NUMBER: Series 2, Special
ORIGINAL AIRDATE: December 24, 1997
They are greeted by “Dr. Rees,” an educator who has a North American accent. [Apparently “the Rev. Dr. Brian A. Rees from Montreal, Canada,” who was a new hire in 1997.] (In something of a red herring, they get to talking about his blue robes, which he says are related somehow to the University of St. Andrew’s and “nothing to do with the Cathedral.”)
He tells them the choir’s rehearsal space used to be “the priory stables,” but was converted in the 1950s.
For the field trip, the ladies buy a goose from Walsgrove Farm in Worcestershire [a drive of more than two hours each way from the Cathedral, for anyone besides me who raises an eyebrow at that sort of thing. I wouldn’t mind so much if they didn’t add things like Jennifer saying “Are you sure we can find a goose to buy around here?” and Clarissa replying that there’s a farm “just round the corner.” Ah well. – WK].
There they are met by a rather posh lady with a walking stick [Judy Goodman, apparently quite a revered goose lady in British culinary circles].
DISHES: Jennifer makes an egg mousse (see On Healthy Living, below) for a starter, then does a traditional roast goose stuffed with liver, paté, prunes and bread in the second segment.
Clarissa does an “ice-cream bombe” for dessert. She also cooks a side dish of red cabbage sautéed with apples and black treacle [molasses].
In fact, she crumbles up Christmas pudding to mix in to the ice cream, which Jennifer seems to find funny. The ladies discuss the tradition of children stirring the Christmas pudding batter and making wishes.
Jennifer mixes her egg mousse in a food mill she calls a mouli, which she describes as “a great old friend.”
[I was once helped in selecting a mouli for purchase by Lynne Rossetto Kasper, the host of American Public Media’s The Splendid Table, who happened to be shopping in the same store – but that’s another story. – WK]
Jennifer says if you don’t have a mouli, you can just press the egg yolks through a sieve, but she points out that the mouli “produces this very fine sort of mimosa of the egg yolks.” [I was not aware of it previously, but apparently in some cultures deviled eggs are called oeufs mimosa.]
“A figure of eight movement . . . is always the best way” to fold in ingredients, according to Jennifer (in addition to being “fun”).
Clarissa tells us that salt is used in the ice-cream-making process to lower the freezing point of the water, which “the scientists among people will know.”
Using too much liquor in ice cream can negatively affect the freezing process, because it has a lower freezing point than water. Spirits also intensify in flavor when chilled. Jennifer says the assembled ice cream machine looks “like a mine.”
The goose lady tells Jennifer and Clarissa that her geese are free-range, and that eating grass gives them nice-colored beaks and legs, as well as good flavor. She says geese are a “natural grazing animal.” (“Like a darn cow,” Jennifer says.)
Jennifer says pouring boiling water on the skin of the goose before roasting will make it crispy. She says the Chinese use the same technique for duck. The fat left over after cooking apparently has many applications:
Clarissa: [You can] even rub [it] on your chest, in case of emergency.
Jennifer: Rub ’em on your chest or your boots!
In Jennifer’s opinion, “sautéed bread in goose fat is yum-yum.” Clarissa has cooked an Irish recipe where the goose is stuffed with potatoes. (Jennifer snorts at this for some reason.)
Clarissa says her cabbage dish is Swedish, calling it “kål mit rödkål,” [and indeed, it does look like rödkål is a Christmas tradition in Scandinavia.]
Red cabbage, although “a member of the brassica family,” “is a totally different animal” from white cabbage, and takes longer to cook.
She says her rödkål can be made in advance: “You can certainly make it the day before – you can make it the week before. And just keep reheating it, and it gets better and better.”
Jennifer says, “I associate black treacle with pirates, I don’t know why,” and Clarissa reminds her of the substance’s Caribbean origins.
ON HEALTHY LIVING: One of the boys is a vegetarian, so “in the spirit of peace and tolerance” the ladies agree to make him a dish. And what a dish! A savory aspic mousse made with boiled eggs and decorated with olives, selected by Jennifer because “all that sixties and seventies food seems to be coming back.”
