“It’s a pity, but there you are” – Benedictine Nuns

[In my researches for this recap, I stumbled upon this gif, which by coincidence references today’s episode. Apparently in 2002 there was a nod to Two Fat Ladies on Gilmore Girls. Fun.]


TITLE: Benedictine Nuns

NUMBER: Series 3, Episode 1

ORIGINAL AIRDATE: September 2, 1998

SETTINGS: Kylemore Abbey [originally the private residence Kylemore Castle, apparently] in Connemara, Ireland.

Kylemore Abbey with ladies


Connemara apparently has its own brand of whiskey, though it's apparently done in the Scotch rather than the Irish style.

Connemara apparently has its own whiskey, though it’s done in the Scotch rather than the Irish style.

Mitchell Henry, who built Kylemore in the 1860s.

Mitchell Henry, who built Kylemore in the 1860s.

We are told the residence houses 26 Benedictine nuns. [It is unclear even from their website today what sort of Benedictines they are.]

Benedictine nuns promo

They are greeted by an elfin, white-haired, very animated little Reverend Mother, [apparently the Lady Abbess Clare Morley]. [Seriously, “animated” doesn’t quite capture it. I’m not sure if she thought she might have a shot at a show of her own à la Sister Wendy, or if she ate radioactive sugar beets before filming,or what, but she startles in delight when she sees the ladies arrive, lays a finger aside of her nose (I kid you not), then bolts out the door and scampers down the drive to embrace them.]

The Manic Pixie Dream Girl of Kylemore Abbey.

The Manic Pixie Dream Girl of Kylemore Abbey.

Laying a finger aside of her nose.

Laying a finger aside of her nose.



Here she is preparing to run a road race the following year.

Here she is preparing to run a road race the following year.

The Lady Abbess is impressed by Jennifer’s “marvelous machine” and suggests the ladies leave it for the nuns to use.

For the field trip, the Abbess sends them to “a little village called Tullycross” to buy lobsters from a fisherman named John on the docks. “If John is not on the little quay,” she says, “go to the nearest pub – and you’ll find him there!” And in fact, when they arrive on the waterfront, they are directed to the pub, Paddy Coyne’s, by a “nice young man,” and they find the elderly, red-faced John at the bar.

Paddy Coynes

Nice young man

“Nice young man.”

He looks a bit like Eric Stoltz.

He looks a bit like Eric Stoltz.

John at the bar is a friend of mine.

Now, John at the bar is a friend of mine.

DISHES: Jennifer does a berry shortcake. (See Phony Business, below.) In the second segment, she boils a lobster and prepares mayonnaise from scratch to go with it.

Clarissa cooks broad beans [fava beans] with dill, and tomato tartlets with tuna and cheddar cheese in Parmesan crusts.

FOOD TIPS AND LORE: Putting too much liquid in the shortcake dough will make it go “a bit unmanageable,” Jennifer says.

Clarissa says her bean recipe is Egyptian in origin; she says the original name of the recipe translates from the Arabic as “oily beans.” [Possibly it’s a variation on this?] When they’re served, she calls them “a taste from the Levant.”


Broad beans have a short growing season. Their pods are only tender when they are young, and they aren’t worth eating if they’re not. (However, if they are, they “are more delicious than any other vegetable,” according to Jennifer.) Their pods can also be puréed and eaten on their own.

Broad beans (aka fava beans).

Broad beans (aka fava beans).

Clarissa apparently burned her thumb on something during or before this episode.

Clarissa apparently burned her thumb on something during or before this episode.

The lobsterman John tells them that lobsters are “getting scarcer by the year,” and gives them a box of fine specimens. [I was under the impression European lobsters are of the spiny rather than clawed variety, but apparently that’s wrong.]

The European lobster, not much different from the American variety.

The European lobster, not much different from the American variety.

Jennifer says lobster with mayonnaise is “deeply classical” and appropriate “for the south of Ireland,” though she doesn’t say why. [It’s also questionable whether Connemara is in the south of Ireland.]

