TITLE: Potatoes Galore
NUMBER: Series 4, Episode 1
ORIGINAL AIRDATE: September 7, 1999
[A note before I begin recapping these final four episodes. Jennifer died on August 10th of 1999, and the experience of watching this season now, after living with this project for some time, must be similar to what it was like for BBC viewers to watch it then, knowing she was already gone. The show can’t quite feel the same.
[The nice thing about it is, she doesn’t seem ill in any of the episodes. On the contrary, she seems vibrant and well – in “Timber!”, for instance, I would argue she’s in as good a form as we’ve seen her in. It is only in the voiceover work, obviously recorded after she became sick, that you can hear a difference – her voice is thick and painful. Those moments, usually dubbed over the motorbike sequences or the introductions of the dishes at dinner, are very difficult for me to sit through.
[However, for the most part, she seems fine, and in a way, it is good that her illness took her so suddenly. There was no decline in the quality of the program or her ability to perform. As we shall see, these final four episodes are not compromises in any way.
[Anyway, not to prolong this digression, but I wasn’t too familiar with “Potatoes Galore” before – in fact, there were times when I felt I hadn’t ever seen it. However, when I said as much out loud, my girlfriend said, “Oh, that’s ridiculous, you’ve made me watch this one a hundred times.”
[Well, be that as it may, it’s a good one. Enjoy. – WK]
SETTINGS: This episode is set in (or on) Jersey, a place I didn’t know much about. [It is an island, a “possession” of the United Kingdom but closer to France and apparently overlapped with the latter in some cultural ways.]
The ladies travel to a potato farm connected with the Les Prés Manor House, [a property that apparently has gone by other names in the past]. The ladies cook for a man they refer to as “the lord of the manor,” as well as for his potato pickers, most of whom appear to be Portuguese immigrants. (“From Madeira,” Clarissa says; Jennifer is excited for the opportunity to “practice my rusty old Portuguese” with them.)
The master of Les Prés has the surname Le Maistre – his first name isn’t given, and I wasn’t able to find anything specific about him online [though here’s an article about the family as a whole]. The ladies refer to him a couple times as “le grand Seigneur,” and it would appear he is rightly entitled to that honorific. It is not a true noble title but rather the equivalent of a “country squire” in England. [According to this, the Le Maistres have “been Seigneurs of St Ouen, La Hougue Boete, and Quetivel” in their time.]
When they arrive at the Manor, they find a note from the Seigneur attached to the front door that reads, “Ladies – I’m round the back in the bread oven with my cabbage.”
They soon encounter the Seigneur himself – an elderly, bearded man with an English accent who is baking bread wrapped in cabbage leaves in a wood-fired oven.
Then they stop at a farm stand for fresh vegetables. [This made me smile, as there is a very similar country stand in the place where I grew up. – WK]
Finally, they make a stop in the potato fields themselves, where the workers show Clarissa how to use an old-fashioned tiller to dig potatoes.
DISHES: Clarissa bakes “a lovely, luscious chocolate pye” – “spelled P-Y-E” in the Eighteenth-Century fashion. In the second half, she does a Portugese fish stew with sardines, topped with crusts of bread.
Jennifer cooks “that good old thing, boeuf Stroganoff.” Then, because she’s “simply been in a Russian mood for some reason or another,” she does a soup that was created for “Pierre le Grand – Peter the Great, the great emperor of Russia.” It’s a very simple soup – chicken stock with cream and vodka.
FOOD TIPS AND LORE:
The ladies are puzzled by the Seigneur’s cabbage loaves:
Clarissa: Very curious, that idea of wrapping your bread in cabbage leaves before you cook it.
Jennifer [laughing]: It’s deeply sinister. Why do you think they do it?
Jennifer: We haven’t tasted it yet – do you think it keeps the moisture in or something?
Clarissa: Possibly it does, or gives it some strange, esoteric flavor. [laughing] It may be wonderful!
Jennifer [laughing]: Old cabbage smell!
[Apparently the main purpose is the beautiful leaf pattern the cabbage leaves leave on the loaf once they’re removed.]
Clarissa’s “chocolate pye” is a recipe “from Hannah Glasse.” Its unusual crust uses ground almonds rather than flour.
[In Two Fat Ladies Obsessions, she says of this recipe: “The crackling crust is particularly successful – it looks beautiful and is delicious to eat.” But with all due respect, that’s bullshit. I tried making it once and the damned thing stuck like glue to the bottom of the dish. I had to scrape it out with a pancake flipper. And it was for a party, too! – WK]
She scatters rose petals over the finished product. (“Goodness, that’s very far-fetched,” says Jennifer.)
On beef Stroganoff:
Jennifer: . . . There’s no real sort of ritual for it. It was invented in Russia, but I imagine probably by a Frenchman. I’ll probably get hundreds of Russians screaming about that.
She says it is imperative to use fillet of beef for the recipe.
She uses local oyster mushrooms for the dish, saying they have “a very good scent” and “a curious sort of aftertaste” neither lady can place.
Jennifer: We’ll pop them in and see what happens. Might murder everybody.
[My younger daughter immediately wanted to know if they would have canceled the program if people had died, or if they just would have aired the episode anyway. – WK]
Of her stew, Clarissa says, “You can have any sort of fish you want, but the sardines are mandatory.”
She notes that “rock salmon” is actually a euphemism for dogfish.
