[A preliminary note: While watching the opening credits of this episode, my girlfriend said, “Oh, I never realized before they’re having a little conversation during this song.” She’s cute. – WK]
TITLE: Food in the Wild
NUMBER: Series 1, Episode 6
ORIGINAL AIRDATE: November 13, 1996
DISHES: Jennifer does a “shooter’s sandwich” of beef and mushrooms in a hollowed-out bread loaf. (She uses expensive steak to make it, but says it’s of better value than store-bought sandwiches, “which can cost two to three pounds and are filthy.”)
In the second segment, she makes a frittata with vegetables (and a hell of a lot of butter).
Clarissa cooks muttachar: hard-boiled eggs with coconut milk, tomato, mango, chilies, spices, curry leaves and cilantro. She also does onion soup made with Stilton and beer, and cooks fish in a fire pit dug for her by the Boy Scouts, which she describes as a “frightfully folksy” way of cooking.
FOOD TIPS AND LORE: The ladies collect wild mushrooms including shaggy ink caps, hedgehogs and ceps, the last of which Clarissa (correctly) names Boletus edulis. It is illegal to sell home-gathered mushrooms in London. Clarissa stops Jennifer from trying to pick a red mushroom she identifies as “fly agaric” [aka Amanita muscaria – see below], saying they are poisonous. “I used to try to find them all the days of my childhood to poison my father with,” she says. [Though she doesn’t much allude to it onscreen, many viewers are familiar with Clarissa’s relationship with her violent, abusive father, a prominent surgeon. It is unclear if this mushroom incident was what he had in mind when he disinherited her, writing in his will, “I leave no money to Clarissa, who was an afterthought and has twice caused me grievous bodily harm, and of whom I go in fear of my life.”]
[Despite her warning about the fly agaric, it seems the mushroom is in reality not all that dangerous to health, though it is hallucinogenic.]
Clarissa instructs the viewers at home thusly: “With wild mushrooms, unless you specifically want to poison someone, if you don’t know them, leave them alone.”
[UPDATE: A helpful reader has pointed out that the mushroom Jennifer reaches for “is a Russula, not Amanita muscaria.” And it looks like the mushroom is indeed missing A. muscaria’s trademark polka dots; see below:]
Salting a steak before cooking will dry it out. (“One wants the blood,” says Jennifer.)
Putting mangos in a paper bag with overripe bananas will ripen them. Coconut milk is different than coconut juice, consisting as it does of grated flesh of coconut.
The degree of caramelization in onions determines what color the soup will be:
Clarissa: I don’t like dark brown onion soup—
Jennifer: I do.
Clarissa: Well, that’s very good, I’m glad for you, but you’re not getting it today.
Cold frittatas are often eaten by schoolchildren and workmen in Italy, according to Jennifer.
REMEMBRANCES OF THINGS PAST: Clarissa never slept in a tent until she was forty, though she notes her grandmother “lived in a tent in her drawing room in Little Venice.”
Jennifer says she’s “rather good at Christmas parcels.”
Clarissa tells a story about “some idiot” at her school who poured a packet of onion soup mix over a chicken she was cooking. [In Spilling the Beans, she tells the story again, this time saying it was she herself, rather than “some idiot,” who added the mix.] She also delivers this remarkable speech:
My grandmother, who founded the family fortunes on her back by marrying three husbands, all of whom died happy and left her all their money, married as her second husband a man with the splendid name Ezeckiel Manasseh, [of] a very illustrious Sephardic Jewish family from Calcutta. And when he went East, his mother sent with him a cook called Fuzdah, a black Jew from Cochin. And Fuzdah was famous in my family mythology for his breakfast eggs. And it took me until almost now to find that it was actually called muttachar – not “Fuzdah’s eggs.”
(“I like the sound of all those husbands,” says Jennifer.)
