Clarissa on her prune cake: “Just in case you think it sounds healthy, don’t be put off by that. It’s very good.” Jennifer includes a raw egg yolk in her cake icing (“Just call me Miss Salmonella.”)

Miss Salmonella?

Miss Salmonella?

REMEMBRANCES OF THINGS PAST: The ladies recall eating black treacle (molasses) as children, and when Jennifer tastes Clarissa’s gingerbread batter, she smiles and says, “Childhood, childhood.”

Childhood, childhood.

“Childhood, childhood.”

Clarissa remembers the family cook making gingerbread when she was young. [In Cookingshe attributes the recipe to Anne Willan of the LaVarenne cooking school in Paris.]

Anne Willan with Martha

Anne Willan (r.).

Jennifer notices a “Baby Belling” toaster oven and exclaims, “That’s all I had to cook with in Benghazi for large dinner parties full of generals!”

The Baby Belling.

The Baby Belling.

STRONG OPINIONS: Jennifer has “always rather revered” the Women’s Institute, and Clarissa calls it “the SAS of British cookery,” though the reference is unclear to me – it seems she probably means the Special Air Service (Britain’s special forces). Whatever it means, she obviously thought it was hot stuff because she used it again in Cooking with the Two Fat Ladies.

Members of the SAS with Margaret Thatcher.

Members of the SAS with Margaret Thatcher.

Jennifer, on almond essence:

Don’t get something called “almond flavoring,” get the real essence. Almond flavoring’s disgusting.



She also addresses the chickens at the farm thus: “Your produce is good, but you are idiots.”

Clarissa brings up the subject of apples for baking:

Clarissa: Don’t use golden delicious.

Jennifer: They’re no use, are they. No flavor.

Clarissa: No use to man or beast. It’s extraordinary, you know, the way they sort of, they breed flavor out of apples.

Jennifer: They breed flavor out of anything they can get their hands on, nowadays.

Clarissa: Well, that’s very true.

Jennifer: Just to get them the right size. Who the hell cares?

Clarissa: Yes, I blame the Americans. They’re so afraid of flavors. Strong flavors, strong emotions . . .

Jennifer: Not only the Americans. The Dutch breed every living morsel of taste out of them. Those huge tomatoes, all perfect in size. The carrots, when you leave them somewhere, turn into something like the monster from the Black Lagoon – a sort of terrible goo, and no taste again. Or their aubergines. I mean, if it’s Dutch, don’t buy it. Sorry about that. Except for other things – I mean, their eels are wonderful.

Golden Delicious

“No use to man or beast.”

Black Lagoons

Dutch eels.

Dutch eels.

SONGS AND MUSIC: Jennifer thunders “Jerusalem,” the anthem of the W.I., while operating her electric mixer. (Clarissa comments on the lyric “Bring me my Arrow of desire”: “I never understood why ‘desire’ for the Women’s Institute. . . .”)

William Blake

William Blake, whose poetry became the hymn

William Blake, whose poetry became the hymn “Jerusalem.”

LITERARY/CULTURAL REFERENCES: Jennifer mentions Hitchcock’s The Birds.

“Hitchcock and the birds?”

STYLE WATCH: Jennifer wears some smart seersucker trousers, and her brassiere makes its first appearance on the series.



Speaking of brassieres, she also chides Clarissa for not bringing anything to collect eggs in (“like a foolish virgin!”):

Jennifer: Use your brassiere – you could fill them with many eggs!

Clarissa: Jennifer, I’m not taking my underwear off in front of these poor innocent chickens, to say nothing of the cockerel.

Friends don't let friends be foolish virgins.

Friends don’t let friends be foolish virgins.

Clarissa wears her sunglasses on top of her head.

Picture 32

ON DRINKS AND DRINKING:  The inclusion of kirsch in Jennifer’s galette causes Clarissa to say, “Oh, the wild cherry trees growing on the slopes of—” something that’s unintelligible to me. It sounds like “Avery Vickervere,” but I haven’t been able to identify it. Perhaps a reference to Egri Bikavér? Or something to do with Efri-Vik in Iceland? Not sure either of those make sense, but whatever it is, Jennifer responds, “You’re going off on one of your travel dreams.”

