TITLE: The Cambridge Eight
NUMBER: Series 3, Episode 3
ORIGINAL AIRDATE: September 16, 1998
SETTINGS: The setting this time is Cambridge University, where Clarissa and Jennifer cook for “the Cambridge Eight” – that is, the eight winners of an annual competition between the rowing crews of Cambridge and Oxford University.
[I know there’s some crossover between fans of this show and those of P.G. Wodehouse. It occurs to me some of us non-Britons may be familiar with the Boat Race phenomenon only because it was on Boat Race Night that Bertie Wooster, an Oxonian, was arrested for pinching a policeman’s helmet – an offense for which he was ultimately fined five pounds in the Bosher Street police court.]
[And while we’re on the subject, in the mating of scholarship and fanwankery that is Thank You, Wodehouse, J.H.C. Morris argues there is textual evidence that Bertie rowed for the Oxford Eight himself as a student! If the gigantic rowers in this episode are representative of the species as a whole, it’s hard to picture it. – WK]
But back to the Boat Race. Jennifer says, “I’ve always been brought up to think that Cambridge wins,” and I suppose it does raise the question of whether the show would have gone to Oxford instead if the outcome had been different. [My guess is: probably.] She says, “I believe they won this year’s Boat Race in the fastest time ever,” and indeed, it’s true. Not only that, but the 1998 record remains unbroken today.
A list of the rowers’ names is visible:
[You can find information about where these rowers are today if you wish. Several of them are former Olympians, one has run for political office multiple times (and been involved in a minor scandal, it seems), and tragically one was killed in an accident while participating in a bicycle cancer fundraiser last year.]
Clarissa: Good heavens.
Jennifer: Quite a good record.
Clarissa: What did her husbands die of?
Rob: They all died mysteriously. She vowed never to marry again.
Jennifer: Didn’t need to.
Clarissa: Shouldn’t think she got many offers!
[This story is true, though the husbands’ deaths don’t actually sound all that mysterious.]
For the field trip, they visit a soft-spoken beekeeper at a place called Wandlebury Park.
(First they are greeted by a bookish-looking man with upsticking hair.)
DISHES: Clarissa cooks “rabbit Isabel,” an extremely odd dish consisting of two rabbit cutlets spread with ground rabbit meat and then placed around a slice of bacon and leaf of sorrel and fried.
FOOD TIPS AND LORE:
Season to your own taste – no one knows what your own taste is except you. – Jennifer
Clarissa says rabbit is “that most neglected of creatures.” She goes on to repeat a version of the “game is fat-free if you must” speech she made during Season 1, adding, “The place is overrun with rabbits, so you’re committing an act of social virtue as well.”
Clarissa: I don’t know why people don’t eat rabbit anymore.
Jennifer: There are three very good reasons. There’s the Fluffy Bunny Brigade, who say, “Oh, I couldn’t eat a sweet little rabbit.”
Jennifer: And then there’s the people who’ve had far too much rabbit stew; I mean, these would be older people who lived in the country during the War. And then, of course, there’s the memory of that dreadful disease.
Clarissa: The myxomatosis.
Jennifer: Yes, which put a lot of people off.
[Fans of Watership Down may recall the rabbit characters referring to myxomatosis as “the white blindness.” Apparently in the 1950s the disease wiped out 95 percent of the rabbit population in Britain, though since that time it has surged back, increasing threefold every year, Frith be praised.]
[My apologies if there are any mistakes in that bit of the recap – my girlfriend and elder daughter were talking so much during the segment that I had to rewind it twenty times to catch everything. – WK]
If you can’t find it, sage is an acceptable substitute.
Jennifer says it’s perfectly all right to use frozen peas for her dish, adding, “The pea and the raspberry are the two success stories of the frozen world.”
A little sugar will improve peas’ flavor.
Jennifer makes a bouquet garni to cook her peas with, “or a faggot of herbs, as we call it here.”
Clarissa: You wouldn’t use one of those packet things that you can buy?