When it comes to killing the lobster, Jennifer says, “You just have to face up to it.” She says “some people say it’s kinder to put a needle though the brain,” [and in fact, in Cooking with the Two Fat Ladies Clarissa  tells a funny story about dispatching them this way:

[When I cooked on a charter yacht in the United States, I wanted to bring back steamer clams and Maine lobster for my brother, to convince him that New England seafood was the best. The customs officer heard the lobsters scrabbling away in my bag and said I couldn’t bring them through if they were alive. Can I if they are dead, I asked? Yes, said the customs officer. So I took off my brooch in order to drive the pin through the brain of each lobster. What are you doing? said the officer. I was planning to kill them, I said. Not in front of me, you’re not, says the officer. So I got them through alive.]

While the brooch-pin-through-the-brain stratagem may have its proponents, “this does nothing but paralyze it,” says Jennifer. Her own technique is to put it into the pot before the water is fully hot, which “sort of lulls it to sleep.” [In fact, the subject of whether crustaceans experience pain in the same sense as higher animals is still controversial. There seems to be some research supporting Jennifer’s claim about “brain-spiking” and paralysis, though it’s unlikely anyone who cares about such things would find her “lull them to sleep” method any better.]


Gordon Gunter, buzzkill.

There is “a sort of cross” on the carapace of the lobster, which is the best place to begin splitting it, Jennifer says. Jennifer removes “two nasty sort of lumps” from the creature, which she thinks are its lungs. [Probably the gill clusters, but close enough.]

Lungs 2

Clarissa demonstrates how to get the claw meat out in one piece.

Clarissa adds that lobsters can grow up to a hundred pounds, and that big ones are no tougher than small ones. (See Remembrances of Things Past, below.)

“You shouldn’t be frightened of mayonnaise,” Jennifer tells us. Despite Clarissa’s view that “either you can make mayonnaise or you can’t,” Jennifer says it’s simply a matter of patience. Homemade mayonnaise “is so much better than anything you get out of a bottle.”

“So much better than anything you get out of a bottle.”

All ingredients for the mayonnaise, including the eggs, should be at room temperature before starting.

Clarissa: You shouldn’t keep eggs in the fridge anyway.

Jennifer: I know, but people do.

“You shouldn’t keep eggs in the fridge anyway.” “I know, but people do.”

A combination of oils can be used, but Jennifer advises against making it with extra-virgin olive oil, as the taste is too strong. [Having made mayonnaise from scratch myself last weekend, I can tell you she’s right about extra-virgin giving mayo a very strong, though not necessarily bad, olivey aftertaste.]

[We ate it with this.]

[We ate it with this.]

There are a couple ways to “save” mayonnaise that has curdled in the making – starting over and adding the curdled mixture to the fresh batch, or “sometimes you can save it by a drop of hot water.”

Clarissa created her tartlet recipe “to use up some leftover salad Niçoise.” She uses canned tuna [which is traditional for salad Niçoise] but the dish can also be made with fresh seared tuna.

Salad Nicoise - incidentally my favorite salad.

Salad Niçoise – incidentally my favorite salad.

[Interestingly, although anchovies are arguably an essential ingredient in the salad, she does not use them for the tartlets. Jennifer surely would have; in case you’re keeping score, so far in the series Jennifer has used anchovies in six recipes, Clarissa in one.]

Ireland is known for its fine cheeses.

REMEMBRANCES OF THINGS PAST: Clarissa has seen lobsters with claws the size of a person’s hand.


So far so good.

Then she says, “I’ve cooked crayfish [spiny lobsters] in the Caribbean that have grown up to sixty pounds,” and says they can grow up to a hundred pounds. [This is a ridiculous claim. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the heaviest lobster ever caught weighed 44 pounds. As far as spiny lobsters go, this eighteen-pounder made the news last year:


[In Cookingshe repeats this hundred-pound fish story, saying, “When Queen Victoria visited Edinburgh they served a hundred-pound lobster as the centerpiece of her civic banquet!” I can find no mention of this anywhere else.

Queen Victoria in Scotland (with John Brown).

Queen Victoria in Scotland (with John Brown).

[Not to prolong the digression, but on the lobster episode of The French Chef (“The Lobster Show“), Julia Child cooks an enormous lobster she calls “Bertha Behemoth,” and it is truly one of the largest ones I’ve ever seen on television. However, she estimates its weight at just between sixteen and twenty pounds.]