Making homemade kirsch is actually a tradition in my hometown.

Making homemade kirsch is actually a tradition in my hometown.

In the epilogue, there is also the first allusion to Clarissa’s alcoholism:

Jennifer: Let’s go back and have a bath and a large drink.

Clarissa: Well, I’ll settle for the bath, you can have the huge drink.

Jennifer: Can I have a bath as well? I need one.

SUGGESTIONS OF SEX: Clarissa refers to the rape scene in Last Tango in Paris when greasing her cake pan.

You remember Last Tango in Paris? Something like that.

“You remember Last Tango in Paris? Something like that.”

When Jennifer is applying her pasty crust, she says, “Then we do this thing called knocking it up,” and Clarissa replies, “Say ‘knocking it up’ to an American, they get very distressed.”

Knocked Up

When looking at the chickens, Jennifer says, “I think that wonderful cock is marvelous.”

MEMORABLE MOMENTS: Jennifer says “Avanti” as they arrive at Anthea’s house and “Che bella vista!” at the farm. The W.I. women request “nothing too sweet” for the fête [a request that is ignored, it should be noted], and the ladies respond as follows:

Jennifer: People are regarding their diets – unlike us.

Clarissa: Our duty is to be fat.

After separating her egg yolks, Jennifer says to Clarissa, “Don’t worry, dear, I’ve saved the whites. We can have a face pack afterwards.”

Clarissa calls Jennifer “chook” and “chooky,” seemingly with affection. Jennifer calls Clarissa a “serf” when asking for her help with something.


And Jennifer says “whirly, whirly, whirly” while icing her cake.

[UPDATE: Eagle-eared reader Mark L. points out that while on the field trip Clarissa suggests the farm fields have been “peed in by every villager.” Thanks, Mark! – WK]

PHONY BUSINESS: Jennifer pretends “accidentally” to get chicken feathers in her hair (“Disgusting”).

Picture 34

In the epilogue, they try to convince the audience that a little boy broke a tooth on the gold ring in Jennifer’s gallete.

TRADEMARKS: Jennifer complains about the heat multiple times. The weather inspires this exchange:

Clarissa: Oh, what a glorious day – England at its finest.

Jennifer [sounding doubtful]: Yes, it’s lovely. . . . I hope it won’t get too hot. I’m not fond of heat.

She also complains about having to walk:

Jennifer: How far is it?

Clarissa: Oh, not far, they said it was just down here a bit.

Jennifer: You know what they’re like in the country, they mean five miles.

A look too grumpy to be entirely faked.

A look too grumpy to be entirely faked.

She seems to feel this way genuinely, even if their catching a ride back to the village in a Kirby & West dairy truck, ostensibly to protect her feet, is obviously a set-up. [Or perhaps not? In Enjoy!: A Celebration of Jennifer Paterson, her friend, the scholar Clare Asquith, noted that Jennifer once had “a bizarre, experimental operation [that] put metal rods in her feet, the un-fairy-tale equivalent of walking on knives.”] She also seems to like this truck, saying she’d like “a private one with a fringe around it.”

Kirby & West

The kitchen has an AGA, which the ladies imply is difficult to bake in. [In fact, in Spilling the Beans Clarissa writes that while the program became much identified with AGAs (by my count they are found in nineteen of the 24 kitchens the ladies visit), both she and Jennifer hated cooking in them because the heat they produced was inconsistent, usually too hot.]

They use “proper prunes” and “real proper cocoa” in their recipes.

Cakes and Baking promo


4 thoughts on ““Our duty is to be fat” – Cakes

  1. I love the episode. When Jennifer says, “Che bella vista!” Clarissa says “Peed in by every villager.” Haha. When I was in Las Vegas a few years ago, I met a couple from the far-north of England who were visiting. They told me their town was once famous for its textile mills, so I kept singing “Jerusalem” at them the whole night and thinking of our girls, Jennifer and Clarissa. We were all rather beered up at the time..

    Liked by 1 person

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