TITLE: The Pony Club
NUMBER: Series 3, Episode 2
ORIGINAL AIRDATE: September 9, 1998
[While the Cotswolds span several counties,] this Pony Club is located in Gloucestershire. The Pony Club featured in this episode is the Cotswold Hunt, and apparently has some association with the local fox hunt. [Fans of this show probably know Clarissa was an enthusiastic supporter of the controversial but traditional hunts.]
It is the weekend of the Pony Club’s annual rally, a competition for the young equestrians. (Clarissa describes this as being “like a gymkhana.”) Upon arriving, they are greeted by a woman named Jessica, who immediately introduces them to Mary [Mustoe], the “D.C.” (District Commissioner) of the Club. Not quite sure what this signifies, but Jennifer is very impressed (“Are you indeed!”) and actually curtsies to her. (Impressive or not, the D.C. seems uncomfortable in this segment; she barely speaks and isn’t even shown much.)
[A helpful FAQ on British Pony Clubs can be found here.]
The field trip this time is to a pig farm called Byfords Farm, in Taynton, Gloucestershire [not to be confused with Taynton, Oxfordshire]. On the way, they pass a pub called the Mill Inn and almost run over a dog.
At the farm, they interview a charming farmer with a heavy local accent. (See Food Tips and Lore, Songs and Music, below.)
[The pig farmer is apparently named Eric Freeman, and I was delighted to learn he’s still alive and involved in all sorts of activities, at least as of last year. In 2008 one of his sows delivered a piglet decorated with a heart-shaped spot just in time for Valentine’s Day. In 2011 he single-handedly “revived the ancient tradition of wassailing in Gloucestershire.” And in 2013 he was on hand to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the local Old Spot breeding association.]
Ultimately, the rally is held in terrible weather.
At first glance it appears they serve the dinner in the horse barn itself (which struck me as rather disgusting). However, on closer examination it’s actually just a shot of a horse trailer filmed through the door that gives this impression.
Jennifer does a Welsh rarebit soufflé and “Pete’s Pommy Pommes,” a version of scalloped potatoes with herbs and stock instead of cream.
FOOD TIPS AND LORE: If cream reaches the boiling point it will curdle. Clarissa feels icing [powdered] sugar mixes into chocolate better than caster [superfine].
Clarissa: It’s not a French pudding at all, crème brûlée – it’s really Trinity burnt cream.
Jennifer: Cambridge, no?
Clarissa: Cambridge, that’s right. Young Scottish man called Reed who came down to be a tutor at Trinity and who offered the recipe to the kitchens. And they declined it – “oh no, don’t want any of that nasty stuff.”
Jennifer: Silly fools.
Clarissa: And he said, “Oh, well, one day I’ll be Master of Trinity,” and he was. And he had it at his inaugural banquet.
Jennifer: Why it’s got a French name, I don’t know.
Clarissa: I expect it’s the Victorians, isn’t it; sort of “foreign food is better,” or posher, or something. I mean, you have half of the hotels in the British Isles still trying to pretend they’re Escoffier.
[The Trinity College story is a much-repeated one, though I can’t find any other version that incorporates a Scotsman named Reed. (There has never been a Master of Trinity by that name.) However, in the end it seems crème brûlée actually was known in France earlier; Trinity itself has this depressing little statement on its website:
[Trinity Burnt Cream: The story that crème brûlée itself was invented at the College almost certainly has no basis in fact. But since the later nineteenth century there has been an association between the pudding known as ‘burnt cream’ and Trinity College. Instructions for cooking ‘Cambridge burnt cream’, or even just ‘Trinity cream’ appears in a number of recipe-books. And to this day Trinity’s kitchens often serve a richly filling version of the dish.]
And there’s this:
Jennifer: It’s a very pungent smell, isn’t it.
Clarissa: Vanilla? Yes, it’s a wonderful smell. They put it in a lot of perfumes nowadays; I don’t know that I like it all that much.
Jennifer: I don’t either, but people used to use it during the War, when you couldn’t get any scent. They used to get a bit of vanilla essence and put it behind their ears.
[Although the cultural history of vanilla is fascinating, I wasn’t actually able to find confirmation of Jennifer’s claim about wartime perfume shortages.]
