NUMBER: Series 4, Episode 3
ORIGINAL AIRDATE: September 21, 1999
[This episode is one of my all-time favorites – the final classic, perhaps. – WK]
The ladies are in “bonnie Scotland” again, and fairly far up into it this time (in the Ardnamurchan peninsula).
They pass by the seashore at one point.
Jennifer: Do you think this is safe down here?
Clarissa: Yes, why wouldn’t it be?
Jennifer: Well, I don’t know, we might meet a quagmire.
Clarissa tells us they are cooking a “harvest supper” for workers at a logging camp. The kitchen provided is at a croft belonging to one of the loggers (“Richard”). The ladies are impressed by the kitchen, and indeed, it has an AGA, which surprised me somewhat.
For the field trip, they go fishing in a river. [More on that below.]
Jennifer cooks poule au pot, a dish of stuffed whole chicken stewed with vegetables. [Somewhat annoyingly, in Two Fat Ladies Obsessions, published after Jennifer’s death, Clarissa gives a poule au pot recipe that’s very different from the one Jennifer did on the show. Bad form, that. – WK]
Later Jennifer makes a dessert of crumb-covered peaches under cream, bruléed.
Clarissa makes a mousse of watercress and ricotta. In the second segment, she roasts a trout under a covering of salt and serves it with beurre blanc.
FOOD TIPS AND LORE:
The episode opens with the ladies picking watercress from the bike at a roadside.
“There’s nice running water here, so it’ll be quite safe,” says Clarissa.
Watercress is “a member of the Nasturtium family,” according to Clarissa. They both are very pleased with the quality of the herb – Jennifer says it’s “just how it used to be” [whatever that means] and Clarissa compliments its “good strong proper flavor.” Said flavor is described as “peppery” at least five times over the course of the episode (mostly by Jennifer).
Jennifer says poule au pot was “invented by Henry of Navarre, because he wanted all his subjects to have a chicken in their pot every Sunday – which was a good idea, and I think worked for quite a long time.”
The chicken is stuffed with breadcrumbs, herbs, gammon and chicken livers. Jennifer calls the chicken’s tail “the Pope’s nose” and Clarissa wonders about the origin of the phrase. [Apparently the term was a slur on all clerics rather than specifically anti-Catholic originally.]
Clarissa prefers trout to salmon or sea bass. The doneness of fish cooked in salt can be tested by inserting a sharp knife and then checking the temperature of the blade.
For her dessert, Jennifer uses Ratafia biscuits [something I don’t think we have in the U.S.]. Clarissa asks, “What is the difference, really, between a Ratafia biscuit and a macaroon?” – a question that goes completely ignored by Drunk Jennifer [see On Drinks and Drinking, below].
ON HEALTHY LIVING:
Clarissa suggests the assassinated Henry of Navarre was “killed by a crazed vegetarian” for his chicken-in-every-pot policy.
Jennifer suggests the loggers will “eat one [chicken] each.” The ladies are surprised by their appearance:
Jennifer: They’re not as sort of big and brawny as I expected them to be. I thought they’d be sort of [grunts masculinely].
Clarissa: Well, I think it’s the . . . they all use chainsaws now.
Jennifer: They don’t need the muscle.
Clarissa: No, don’t need the brawn.
Jennifer: They just go “bzzzz” everywhere.
[Both make chainsaw sounds.]
REMEMBRANCES OF THINGS PAST:
Jennifer tells this hilarious story about Ratafia biscuits:
I once had great trouble with the little Ratafias, because I did a receipt for a lemon posset – and that’s another miracle thing, you know, it thickens by the lemon juice – and you’re meant to put the little Ratafia biscuits in, and they’re all meant to amalgamate. I would have thought perfectly safe for anybody – and I got an infuriated letter from a reader, saying that not only had he wasted two pounds of raspberries, but the vicar’s bridgework had been broken!