With Bertha Behemoth (live).

With Bertha Behemoth (live).

With Bertha Behemoth (cooked).

With Bertha Behemoth (cooked).

We learn the Lady Abbess has been in the convent 32 years.

STRONG OPINIONS: When the Abbess greets them, Jennifer says, “I feel like I should kiss your ring.” The nun says, “Good heavens, now! That’s all gone into the past,” and Jennifer replies, “Not with me it hasn’t!”

A youth kisses the ring of Pope Francis during a meeting at the municipal theater in Rio de Janeiro

“Not with me it hasn’t!”

SONGS AND MUSIC: Clarissa suggests using a shillelagh to press Jennifer’s shortcake dough into the pan, and both sing “With Me Shillelagh Under Me Arm.”

Jennifer: A shillelagh is a great big thing.

Clarissa: I know, but it’s such a nice word.


The stock music during the field trip is apparently “Country Canter” performed by the Hudson Ensemble. [Shazam wasn’t able to place the other incidental music – including the choral “Amen” that plays as the ladies arrive at the Abbey.]

LITERARY/CULTURAL REFERENCES: The Abbey is described as a “Gothic pile” (Jennifer) and a “Walter Scott castle” (Clarissa).

An example of Gothic architecture.

An example of Gothic architecture.

Sir Walter Scott.

Sir Walter Scott.

An illustration from a Walter Scott poem,

An illustration from a Walter Scott poem, “Norham Castle.” It even has the cows.

Clarissa mentions “all those Irish poets going on about the waters lapping on the lake’s shore,” [a reference to Yeats’s “The Lake Isle of Innisfree”].

William Butler Yeats.

William Butler Yeats.

“The waters lapping on the lake’s shore.”

Clarissa says the Abbey setting reminds her of [the sexual psychodrama] Black Narcissus; Jennifer agrees, saying the surrounding hills “could do for the Himalayas.”


The ladies discuss their fondness for Irish and Scottish ballads, and Jennifer misquotes (but only slightly) from “The Ballad of Chevy Chase” [actually an English ballad]:

And there stood brave Sir Percy,

Although in dreadful dumps;

When his legs were smitten off,

He fought upon his stumps!

Illustration from

Illustration from “The Ballad of Chevy Chase.”

“He fought upon his stumps!”

When the Lady Abbess tells them they can buy lobsters from “a man called John,” Clarissa says, “Sounds very Biblical.” The Abbess agrees, “It is – casting the nets indeed.”

John the Apostle.

John the Apostle.

John casting the nets.

John casting the nets.

Jennifer also appeals to St. Joseph (a portrait of whom hangs in the room) and “St. Zita, who looks after the kitchen” for help making her mayonnaise. She also refers to St. Peter during the lobster segment.

St. Joseph, with the holy stepson.

St. Joseph, with the holy stepson.

St. Zita, mummified and on display in Lucca, Italy.

St. Zita, mummified and on display in Lucca, Italy.

St. Zita in happier times.

St. Zita in happier times.

St. Peter.

St. Peter.

The ladies also talk about the origin of the expression “blowing raspberries,” or rather their lack of explanation for it. [It has been claimed that the phrase originated from Cockney rhyming slang, with raspberry tart being used in place of fart. Not sure I buy that, but then again Cockney rhyming slang has always left me at a loss, so who knows. – WK]

At any rate, Jennifer blows a couple herself (directly over her shortcake, it should be pointed out), and says:

Charles Laughton did a wonderful one in Ruggles of Red Gap. He was a drunken butler, and his boss had given him the sack, and he just went:



Charles Laughton as Ruggles.

Charles Laughton as Ruggles.

[UPDATE: Reader adon writes:

[After reading the entry, I watched Ruggles of Red Gap, but there was no raspberry-blowing scene. Blessed Jennifer confused this Charles Laughton film with If I Had a Million (1932) in which Mr. Laughton does indeed blow a raspberry to his boss!

[And quite right adon is, if you will forgive a little classical pun. Here is the clip from If I Had a Million; the “raspberry” is at 2:09. – WK]

If I Had a Million: Lubitsch episode, starring Charles Laughton from lonchaney on Vimeo.