Jennifer’s Welsh rarebit soufflé is “a bastardized version of the proper Welsh rarebit.”
She acknowledges that “purists” will complain. [They do not discuss the origin of the dish’s name, which is possibly a slur on the Welsh.] If they pronounce rarebit any differently than rabbit, I can’t hear it.
When she describes the rarebit as “fluffy,” Clarissa laughs loudly and calls it a “fluffy bunny” [a term she and Jennifer always used disparagingly to refer to animal-rights activists].
Clarissa uses sauce made from piri piri chilies in her pork dish.
Jennifer says the Portuguese use sherry flavored with hot chilies as a condiment. [Chili-flavored sherry is indeed a real phenomenon, but it seems most writers associate it with the Caribbean. (Possibly it came there by way of Portugal?)]
Jennifer demonstrates how to use a mandoline safely. [I still have a scar from the first time I used one.]
[There are actually photos all over the Internet of people showing off their mandoline injuries (with varying levels of gore). So be careful as you slice (and as you google).]
Anyway, Jennifer differentiates her potato dish from the similar potatoes Dauphinois [usually called au gratin potatoes in the United States – and yes, that’s what I was making when I cut my thumb on the mandoline]. She says waxy potatoes are best for the recipe – she uses Désirée (which she pronounces “de-ZEE-ree”).
The pig farmer shares a lot of pig lore; “there’s always a story with pigs,” he says. His are Gloucestershire Old Spots, sometimes called “orchard pigs” because of their fondness for apples. (“You’ve got applesauce already instilled into the meat,” he says.) Legend has it the pigs’ spots come from apples falling onto their backs; “black and blue, you see.”
Old Spots are temperamental and “won’t be drove.” The pigs are free-range, organic animals, and are slaughtered at 22 weeks, rather than at eighteen as factory-farmed animals are. The lack of accelerated growth gives the meat better flavor, the farmer says.
Clarissa also explains a bain-marie again.
ON HEALTHY LIVING:
Clarissa fries her pork in lard. (“You can do it with olive oil, if you must.”)
Clarissa: And here I’ve got a nice jug of double cream.
Jennifer: That’s what I like to see, a whole jug of double cream!
Jennifer reflects on the combination of soufflé and crème brûlée:
I think all these little children will be egg-bound by the time we’ve finished with them.
REMEMBRANCES OF THINGS PAST:
Clarissa says, “jodhpurs, Jemimas, gymkhanas – it’s all frightfully British around here.” [I’m not sure what she means by “Jemimas,” although it looks like Jemima is a fairly popular name for horses.]
She also identifies one of the competitions during the rally as “Chase me, Charlie.”
Clarissa: Teach you to go to Gretna Green, won’t it!
Jennifer: Left a great bite on my arm.
Clarissa: Well, don’t worry, dear, I’ll look after you.
Jennifer: I believe if you breathe into their nostrils, they tell you their secrets.
Clarissa: Well, so I’m told. More likely to take your nose off.
Jennifer: I would think, too.
Clarissa: Certainly Shetland ponies.
Clarissa [doubtfully]: Yes, I’m sure they do. . . .
Jennifer: Very good idea.
[Clarissa gives her a look of disbelief.]
See also Style Watch, below.
Jennifer learned her potato recipe from “a great big Australian” and calls it “Pete’s Pommy Pommes” in his honor. [Pommy is Australian slang for an English person, and pommes de terre is potatoes in French.]
Clarissa says her father kept pigs during World War II and named them after German leaders (including Goebbels, Göring and Rommel) so the children wouldn’t feel bad about eating them. (“Totally happy to eat Jerry,” says Jennifer.)
Jennifer: Crème brûlée is the only thing I like where eggs and cream mix. It doesn’t wobble.
Clarissa: Oh, it’s the wobbling you object to!
Jennifer: Can’t bear the wobble.
The ladies make light of the privileged and pretentious culture (and children) of the Cotswolds.
Jennifer: I hope the little dears will like this [the crème brûlée]; you don’t think it’s a little outré for them?
Clarissa: My dear, this is the Cotswolds. They’re probably more sophisticated than we are.