[Interestingly, though Jennifer was a bit legendary among her fans for preferring the term receipt to recipe, I believe this is the only time in the entirety of Two Fat Ladies that she says the word out loud. And in The Two Fat Ladies Ride Again, she says her posset receipt was “favored by Samuel Pepys.”]
[UPDATE: I don’t know what I would do without the readers of this blog, whose Two Fat Ladies interest, knowledge and research abilities always put mine to shame. One called MCV has found the original letter in the Spectator (from 1988!) that Jennifer refers to here. Enjoy:
[Sir: We have just eaten your cookery correspondent’s Ratafia Cream (9 July) for luncheon. We are forced to conclude that she either left out a couple of ingredients, was savagely cut from the bottom, or is a Porton Down research chemist masquerading in a toque. Whichever the case, I hope it will lie uneasy on her conscience that she has devastated two pints of cream, some perfectly good raspberries, and the vicar’s bridgework.
Lower Grantsfield, Kimbolton, Leominster, Herefordshire]
Speaking of vicars, Clarissa says, “Patience and perseverance made a bishop of His Reverence,” attributing the maxim to her childhood nanny. This makes Jennifer recall her upbringing in China, and she speaks Chinese briefly.
Clarissa: Didn’t you have an English nanny?
Jennifer: Yes, I didn’t care for her at all, after our lovely Chinese amahs. This nasty starched monster, and to us, with this terrible smell – probably Dettol or something like that. You know, we weren’t used to disinfectants.
Jennifer: Really, when you come to think of it, [poule au pot] is very like the Scottish cock-a-leekie.
Clarissa: But without the barley.
Jennifer: Yeah, well, I don’t like barley. Nasty. Sort of slippery!
Then she does this:
They fret that the young loggers won’t recognize the Python reference. [Considering their conversation routinely includes allusions to things like “Mexican Minnie,” Grace Darling, and Eighteenth-Century cookbooks, this seems a funny thing to worry about.]
The ladies disagree on the pronunciation of Ratafia [it seems Jennifer’s is closer to the authentic Spanish pronunciation]. This leads Jennifer to allude to “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off” (“You say ‘ruh-TAFF-ee-UH,’ and I say ‘RA-tuh-FEE-uh’!”).
Jennifer advises Clarissa to pray to St. Peter during the fishing scene, and suggests her fisherman companion in the river might have been St. Peter, as they’re leaving.
Clarissa wears a frankly bizarre blouse; I’m not sure how to begin describing it. It is green, and seems to have been designed as a Cubist’s impression of a chef’s jacket. It has a sort of front panel that is folded over and buttoned in the double-breasted fashion, but hardly in the conventional manner. As if that weren’t enough, there are pictures of palm fronds all over the thing; I found it rather baffling.
She also wears the pearls again, and her hair is a mess.
A number of Scottish stereotypes get discussed. The ladies wonder if the Highlanders “do” garlic. Then there’s this:
Jennifer: I had a terrible feeling we weren’t going to find any lemons. But luckily there were plenty.
Clarissa: Well, I think they’re not as barbaric up here as you think there, Jennifer, in among the hill tribes.
Clarissa: Well, I’m sure your pudding will be a great success. It’ll be lovely and sweet, and the Scots have a very sweet tooth.
Jennifer: They love sweet things; in fact, in the old days, it used to be their twenty-first birthday present to have all their teeth out, so they wouldn’t have any trouble with it at all.
Clarissa: I’d not heard that one, Jennifer. I think that’s anti-Scots propaganda, myself.
Jennifer: No, no, no, I’ve often heard it, really!
[Online, there are many instances of people saying they remember this custom, but not much real evidence of it. In 2003 BBC Radio Scotland tried to solicit interviewees who had undergone such a procedure, but whether they ever aired a program on it is unclear. More information on the history of Scottish dentistry, should you be interested, can be found here.]
SUGGESTIONS OF SEX:
Clarissa flirts from the bike with a fisherman, and for the field trip she joins him to fish for sea trout in the river. They have this conversation about him:
Clarissa: I thought he was quite attractive, really.