Jennifer says they should “case the joint” when they enter the Abbey. And the Lady Abbess says grace.

At the close of the program, Jennifer says “sláinte” and Clarissa says something [in Irish Gaelic?] that sounds like “bushmany mishlevy O’Grady,” but I haven’t been able to puzzle it out.

STYLE WATCH: The kitchen itself is rather a humble one, which is in keeping with the nuns’ lifestyle but seems odd in such a grand house.

Kylemore kitchenClarissa revisits the subtle striped blouse she wore for “A Picnic” in Series 2. She also looks rather red-faced, though whether it’s because of sunburn or makeup isn’t clear.

Clarissa sunburn

Sunburn, I think.

Jennifer wears a nice purple scarf in the outdoor scenes.

Nunsense 3

XENOPHOBIA ALERT: Jennifer calls Clarissa’s North African bean dish “foreign beans.” And she comes close to crossing a line when she does an “African American” accent to sing “Shortnin’ Bread” while making her shortcake. [Then again, her diction (and use of the “two Senegambians” verse) does seem to reflect that of the famous Fats Waller version of the song, so I suppose it was well meant.]

Not a song with the nicest associations in the United States.

The song has racist associations in the United States.

Anyway, the ladies do a little bobbing dance during the song.

Shortnin' Bread on Make A Gif

There is also a fair amount of Irish-bashing throughout this episode. Although according to Enjoy!Jennifer was not fond of the Irish, most of their humor is of the genial “Pat and Mike” variety:

Clarissa: I used to come to the west of Ireland a lot as a child, because my father had cousins in Donegal. I remember being with my grandmother in Tipperary once and asking the way to the Post Office, and the man sort of leant down into the car and said, [Irish accent:] “Well, you see as far as you can see, then go as far as you can see, and the Post Office is just beyond it.” We never found the Post Office.

Jennifer [Irish accent]: “And if you see a soignpost, pay no attention to it!”

And then there’s this:

Jennifer: Those lovely people in the pub – they were divine, but I couldn’t understand a word they said.

Clarissa: I sometimes think it’s an absence of teeth, Jennifer, that doesn’t help.

Unlikely that was a reference to Shane MacGowan.

Probably a reference to Shane MacGowan.

When they’re driving through Tullycross, Clarissa also says, “I bet they get smugglers in these coves.”

SUGGESTIONS OF SEX: In the opening scene, the ladies arrive (“by mistake”) at the Abbey farm rather than the house. There they have an interesting conversation with a gray-haired, rather philosophical nun, “Sister Benedict,” who is tending cows.

Sister Benedict with her cows.

Sister Benedict with her cows.

Here's a fairly recent photo. She hasn't changed a great deal!

Here’s a fairly recent photo. She hasn’t changed a great deal!

She explaining that the color patterns of her cattle are the result of her “sort of experimenting with the breeding,” and points out one cow that is the offspring of her “very favorite Charolais bull, and a cow I was kind of fond of.”

Charolais bull.

Charolais bull.

When Clarissa asks if she has helpers at her farm, she says, “I have a man once a week,” and Jennifer chuckles.

Sister Benedict says that the 26 nuns they have is “not too bad these days. Girls don’t want to commit themselves these days – too materialistic.” She suggests Jennifer join the order, saying she isn’t too old. She says no one should become a nun unless they’ve turned down two proposals. Jennifer agrees: “Otherwise you might get yearnings later on,” she says.

Clarissa says that when lobsters are getting ready to mate, “their digestion slows down” and this makes for a blacker intestine in the tail. [I wasn’t able to confirm this.] “Well, it died happy, then,” says Jennifer.


MEMORABLE MOMENTS: While spreading her shortcake with whipped cream, Jennifer says, “Quite difficult to handle when you’re eating this. Probably best eaten in the bath.”

“Probably best eaten in the bath.”


She also calls the dessert “a luscious confection for after confession.”

Unusually, a couple of comments during the dinner scene are audible. The Lady Abbess asks “Who said ‘We eat with our eyes’?” [Answer: Lots of people. I wasn’t able to find a definitive source for this common saying.]  And she also observes that “Sister John is very, very fond of her lobster.”