Jennifer: I would never use the packet things, they have no taste at all. They’re like, they’re like putting a packet of dust in.
(Then, in a weird switch, flat-leaf parsley makes a surprise appearance on the plate during dinner.)
She advises growing your own herbs, which she does on her fire escape, and adds:
Jennifer: And bay leaves, you can always, you can always steal them off people’s front doorsteps. . . . There are lots of bay leaves everywhere that no one knows anything about.
Clarissa: “Jennifer Paterson arrested for bay leaf theft.” I could put my wig back on and come and defend you.
[This article seems to contradict Jennifer’s point about them being easy to grow in the city.]
The “wig” joke is I think the first reference on the series to Clarissa’s history as a barrister. (She was the youngest-ever woman to become a barrister in England, and worked in that profession until her alcoholism derailed her.) I couldn’t find a photo of her in her wig, sadly, so here is a picture of Dr. Ivy Williams, the first female barrister in England.
The meats in the stew include ham hock, pork belly, morcilla blood sausage and chorizo. [She pronounces both morcilla and chorizo in the lisping Castilian manner.] Jennifer says the stew will “make the hair on their chests grow.”
The Spanish like paprika, Clarissa says.
And cooking dry beans improperly can cause indigestion.
[One final note on this segment – my girlfriend pointed out that, while Clarissa is talking about all her different kinds of meat, Jennifer very quickly and effortlessly rolls out her pie crust and gets it into her pan.]
The beekeeper describes his hive as “the hive of industry.” He says it’s hard to predict how long it will take a hive to produce a quantity of honey. Different flowers create different flavors and colors, with darker honey having a stronger taste, he says. (Jennifer says she likes clover and apple honey, and he says, “Choosy, aren’t you.”)
ON HEALTHY LIVING:
When pounding her cutlets, Clarissa says, “One of the advantages of being as heavy as I am is if you put your weight into it it doesn’t take very long.”
Jennifer says her peas are “very good, especially for all these vegetarians – they can have nothing against it.”
REMEMBRANCES OF THINGS PAST:
Clarissa: When were you floating around in Greece?
Jennifer: I’ve got a cousin who lives in Naxos.
Clarissa: Do you?
Jennifer: And I thought she lived in a castle, but in fact the whole place is called Castello.
[Not sure what this refers to – probably this housing complex?]
Jennifer: I like the look of those blood puddings. They look very exciting.
Clarissa: Wonderful. In Spain, they make blood sausages for Christmas. You go round and you have a blood sausage and a glass of sherry, and you try everybody’s sausages.
[I wasn’t able to find evidence of this blood-sausage-and-sherry tradition in Spain, though they apparently do eat them at Christmas in Estonia. – WK]
Jennifer: Or cow’s nose?
Clarissa: If you say so – I’ve never come across cows’ noses.
Jennifer: Yes, I had a cousin who was there once for Christmas, and in came this vast silver platter, and she thought, “Oh, goody,” you know, a lovely goose or whatever . . . took it off, there was a large upturned cow’s nose.
Clarissa: Good Lord.
Jennifer: Nostrils heavenward.
Clarissa: Glad I haven’t come across that.
Jennifer: In Saint Sebastián. Perhaps it pertains to that region.
[Looks like it might. – WK]
Clarissa: No, I remember being in Spain . . . my mother was adamant that we would have a turkey for Christmas lunch, and so she sent me off to the market to buy a really big turkey, which is impossible in Spain. And they provided this bird – I don’t know what it was, but it sure as hell wasn’t a turkey.
Jennifer: What was it?
Clarissa: Well, I think it was some, probably some terribly protected species of bustard.
Jennifer: What did it taste like?
Clarissa: It was delicious.
Finally, there is a discussion of Venice on the punt. Clarissa comments that the river is “considerably less smelly than Venice,” and Jennifer responds, “Oh, that’s a foul, foul accusation. I’ve been to Venice for many years and it no longer smells. They have very good refuse boats that come round every morning and take your rubbish away.”