She puts piri piri sauce into the stew. (“Gosh, it’s getting hotter and hotter!” says Jennifer.)
Clarissa says the ormers “eat the seaweed . . . like cows.” (This causes Jennifer to try some of the seaweed herself!)
Jennifer says the sautéed ormers taste like calamari. Clarissa calls them “ears of the sea.”
Jennifer likes “the lovely Jewish chicken soup,” calling it “a cure-all for anything.” (“Jewish penicillin,” Clarissa agrees.)
Jennifer makes a beurre manié to thicken her soup with.
Jennifer grinds her pepper by hand with a mortar and pestle, for some reason. Unusually, Clarissa crumbles bay leaves into her fish stew.
ON HEALTHY LIVING:
Clarissa says to butter bread “lavishly.”
She also says lifting a heavy pan is “better than going to the gym,” and Jennifer replies, “Anything is better than going to the gym.”
Jennifer keeps the ormer shells to use “for ashtrays.”
On soup stocks:
Jennifer: No nonsense about a stock cube.
Clarissa: You never have any nonsense with a stock cube, Jennifer.
Jennifer: Oh, never have any nonsense with a stock cube.
When Clarissa adds vinegar to her fish stew, Jennifer says, “Not malt!”
SONGS AND MUSIC:
Jennifer sings “A Gay Caballero.” [Fairly racy in places.]
In the potato field, the hymn “We Plow the Fields and Scatter” is played. [Not racy.]
Clarissa: Have you been reading your almanac lately?
Jennifer: No, it’s not a thing I often do.
Jennifer: Well, in Jersey, they’re probably witching.
[It seems there is a tradition of witchcraft on the island.]
Clarissa points out a broomstick and says Jennifer should try flying on it.
Clarissa: I wonder who Count Stroganoff was.
Jennifer: I don’t know, and I’ve got a book that tells you such.
Clarissa: I like to envisage Count Stroganoff – you know, dashing in his Hessian boots.
Jennifer: Twirling his mustachios and flashing his saber.
Clarissa: Oh yes, all of that.
When he went back to Russia, he took “a wonderful Scotsman” with him, who “stayed there for years and became very rich.” [Presumably she means this guy.]
Clarissa says, “The Scots built Leningrad; built half of Moscow too.” [Not sure how much truth there is in that, but here’s some reading on the subject if you’re interested.] Jennifer says, “The Scots are a force to be reckoned with.”
Clarissa: I wonder how the Indian onion shortage is going.
Jennifer: Are we having an Indian onion shortage?
Clarissa: The Indians are having an onion shortage; there were riots last year.
[Then Jennifer says something that sounds like “My dear, think of all the Varghese,” but I’m not sure what that means. UPDATE: Thanks to Stephen for helpfully pointing out that Jennifer is most likely referring to bhajjis, Indian vegetable fritters. – WK]
When Clarissa is spreading her rose petals, Jennifer says, “You should have a great shower of them coming down, like one of those wonderful Alma-Tadema pictures.”
In the potato fields, Jennifer says potato-picking is “no occupation for a gentlewoman,” then goes on to misquote Belloc’s poem “Lord Finchley”: “It is the duty of the gentleman/To give employment to the artisan.”
STYLE WATCH: There is a great fireplace in the manor kitchen.
Clarissa’s hair is cut rather short; my girlfriend didn’t like her lipstick.
Jennifer’s blouse is split again, but unusually she wears a turtleneck under it.
She wears her red boots again on the beach. The second segment is shot from a different side of the kitchen.
Talking about abalones, Jennifer says, “I’ve eaten Aborigine” by mistake.
SUGGESTIONS OF SEX:
Clarissa says the fish for her stew were “caught this very morning by a hunky fisherman.”
She also says her chocolate pye is an aphrodisiac.
ON DRINKS AND DRINKING:
A lot of vodka goes into Jennifer’s soup, even after cooking. She also uses a little port in her Stroganoff sauce, saying she finds it “better for cooking than drinking, but that’s because I don’t like it much.”
Jennifer makes a very surprised face when Clarissa tells her that chilled cream can cause melted chocolate to harden too rapidly.
Clarissa says, “Against all adversity, the British will barbecue.”
The motorcycle gets stuck in the sand when they’re trying to leave the beach.
Another first, as we see the ladies setting the table for dinner.
Finally, in the epilogue Jennifer points out a duck in the sky and says, “Bang bang – duck.”
MISTAKES: [Maybe it’s just me, but it seems the title “Potatoes Galore” suggests there will be a focus on potato recipes.]
The dialogue on the bike is very badly dubbed in places – you can see their mouths don’t match the voiceover.
Some of the workers don’t remove their hats at dinner.
There is a typo in the end credits.
PHONY BUSINESS: The ladies pretend to become lost looking for the Manor, and are surprised when the potato pickers they ask for directions turn out to be the diners they’re cooking for. Clarissa says they’ve been going in circles, and during the end credits they drive off to immediately return the other way.
[In Spilling the Beans, Clarissa reveals that ormers are found in deep waters and that the sequence with her pulling them from under rocks on the shoreline was set up.]
A silly dubbed-over splash sound is used to suggest the ladies have driven into the sea at the beach.
TRADEMARKS: The kitchen has an AGA (with a charming crooked stovepipe).
Clarissa mixes her piecrust with her hands. Upon reaching the potato fields, she says the walk was “not too far,” but Jennifer says it was “far too far.”