Jennifer: I think it’s probably suitable for children. I think nearly all of them like cheese, unless the little wretches have developed an allergy. They all seem to have allergies nowadays, don’t they.
Clarissa: It’s fashionable.
Jennifer asks if Clarissa’s custards aren’t a little “hefty” for the children.
Clarissa: They’ll be famished, Jennifer! They’ve been dashing around, throwing themselves on and off ponies all day, let alone the high tension of it.
Jennifer [obnoxious little girl voice]: “Amanda’s winning again.”
The ladies also speculate about the enormous expense having a child in The Pony Club.[Although I have to say, if you have a horse-crazy daughter, as I do, your heart can only be warmed by the sight of the little girls with their ponies, spoiled though they might be. – WK]
Clarissa sums the phenomenon up by saying, “Nothing, absolutely nothing, Jennifer, equals the passion of a small girl for her first pony. . . . Nothing is ever the same again.”
The cheese Jennifer uses in her Welsh rarebit is “very, very good mature cheddar – the real thing.” This, she says, is “not in any way comparable to that sort of muck you buy in cling film looking like slab of soap.”
She also says to “use good bread” for it – “not slimy white slice.”
Jennifer waves off Clarissa’s suggestion that she’s using too much Tabasco for a children’s recipe; “they probably all eat chili chips or something anyway,” she says. But she has regrets in the epilogue, and fears the spicy food will give the kids “collywobbles.”
Clarissa says, “One can never learn too young the benefits of mixing meat and shellfish together.”
After the rally:
Clarissa: You know, think of what town children do in wet weather – just sit indoors watching dreadful television.
Jennifer [after a moment]: Bliss!
SONGS AND MUSIC: Rather surprisingly, the pig farmer joins Jennifer in singing “Whose Pigs are These?”, which he calls “an old Gloucestershire song.” [They sing a version where the farmer is called John Watts; John Potts seems to be more usual.]
[Believe it or not, this was about the best version of the song I could find online. – WK]
I also shook my head when Shazam told me the stock music in the rally scene was something called “Pimp My Horse” by DJ Keltech . . . however, upon listening to the track I do think it samples the same orchestral music used in “The Pony Club”!
[A wonderful reader called Ilona writes that the music is the theme from the horsey seventies TV show, The Adventures of Black Beauty. Thanks, Ilona!]
[I know it says “Malcolm,” but trust me, it’s the right song. – WK]
Clarissa says, “Yes, Jennifer, get on with the cooking – cut the Shakespeare.”
STYLE WATCH: Clarissa’s garment is a little unusual – at first glance it looks like it’s in two layers, one blue and one green, but it’s actually all one piece.
Jennifer wears another nice headscarf – and Clarissa says she looks like “our own dear Queen” in it.
[In fact, while researching this episode I learned the Queen herself was nearly bitten by a Shetland pony this year! Though she was not wearing a headscarf or visiting Gretna Green at the time.]
Finally, the D.C. wears a rather silly hat at the rally.
Jennifer [American accent]: Now then, ma’am, how’s your clam?
Clarissa [American accent]: Oh, they’re just dandy, honey.
SUGGESTIONS OF SEX: Clarissa says her vanilla pod is “nice and aphrodisiacal.”
Now, there are potatoes and potatoes, aren’t there? – Jennifer
Clarissa uses a propane torch to broil her crèmes brûlées (which Jennifer ignites with her cigarette lighter). Before she produces the torch, Jennifer asks if she plans to cook them with “a fine salamander.”
Jennifer then advises viewers to use potatoes to stop up the exhaust pipes of our “enemies’” cars! She quickly follows this counsel up with “That’s a naughty tale, you’d better not do it.” [Apparently the idea that this will destroy a car’s engine is a myth.]
Also, there is a little window in the kitchen, which gives the production crew the opportunity (unusual on this show) to film the ladies from a second angle.
MISTAKES: Jennifer slurs a bit saying “delicious” at one point.
TRADEMARKS: The ladies use the kitchen’s AGA. Jennifer’s cheese for her soufflé is “proper stuff.” She folds its ingredients in “in the good old manner of a figure of eight.”
Clarissa: It’s all very agreeable, these outings to the countryside.
Jennifer: You know my feelings about the country. . . . Cold and wet!