[Looks like not everyone agrees with Jennifer’s analysis.]
Jennifer is fond of the leg meat of rabbits. She also likes ham-hock rind and “the pig’s foot.”
On the boat, she says the weather is the kind that makes “everybody from abroad fall in love with England.”
SONGS AND MUSIC: When Jennifer is making her pea dish, Clarissa references the [rather raunchy!] music-hall song “She Sits Among the Cabbages and Peas.” [Jennifer attributes the song to Vesta Tilley, but it actually appears to have been Marie Lloyd who sang it originally.]
On the boat, Jennifer sings “It’s lovely punting weather” to the tune of the “Eton Boating Song.”
LITERARY/CULTURAL REFERENCES: A smattering of Italian: Jennifer says “prego,” Clarissa says “avanti,” and Jennifer says “avanti savoia.”
Clarissa says they could use a “rustic spell” to aid them in their beekeeping efforts. That phrase appears in a number of poems, but if it’s a specific reference to something I’m not sure what. There’s also some talk about nuns and praying during the field trip segment, but I couldn’t quite get the sense of it.
Jennifer says they resemble Tweedledum and Tweedledee in their beekeeping costumes [and they do.]
STYLE WATCH: Clarissa is back to loud patterns again with a blue blouse decorated with chevrons, zigzags or the like.
Jennifer compares the beekeeping headdresses to “chapeaus from Paris” and “lobster pots.”
On the punt, Jennifer wears sunglasses that Clarissa says “make you look like a mafia don.” (“All I want is respect,” she replies in an Italian accent.)
Clarissa pounds her rabbit fillets with a meat cleaver, and brandishes it like a samurai before she does it.
During the discussion of sausages:
Clarissa: These ones are really very spicy, and muy picante! Muy picante – notice the foreign lingo there, Jennifer.
SUGGESTIONS OF SEX: Much innuendo, mostly in praise of the rowers themselves. Cambridge is “ravishing” (Jennifer), but “not nearly as ravishing as the rowing crew we’ve been invited to cook for” (Clarissa). Clarissa points out “a handsome oarsman” and comments on the rowers’ “lovely legs” while watching them practice. Even Jennifer, normally the more innocent of the pair, calls them “beautiful young men,” though she does also characterize Clarissa as “crazed with lust” for her interest in them.
There’s also this:
Jennifer: I thought I’d make a little fruit salad on the side for those boys. . . . A rather tart one.
Clarissa: Well, that’ll be nice. I’m sure they like a good tart.
Then, on the river:
Clarissa: Such beautiful young men, I must say. You don’t get that in Venice.
Jennifer: . . . You certainly do.
ON DRINKS AND DRINKING: Jennifer seems quite drunk on the punt.
MEMORABLE MOMENTS: Clarissa has trouble separating cling film at one point, and Jennifer says, “Can I help you with my talons?”
While driving with her beekeepers’ helmet on, she also says, “I can’t see very well. . . . I feel like a fly! You know, with criss-cross eyesight.”
When the beekeeper is hand-churning his honey extractor, she says, “Time for takeoff!”
In the dinner scene, you can hear the rowers acknowledge Jennifer and Clarissa’s efforts (another unusual occurrence on this show): “The ladies have done us proud,” someone says, and another replies, “Those ladies are great.”
Jennifer has doubts about the “tiny little boat,” saying, “I couldn’t fit my botty in.”
MISTAKES: Jennifer lisps a bit saying “cinnamon” (and not in the Castilian manner).
PHONY BUSINESS: Clarissa produces a megaphone in the kitchen to startle Jennifer with.
Then they chase the practicing rowers on the bike, with Clarissa bellowing advice to them all the way. (Her comments are sometimes oddly specific, e.g., “Jon, stop using your head and keep it still.”)
TRADEMARKS: Fire escape. Clarissa uses an old-fashioned sausage grinder for her minced rabbit. [My mom has one just like it.]
Somewhat surprisingly, there is an AGA in the kitchen.