Jennifer tells this story:
I used to live a lot by the sea, and I remember once going out, saying I was going to go fishing with a cousin of my own age, and what we did was we went down to the fishermen, and for about sixpence we got about a dozen mackerel, and we brought them back with great pride, and lied, and said, “Look what we’ve caught off the end of the pier!”
STRONG OPINIONS: Clarissa says, “In even the seediest, most run-down village shops, you will always find onions.” She says she loves the smell of them cooking, and Jennifer adds, “So do I, love it. Except when it’s old – you know, when people are doing it in the street, and then it smells of old sweat! Disgusting.”
SONGS AND MUSIC: Jennifer sings “Three Little Fishies.”
LITERARY/CULTURAL REFERENCES: When Clarissa instructs the boys to lay stones in her fire pit, Jennifer comments, “I’ve heard of crazy paving, but this is ridiculous.”
Jennifer mentions praying to St. Peter, and thanks him when she catches a trout. There seem to be a number of Biblical allusions during this conversation (“a whole shoal of fishes,” “the net was too heavy for them to carry”), probably referring to this.
Clarissa quotes the Seventeenth-Century herbalist Nicholas Culpeper as saying onions and garlic are good for the heart.
Jennifer makes a bizarre speech over the footage of her shooter’s sandwich at the end – “With a bottle of whiskey waters and armed with this, you can travel from [indecipherable] to Land’s End and cock a snook at both.” I assumed it was a reference to something, but if it is I can’t trace it.
[UPDATE: Helpful reader jonquil writes:
[My beloved Jennifer says “you can travel from John o’Groats to Land’s End and cock a snook at both.” This is a reference to the 1,407 km between John o’Groats, the generally acknowledged northernmost point in mainland Scotland, and Land’s End, an extreme southerly point in Cornwall. “Land’s End to John o’Groats” is a traditional expression referring to a full north-to-south journey in Great Britain. . . . (And) when Jennifer said “cock a snook at both,” she wasn’t talking about eating or drinking, she was talking about thumbing one’s nose!]
[Thanks very much! – WK]
STYLE WATCH: Jennifer wears an apron with a handsome symbol on it – a sacred heart?
Jennifer’s green head scarf again. One of the poor Boy Scouts has a terrible mullet:
XENOPHOBIA ALERT: While the Scouts dig her a pit for cooking fish in, Clarissa tells them, “This is the sort of thing that the Polynesians used to cook human bodies in for cannibal feasts.” (“Long pig,” agrees Jennifer.)
SUGGESTIONS OF SEX: Clarissa makes it through the entire episode without a double entendre, but then when they show her fish at the end, she leers, “Plenty of time for other activities while these are cooking.”
MEMORABLE MOMENTS: Twice, Jennifer seems to call Clarissa an “old toughy” on account of her tolerance for camping. She also says “Hey presto!” when making her frittata.
PHONY BUSINESS: [In Spilling the Beans, Clarissa confesses that the fish the Scouts roast in the pit were frozen ones from a shop.]
MISTAKES: The Scoutmaster at Hawkhirst seems very nervous and stammers through his segment. Clarissa’s clothes change back and forth throughout the episode: a vaguely Japanese floral number in the tent segments, and what appear to be green pajamas outdoors.
One of the Boy Scouts also seems to want to eat ketchup on his pit-roasted fish.
TRADEMARKS: Jennifer does a lot of seemingly unfeigned bitching about camping. “Quelle treat,” she says sarcastically early on, contemplating the experience. “Do I really have to get into one of those nasty little tents?” When Clarissa says she has no sense of adventure, she says, “I have! But it’s for the high seas, and the ships, and things like that – not for crouching.” When Clarissa tries to reassure her that they haven’t far to go, she will have none of it: “I don’t mind how far it is. It’s the actual lying on the ground in damp tents.” In the epilogue, she complains about the midges and wears her helmet bag over her head, seemingly in protest.
She also mentions her fondness for bread sauce again.