It looks less than promising while she’s preparing it:
REMEMBRANCES OF THINGS PAST: Jennifer says she used to have a “churny churny” ice-cream maker, and Clarissa says she and her brother used to compete to see who could beat more brandy into butter for dessert fillings. (Jennifer notes this is easier now because of food processors.)
Clarissa speaks of a time when the twelve days of Christmas were strictly observed and “everything stopped” for their duration.
She also tells a story of a Nativity play in which a child actor, annoyed at having been cast as the landlord rather than as Joseph, spoiled the performance by saying, “Yes, yes, come inside, plenty of room here!” when the principals arrived at the inn.
Clarissa tells another good/horrifying story about her father, Arthur Dickson Wright. Apparently he was an avowed Christmas-hater who kept the children’s dead budgerigar [parakeet] in formaldehyde for months so it could be buried on Christmas Day. “He was a pagan, you see,” Clarissa says. “He hadn’t been baptized, so he fought this single-handed battle against us enjoying Christmas. We managed.”
Clarissa: I never understood that thing of the lady of the manor giving the housemaid a roll of cloth to make her uniform from. I always thought that was very mean.
Clarissa: Yes, exactly. No wonder the domestic service is dying out.
STRONG OPINIONS: Jennifer says she prefers ice cream to traditional Christmas pudding. When Clarissa says smoked salmon would be easier than an egg mousse for a Christmas starter, Jennifer says, “I know, but I can’t just plonk a plate of smoked salmon for the viewers to look at. I must be doing something constructive.”
Clarissa criticizes “these sort of fundamentalist Protestants who don’t celebrate Christmas.”
Jennifer: Yes, what do they do, I wonder. Linger.
Clarissa: They sit and lurk, and read their Bibles.
Jennifer seems to have genuinely enjoyed the making of the Christmas special: “Absolutely splendid! I loved it! I love it here! It’s so wonderful, isn’t it!” [My girlfriend said, “She must have snorted cocaine just before filming this part.”]
SONGS AND MUSIC: The choir performs “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” and “Silent Night.” [Interestingly, their version of the latter carol is different from the one most commonly heard in the U.S.; they appear to be using Stopford Brooke’s “Still the Night” translation from the Nineteenth Century, with a couple exceptions:
[1 Still the night, holy the night!
Sleeps the world; hid from sight,
Mary and Joseph in stable bare
Watch o’er the child belovèd and fair,
Sleeping in heavenly rest,
Sleeping in heavenly rest.
[2 Still the night, holy the night!
Shepherds first saw the light,
Heard resounding clear and long,
Far and near, the angel-song,
‘Christ the Redeemer is here!’
‘Christ the Redeemer is here!’]
[Here’s the Winchester Cathedral choir, but doing the better known “Silent Night” translation:]
[And here’s a choir doing “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.” It’s not the Winchester singers – but it is from 1997. (Must have been a good year for “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.”)]
Jennifer says, “I Scream, You Scream, We All Scream for Ice Cream.” [I was familiar with this saying, but had no idea it was a song.]
Jennifer also sings a snatch of (presumably) this terrible song at one point:
LITERARY/CULTURAL REFERENCES: One of the boys says grace before the meal.
STYLE WATCH: Clarissa returns to the “pajama-top” blouse she wore for the outdoor segments of “Food in the Wild” in Series 1.
Jennifer looks quite properly Christmassy in her red-pink top and lipstick.
The nuts and oranges in the foreground of the shot are a nice holiday touch, and Jennifer sews up her goose with a “very vicious-looking needle” and “very festive-looking string.”
During the gift exchange (see Memorable Moments, below) Clarissa wears a paper crown and Jennifer is draped with pink garland.
The lighting during the final moments when the ladies are listening to the choir is beautiful.
ON DRINKS AND DRINKING: Vermouth in the egg mousse, brandy in the bombe, and vermouth and port in the goose stuffing.
