“Let’s return to a town soon” – Food in the Wild

[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

SETTINGS: The Hawkhirst Camp of the British Boy Scouts Association, Kielder Forest, Northumberland. The ladies go fishing for their field trip.

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.”)

“Filthy.”

[In Cooking with the Two Fat Ladiesshe says this recipe comes from the book of an interesting Nineteenth-Century person called Thomas Earle Welby.]

The late Right Reverend Thomas Earle Welby, Bishop of St Helena

The late Right Reverend Thomas Earle Welby.

In the second segment, she makes a frittata with vegetables (and a hell of a lot of butter).

Butter

Swimming in it.

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.

Stilton.

Stilton.

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.”]

Clarissa's parents.

Clarissa’s parents.

documentsinthecase

A liquor distilled from fly agaric is the murder weapon in the Dorothy Sayers mystery The Documents in the Case. (Spoiler alert.)

[Despite her warning about the fly agaric, it seems the mushroom is in reality not all that dangerous to health, though it is hallucinogenic.]

Not sure what the hell's going on in this picture.

Not sure what the hell’s going on in this picture.

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:]

The father-poisoner.

Clarissa’s “father-poisoner.”

Russula.

Russula.

Amanita muscaria, or

Amanita muscaria, or “fly agaric.”

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.

Coconut-Water-vs-Coconut-Milk

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.

“You’re not getting it today.”

Cold frittatas are often eaten by schoolchildren and workmen in Italy, according to Jennifer.

Italian schoolchildren

Frittata fans.

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.”

Little Venice London 3358

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.)

Clarissa's

Clarissa’s “Uncle Eze.”

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!”

“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.”

Crazing paving.

Crazy paving.

The kindling tower the Scouts assemble impresses her, and she says, “This could be an exhibit in the Tate! It’s a great deal prettier than the sort of half-sheep in formaldehyde, isn’t it.”

“This could be an exhibit in the Tate!”

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.

St. Peter, fishing.

St. Peter and friends, fishing.

Clarissa quotes the Seventeenth-Century herbalist Nicholas Culpeper as saying onions and garlic are good for the heart.

Culpeper.

Culpeper/Colpeper.

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]

lands end

Cock a Snook

She also mentions Titania from A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Titania and friends.

Titania and the gang.

STYLE WATCH: Jennifer wears an apron with a handsome symbol on it – a sacred heart?

Sacred heart?

Sacred heart?

Jennifer’s green head scarf again. One of the poor Boy Scouts has a terrible mullet:

Mullet boy

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.)

Long pig.

“Long pig.”

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.

Inside . . .

Inside . . .

. . . and out.

. . . and out.

One of the Boy Scouts also seems to want to eat ketchup on his pit-roasted fish.

Yuck.

Yuck.

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.

Helmet bag

She also mentions her fondness for bread sauce again.

Food in the Wild promo

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12 thoughts on ““Let’s return to a town soon” – Food in the Wild

  1. “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.”

    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, of course, “cock a snook” means have a shot of whiskey- and a wodge of Shooter’s Sandwich- at the beginning and the end of your long journey.

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  2. I love this!!! The way you write about the episodes has me laughing as much as I do when I watch then. I never get sick of watching them and your page is awesome for someone who loves them as much as I do. Thanks!

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  3. I just want to say that your site is a treat for me as well… I love how you explain all the references and your treatment of the episodes. It gives me a new perspective, and a new motive to spend some time with “the girls”- our girls!

    I read “Spilling the Beans” recently and I watched a special that Clarissa did on the history of the British breakfast, lunch and dinner, as well as another special called “Clarissa and the King’s Cookbook.” I also went looking for some episodes of Clarissa and the Countryman. There’s a few episodes on Youtube but the sound quality is poor- and I can’t find it on DVD anywhere. Literally ANYWHERE. One of the 10,000,000 reasons I desperately want to visit the UK! In the meantime I’ll sate my appetite by reading more of Clarissa’s books. And possibly Jennifer’s book too, if I can find it. I am chasing down a reference for you- where she says, “There’s not a man on my ottoman, there hasn’t been one for weeks/ There’s not a man on my ottoman, he’s gone off to fight the Greeks”, it’s a reference to a play. I found it in a book called “Footlights; A Hundred Years of Cambridge Comedy” which I’m attempting to track down.