Jennifer: Oh, you would.
Then there’s this exchange between Clarissa and the fisherman:
Fisherman: You’re getting good at this – you’ve done it before?
Clarissa: No, but I can use a whip very well.
[“God, they really do have a thing for guys with fish,” my wife said. “No fisherman in Britain is safe.”]
In fact, the contrast between Jennifer’s prudery and Clarissa’s lasciviousness comes to the fore a couple of times in this episode. When leaving the main camp for the croft, Jennifer invites one of the loggers to join her on the bike:
Jennifer: Will you be a dear and show us the way? You can pop on the back of my bike. . . . Comfortable? Hang on, because there’s nothing to hold you there if we go over a nasty bump.
Clarissa: She took it off so that handsome young men would have to hang on to her.
The logger laughs, and Jennifer frowns in embarrassment and says, “Quite untrue.”
Then there’s this:
Jennifer: Guess what I get to do now? Cover them in cream.
Clarissa: What, the lumberjacks?
Finally, appraising the fishing encounter:
Jennifer: You got jolly cold in the middle of the river.
Clarissa [suggestively]: I know, but it did have its incentives.
Jennifer: It had the fish.
[In an interview in 2011, Clarissa said:
[I think Jennifer lived and died a virgin. She asked me once, “Do you really like sex?” I said, “Yes,” and she said, “I’ve always thought it might be rather messy.” Jennifer was a devout Catholic.]
ON DRINKS AND DRINKING:
Clarissa puts fennel inside her fish’s cavity.
Jennifer: Or if you didn’t have it, you could use Pernod!
Clarissa: I suppose one could. Is one more likely to have Pernod about one, I wonder?
Jennifer: Yes, quite often! I’ve always got a bottle of that in the cupboard – I haven’t always got a bunch of fennel!
Jennifer is roaring drunk and barely makes it through the second segment. She giggles about the food choices; the mousses are “dainty little creatures for those tough old lumberjacks,” and she breaks down laughing at the thought of “dinky little peaches, dinky little moussies, for the dainty little lumberjacks!”
When Clarissa mentions beurre blanc, Jennifer cries out, “Oh, the most wonderful of sauces! It’s another miracle of the kitchen!” She slurs noticeably when she says “I’m doing a large, luscious pudding for the nice loggers” (and a few other times). Then she alarms Clarissa by using a propane torch to brulée her peaches. (“You’re slightly frightened of it?” Clarissa says. “I’m at the sharp end.”)
[My wife pointed out that although Clarissa always plays along, you can tell she gets irritated when Jennifer’s this far gone. She definitely wears the look of an exhausted babysitter through the entire second segment here.]
MEMORABLE MOMENTS: Clarissa describes the texture of cooked mousses as “doing, doing, doing.”
Discussing how people won’t understand their references:
Jennifer: Oh, we’re so old!
Clarissa: Well, speak for yourself.
Jennifer: Well, I am.
The image of Clarissa leading a draft horse past Jennifer while the latter sings “The Lumberjack Song” is one not soon forgotten.
MISTAKES: This must have been the first episode they produced for the season, because for the most part Jennifer’s voiceovers are very good. It is only in the introduction of the dishes during dinner that she sounds sick.
TRADEMARKS: The AGA. The ladies set the table again. Both ladies describe the watercress as “proper.”
Jennifer complains about the Scottish weather multiple times, calling it “wet, wet wet!”, among other things. When they arrive in the camp, she says it’s “not very nice here.” Then, during the field trip, she sulks and heckles from a camp chair in the rain, asking “How long do you think it’s going to take?”, saying Clarissa looks “very foolhardy” fishing in the river, and, when asked if she’d like to join the fun, saying, “I don’t have waders, I’m glad to say!” Towards the end, she swats some “damn midges,” and says she’s baffled anyone would come to the Scottish Highlands deliberately – “but nice people,” she adds.