Jennifer: Will the little boys be all right on it?
Clarissa: I think one tablespoonful of brandy is not going to have them falling about.
Jennifer: I remember when we were children . . . you remember, there were those toffees “flavored with rum”; I imagine, essence. And we would always say, “Ah, I feel quite drunk after that!”
Clarissa: Oh yes, a glass of water and a packet of wine gums, absolutely.
SUGGESTIONS OF SEX:
Clarissa: Don’t forget to sling the apple peel in one piece over your shoulder, so you can find out the initial of the man who loves you. I always get O, myself – never met a man called “O.”
Jennifer: There’s a nice little chorister called Oliver, if you can wait a few years.
Clarissa: Jennifer, that is cradle-snatching with a vengeance.
[Probably little point in suggesting her O could be Jamie Oliver, considering this.]
MEMORABLE MOMENTS: At the goose farm, Jennifer describes the birds as looking like “swathes of snow.”
The ladies nearly step in animal dung while crossing the field, but they can’t agree on whether it’s from geese or a cow.
Jennifer says she grows thyme on her fire escape. She says she worries about burglars having to step over her “strange pots” to rob them: “Here I am telling the world. But we have nothing to steal in our house; my uncle always says if a burglar visited us, they’d leave us a tip.”
Clarissa on Jennifer’s goose: “So now that you’ve dried Baby’s bottom, are you going to put talcum powder on it?”
I often think it’s strange how rarely you can make out anything of the diners’ conversations during the dinner scenes on this program, but in this episode you can very distinctly hear one of the boys referring to someone or something as “STUPID.”
The program includes a gift-giving exchange between the two ladies. Clarissa gives Jennifer nail-polish remover, saying, “Well, I thought you’d keep all your fans happy.” And when Clarissa opens her package . . .
[In Spilling the Beans, Clarissa claims she once lived near Paul’s home, and could see Paul and Linda having sex inside the geodesic dome they built in their garden.]
The ladies say they’ll exchange “proper presents” later.
Finally, at the end of the special, Jennifer says the choirboys “look like delicious little lamb cutlets with those frills on their necks.”
PHONY BUSINESS: The boys’ choir is ostensibly rehearsing for Christmas services, and Clarissa says, “I haven’t done my Christmas shopping yet” (as if it’s getting late to do that) . . . but I have to say, the weather in this episode hardly looks Decemberish to me. The leaves in the trees are blazing red, and no person shown outdoors is dressed particularly warmly. Still, I guess British weather is funny (I remember a line from a Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode set in the misty English countryside: “I love that time of year in England – what time of year is it again?”). Well, “in the spirit of peace and tolerance” this viewer will suspend his disbelief for the moment.
Clarissa acknowledges that multiple versions of the dishes they make need to be created for the dinner segments, the first time I believe the curtain has been pulled back on that point.
[In fact, in Spilling the Beans, Clarissa writes:
[We had to do everything three times: once in the wide from which they took most of the banter between us; then “teeth and tits” where the shot was cut off at breast height and we didn’t actually cook anything but mimed the actions, and from this was taken our descriptions of what we were cooking and how we were cooking it with reference to various techniques. The third run was for close-up just focusing on our hands and the pans on the stove with no conversation.]
MISTAKES: Hampshire and Worcestershire are abbreviated (“Hants” and “Worcs”) in the titles, which is not in keeping with the program’s established style thus far.
Jennifer says “Bon Noël,” which apparently is incorrect in French.
Clarissa’s ice cream bombe looks a little melty as she molds it. [In Spilling the Beans she writes that the combination of television lights and an over-hot AGA made the ice cream impossible to work with.]
TRADEMARKS: Jennifer roasts her goose in the AGA and puts anchovy essence in her egg mousse – “which is extremely good, I’m sure you all know.” She also recommends soaking prunes in tea again. Clarissa uses an “incredibly superior” 1920s-era ice-cream machine, her preference for which she describes as “pure masochism.”