The ladies complain about the midges in the Abbey.

PHONY BUSINESS:  [Not really phony, but I did find myself wondering how they got Jennifer’s bike to Ireland from England. On a ferry, I suppose?]

Raspberrygate 1998.

Raspberrygate 98.

And now we come to the Great Raspberry Scandal of 1998. I’m not sure how much of this business is truly fake – indeed, the way they stick to the story seems to suggest it isn’t a total sham. At any rate, somewhere along the way something obviously happened to Jennifer’s raspberries, and this something must have occurred so late that they couldn’t buy or find replacements. This is what we are told:

Jennifer: . . . But my poor little raspberries have taken rather a beating on the way here. I think Clarissa sat on them.

Clarissa: I didn’t.

Jennifer: Well, they’re not all they should be, so I’m going to add some strawberries, but I wouldn’t normally, I would only use very beautiful raspberries.

“I didn’t.”

Then, when Clarissa questions the inclusion of cinnamon in the shortcake dough:

Jennifer: You know how delicious cinnamon tastes in things are.

Clarissa: Yes, I’d never thought of it with strawberries, that’s all.

Jennifer: Well, it’s really with raspberries, but it’s going to be a mixture today, on account of you sat on ’em.

Clarissa: I never! It’s those bumpy roads—

Jennifer: I know, I know.

Clarissa: –and the speed at which you were riding the bike.

Jennifer: Anyway. It’s a pity, but there you are.

And finally, over the end credits:

Clarissa: Look, Jennifer, I really didn’t sit on your raspberries. I know you were upset, but I didn’t.

Jennifer: Yes you did!

Clarissa: No, I did not!

Jennifer: Yes you did!

Clarissa: I didn’t!

Jennifer: They were crushed!

Clarissa: Well, I didn’t sit on them.

Jennifer: Well, who else could have sat on them? You were the one with them.

Clarissa: I don’t know! The Almighty?

Jennifer: No excuses, you sat on them. You had both of them.

Clarissa: I did not.

Jennifer: You did.

Clarissa: I didn’t.

Jennifer: Did, did, did!

[This last example is the only conversation that seems truly manufactured, in my judgment.]

MISTAKES: Jennifer says her shortcake is “not shortcake like Scotland means shortcake. It’s a sort of mixture between that and rather a scone” and Clarissa later points out that “It’s shortbread in Scotland, not shortcake.” (“Yes, shortbread,” says Jennifer, as if that’s what she’s been saying all along.)

Shortbread like Scotland means shortbread.

Shortbread like Scotland means shortbread.

For her tartlets, Clarissa uses Keens cheese, which she says is Irish [but it isn’t].

Basic RGB

TRADEMARKS: Jennifer mixes the shortcake dough with her hands, saying, “Time for hand manipulation, I think.”

“Time for hand manipulation.”

Clarissa uses her antique citrus reamer again.

ReamerThere is another reference to Jennifer’s fire escape:

Clarissa: If you haven’t got oregano, you can use marjoram, which you probably have growing in your herb patch. Or on your fire escape, if you’re Jennifer.

Jennifer: I have!

Nunsense 2


4 thoughts on ““It’s a pity, but there you are” – Benedictine Nuns

  1. Wow… Fabulous read. I consider myself a huge Two Fat Ladies fan, and while I pride myself on being able to understand a lot of British “speak” whenever I watch British TV programming, many of the comments Jennifer Paterson and Clarissa Dickson Wright make go right over my head. This is probably my favorite episode of this all too short series, and in reading about Kylemore Abbey I just happened to stumble across this post. I can’t wait to read your other entries… This obviously took some time and research, but it made for fascinating reading. Very well done. Thanks for injecting new life into these episodes.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. These posts are absolute treasures. After reading the entry, I watched Ruggles of Red Gap, but there was no raspberry-blowing scene. Blessed Jennifer confused this Charles Laughton film with “If I Had a Million” (1932) in which Mr. Laughton does indeed blow a raspberry to his boss! In any case, and as usual, this episode is an absolute delight to watch.


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