Here it is, the final recap! Hope it doesn’t disappoint. – WK
TITLE: A Day at the Races
NUMBER: Series 4, Episode 4
ORIGINAL AIRDATE: September 28, 1999
SETTINGS: At the opening of the episode, Clarissa and Jennifer arrive at yet another fishing boat, identified by a title as being in “St. Abbs, Northumberland,” though most maps put it on the Scottish side of the border. (The fisherman they meet has a heavy Scottish accent, which seems to support the latter theory.)
No flirting with the fisherman this time, shockingly, even though he does give them a taste of what Clarissa says are langoustines. [They look like ordinary enough shrimp to me – WK].
The ladies are cooking for “the jockeys at Kelso.” “The racecourse is on the Duke of Roxburghe’s estate,” says Clarissa, as is Floors Castle, where they do their cooking. Clarissa says she thinks it must be “quite cool” to have a racetrack on one’s property.
[Clarissa must have liked Floors, because in Two Fat Ladies Obsessions she includes a recipe for a weirdly flavored (fennel, cardamom and anchovy) meat dish she calls “Steak a la Floors Castle.”]
At the castle, a butler with a bad haircut shows them around.
For the field trip, the ladies visit a historic flour mill, where they use the old equipment to grind some grain. Jennifer hollers something when they arrive and no one’s around; sounds like “Sharp!” to me but I’m not sure. [UPDATE: A helpful reader writes: “Jennifer screams ‘SHOP!’ . . . as in ‘shopkeeper!’ to get the attention of anyone around, or in the back of the store, that a customer has come in.” We do not have this expression in the U.S., and I am very grateful to those of you who have written in with such corrections! – WK]
DISHES: Jennifer says they’ve been instructed to cook “light – for little jockeys.”
Clarissa does “green beans with Roman mustard” – a sauce of mustard, almonds, pine nuts, chilies, garlic, grape juice, vinegar, mustard oil, and fried cumin and mustard seeds. [Looks a bit much, if you ask me. – WK] In the second segment, she makes a sort of quick bread/fruitcake thing called “barmbrack” and puts stewed rhubarb on top of it.
Jennifer cooks crabmeat with butter, breadcrumbs, anchovies, vermouth, “good old lemon juice” and “a darn good dash of Tabasco,” then stuffs it back into the shells and broils it. Then in the second half she does a large stuffed cod roasted under tomatoes and mushrooms.
FOOD TIPS AND LORE:
Clarissa’s Roman beans recipe is “straight out of the pages of Apicius.”
She uses a combination of grape juice and vinegar for the sauce. “The original recipe called for verjuice,” she says, “but the nearest I can approximate that is the combination of those two.” She describes verjuice as “a type of apple vinegar,” but says cider vinegar isn’t an acceptable substitute.
She also calls the sauce a “tracklement” at one point.
The cod in the fisherman’s basket are rather surprised-looking.
Jennifer says the Scottish borders are “quite the right part of the country” for crab. She says cleaning the crabmeat out of the shell is time-consuming, and suggests getting other people to help with the task. “Or some people,” she adds, “even have people to read to them while they’re doing it.” (Clarissa looks at her with disbelief and chuckles at this suggestion.)
Crab “can take a lot of butter,” Jennifer says.
Jennifer says the French term “gratin” is synonymous with the English phrase “upper-crust.”
She soaks her dried fruits in cold tea before adding them to the mixture.
At the mill, Clarissa says a miller would rub the flour between his thumb and finger to test its quality.
This test, she says, became known as the “golden thumb” because milling was a such a lucrative business. [Apparently the saying goes back to The Canterbury Tales, in which Chaucer describes his Miller as having a “thombe of gold” – and charging customers triple the value of his wheat.]
(Jennifer says she always thought the expression “golden thumb” was “to do with drugs,” and describes Clarissa’s story as “another one of your little weird folktales.”)