    I’ve always wondered about Jennifer and her distinct lack of interest in sex and men. Clarissa said something to the effect that Jennifer “lived and died a virgin” and was a “fruit fly”, preferring the platonic company of gay men. Then there’s a slight suggestion that Jennifer herself was a lesbian; she joked with one of her friends that Jennifer and her could be the “most famous lesbian couple” in London, but this may have merely been lighthearted fun. I know she was a devout Catholic. In the documentary about her, “One Fat Lady One Large Life”, her brother mentions that when a priest in a sermon told the congregation that “sex outside of marriage is a mortal sin”, she remarked, “Hear, hear.” Her brother mentions also that Jennifer had several proposals of marriage from several boyfriends during the war years, all of whom she turned down. So, if she genuinely believed that sex outside of marriage was wrong, and did not marry, she probably never had sex. But to me, she never displayed much interest in it anyway. Clarissa mentions discussing sex with Jennifer and Jennifer telling her something like, “I’m afraid it could get rather… messy.” LOL.

    Have a good day!

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  4. Thanks awfully much! It was a fun project to do. Like you, I have only seen snippets of Clarissa’s post-TFL work, but I feel she was not really as effective without a foil like Jennifer to play off of. (Jennifer, on the other hand, I think could easily have carried a series on her own.) As for their “real” lives, even after immersing myself in their personalities for the better part of a year, JP and CDW remain complicated and somewhat mysterious to me. It’s hard to reconcile the photos of young, beautiful Jennifer romping with gay friends in Italy, and the story in “One Fat Lady” about her refusing to serve breakfast to her employer and the woman he’d brought home on the grounds they were “COMPLETE ANIMALS!” Not sure how that evolution occurred, but I suppose it does happen to people. One thing’s for sure, I don’t think Clarissa’s aggressive interest in men was a joke, though I do feel, reading between the lines, that her lack of success in that area was painful for her. Anyway, thanks again for reading. Do let me know if you find a source for “There’s not a man”!

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  5. Hmm. Well, I think it is certainly true that an older, heavy-set woman with a mannish build and a deep voice would find it hard to attract admirers, but from Clarissa’s memoirs, as she recounts it, she had a fairly solid love life from the 1960s through the 1980s, which included her beloved Clive. In an interview she gave shortly before her death, she admitted to having a “casual” lover but said that they didn’t live together, and made the rather blase comment that “if he left I daresay I’d survive”, or something like that. Maybe she did yearn for a more stable relationship. Her decision not to have children seems like a sensible one, given her alcoholic, violent family history.

    Jennifer presents the bigger mystery. Like you, I find it hard to reconcile the older, devout-Catholic Jennifer, strict on premarital sex, yelling “hear hear” when it was described as a sin and dismissing people as “complete animals”, with the younger Jennifer. The younger Jennifer was apparently “the belle of the ball” with many suitors in postwar Berlin, according to her brother, and popular with the gay jet-set, as you mentioned. Given her later stance on premarital sex, her affinity for the gay community looks odd. None of them were married to each other, of course, and since it was well before the AIDS era I can almost guarantee you that the men were canoodling like rabbits. Haha. (I’m gay too, FYI).

    In any case, you’re right. We’ll never REALLY know the details of their personal lives and, as Jennifer said about their weight, “Worth our weight in gold, dear, better not to know.” Thanks for humoring me, and I’ll for sure keep you updated on “There’s not a man”.

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  6. Yeah, well, I did say “reading between the lines”! I certainly believe Clive was real, but I sense some of Clarissa’s sexploit claims have a grain of truth to them and only that – like so many of the historical “facts” she shared on the show. But better not to know indeed! My work on this blog notwithstanding, I do feel one should only pursue the truth when appearances don’t satisfy. And that is never the case with Two Fat Ladies. 🙂

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