ON HEALTHY LIVING: “I just can’t eat bran,” says Jennifer. “I find you just chew, chew, chew, and can’t actually make the final swallow.”
REMEMBRANCES OF THINGS PAST:
Jennifer says she learned how to sew up the cavity of a fish at convent school. She says she thinks she does it as well as a doctor (“Not a scar, sir, not a scar”).
Clarissa recalls her surgeon father stitching up things and “practicing knots with his left hand.” She says when her parents were young, her father would annoy her mother by tying knots in her hair.
Jennifer: A fine way to start a marriage!
Clarissa: Yes. It didn’t get any better.
LITERARY/CULTURAL REFERENCES: The episode’s title.
A copy of the Racing Post is visible in the kitchen.
Jennifer quotes Belloc again: “In my opinion, butlers ought/To know their place, and not to play/The old retainer night and day.” [This verse is sometimes wrongly attributed to the similarly named Joachim du Bellay, it seems. – WK]
SONGS AND MUSIC: The stock music during the horse race is apparently “The Show Goes On,” performed by the Hudson Orchestra.
STYLE WATCH: The kitchen has a bunch of antique drawers used for organizing pantry items. (Jennifer finds a crab mallet in one labeled “Vermicelli.”)
SUGGESTIONS OF SEX: Clarissa says one of the Roxburghe dukes built the racecourse to celebrate having his first son at the age of 86. [As usual, her story is fundamentally accurate, but a little exaggerated. The Duke in question sired his first son when he was 70; the racecourse ultimately opened when he was 86.]
The story of the Duke producing offspring in his old age inspires this comment from Jennifer:
Well, they can go on forever doing that, can’t they, but I don’t know what sort of a specimen he was.
The episode ends with this telling toast:
Jennifer: To your health.
Jennifer: And the pursuit of love. [Then, after thinking it over:] Leave the love out of it – stick to the money.
Jennifer [to the fisherman putting codfish in her basket]: I’ll take as many as I can fit in.
Fisherman: I’m sure you will!
Clarissa has to raise her voice to be heard when Jennifer is pounding the meat out of her crabs.
Jennifer, though she seems unusually sober in this episode, makes a lot of theatrical hand gestures.
“Hard cheese,” Jennifer says to Clarissa when the latter complains about her gambling losses.
In a strange moment, the jockeys pop champagne during the dinner scene and spray it all over each other, squealing.
PHONY BUSINESS: The ladies claim to be worried they’ll get arrested for operating the mill equipment.
The final seven minutes are mostly nonsense, with the ladies attending a horse race and placing bets. [It’s entertaining enough, but I’d rather have more conversation during the cooking segments, myself. – WK]
Clarissa mocks Jennifer for choosing her racehorses based on their names, but in the end it’s Jennifer who triumphs, after enlisting the help of a behatted gentleman for placing her bets.
The horses she picks are “Lord of the Land,” “Duke’s Delight,” and “Roger” or “Raja.” (Probably “Raja,” as Jennifer’s gentleman friend says she is “keeping to the ducal theme” by the choice.)
In the end, Jennifer is said to have won £1,250 [worth approximately $2,000 in USD in summer of 1999] and Clarissa to have lost everything. (Though surely staged, it does seem this outcome reflects the ladies’ real-life luck with money fairly well.)
MISTAKES: Clarissa says hand-milled flour has to be sieved to filter out the bran and impurities (“a hidden dormouse,” Jennifer suggests).
However, Clarissa actually appears to spill much of the flour directly into the batter during her attempt.
Jennifer’s final cooking instructions for her cod are dubbed.
TRADEMARKS: The split back in Jennifer’s purple blouse, and Clarissa’s pearls. Jennifer uses an antique tureen for serving her beans; she says it’s a Minton. Jennifer makes light of Clarissa’s hatred of supermarkets. I was very pleased to see a return to anchovies in this final episode (Jennifer puts them in her crab dish, along with a heap of parsley).