Foraging for vintage cookery treasures is one of my favourite pastimes. I simply cannot resist a quirky cookbook or kitchenalia pamphlet. Featured below are two of my recent acquisitions: Problem Cooking with Fanny Cradock BBC TV (1967) and Belling:electric heating and cooking (1960/61).
I don’t wish to focus on Fanny’s complex private life here, a quick Google search will furnish you with enough biographical information to satisfy your curiosity. Fanny was born Phyllis Nan Sortain Pechey in Leytonstone, London during the height of the Edwardian era, 1909. She formed an enduring personal and professional relationship with Major John Whitby Cradock (‘Johnnie’) (1904-1987). Johnnie became Fanny’s third husband. Although she changed her surname by deed poll to ‘Cradock’ in 1942, they didn’t actually marry until 1977.
I love Fanny Cradock. Now there is lady who really knows how to work the camera, baby! She was the first celebrity TV chef, making her debut on the small screen in 1955. Always appearing in full make-up, string of pearls and glamorous gowns. She instructed Britain’s housewives on how to improve their kitchen prowess whilst urging them to keep a watchful eye on the pennies in their purse. Fanny has been credited with bringing fun back into the kitchen following years of uninspiring ration cooking in post-war Britain.
Some of Fanny’s cooking techniques were less than orthodox. She loved to add food colouring to a whole range of recipes. Green-coloured, duchess potato anyone? Poultry also got a raw deal. Watching Fanny stab the skin of a goose, to ensure it is tenderised, is a mesmerizing spectacle. She asks housewives to ‘think of somebody you have never really liked’ whilst embarking upon a frenzied attack of your bird. Fanny’s actions are so forceful, the poor goose bounces violently up and down on its wire rack, responding to her culinary CPR. One might be forgiven for thinking that, at any moment, the poor creature should surely come back to life and turn on its attacker!
Her style of delivery was confident and at times dictatorial. The poor home ec. assistants dodging her waspish outbursts and having to adopt a Teflon-coated demeanour. Husband Johnnie didn’t fare much better but that was all part of their on-screen act. However they came across on-screen, Fanny and Johnnie enjoyed a long relationship which lasted until his death in 1987. Fanny died in 1994, aged eighty-five.
Fanny’s cookbook, The Practical Cook (1949), was the first step in her long career as a food writer. She went on to publish no less than one hundred cookbooks. She was not an advocate of cooking with electricity and preferred gas. In fact the Cradocks had a lifelong association with the British Gas Council and gave demonstrations on how to cook with gas. I don’t expect she ever owned a Belling oven!
In Problem Cooking with Fanny Cradock, there are recipes for: angel food cake; cheese cake; close-textured sponge; saucepan cake; corned beef hash; pitt-y-panna; sandwich supper; fish puffs; bee skeps; egg yolk sponge; sabayon; poor man’s Florentines; rice croquettes; crown roast; stuffed lamb cutlets; cutlet stuffing; fondue bourguignonne; mustard sauce; sauce remoulade; lamb steaks; the use of gelatine; fruit jellies; jelly, aspic or bavarois cream, mixtures a la zizi; bavarois cream puddings; chocolate bavarois; a modest classic aspic and humble emergency aspic.
My favourite recipe in Problem Cooking is the ‘humble emergency aspic’. Here is the recipe:
Humble Emergency Aspic
Ingredients: one 10 1/2 oz tin of consommé; 14 1/2 fl oz and 1 fl oz of cold water; 4 tablespoons of sherry; strained juice of 1/2 lemon; 1 generous oz powdered gelatine.
Method: Soften gelatine in 1 fl oz water. Mix all remaining ingredients together. Stir in gelatine and stir over ice until syrupy when using as a coating or masking agent or for locking in tops or top and sides of special savoury decorative mixtures.
Individual Vegetable Aspics Set in Dariole Moulds: Oil moulds lightly. Pour in sufficient syrupy aspic to cover base thoroughly. Leave until set. Arrange cooked peas and/or tiny fancy shapes in cooked carrot over set aspic. Spoon sufficiently syrupy aspic over to lock in vegetable pattern without disarranging it. Leave until set. Fill up with syrupy aspic. Unmould when set. Neatly cut scraps of cooked French beans, overlapping unskinned slices of cucumber, and sections of tomato etc. may also be used.
Here are a few examples of Fanny’s cooking demonstrations on TV:
- Fanny and Johnnie, in full evening wear, give a cookery demonstration, ‘Bon Viveur’, at the Royal Albert Hall in 1956. If I ever get the opportunity to cook on TV, dressed in a 1950s evening gown would be my preferred outfit but for now I will simply following that other twentieth century culinary heroine, Julia Child (1912-2004) and settle for wearing a string of pearls! CLICK HERE;
- Adventurous in Cooking with Fanny Cradock – Fish, 1966. CLICK HERE;
- Fanny Cradock invites you to a cheese and wine party, 1970. CLICK HERE;
- Fanny making a mincemeat omelette. Broadcast Christmas 1975. CLICK HERE;
- Fanny Cooks for Christmas – Your Christmas Cake, 1975. CLICK HERE;
- Fanny Cooks for Christmas – Christmas Puddings, 1975. Fanny gives a twist to brandy butter – a splash of bright green food colouring. CLICK HERE.
Belling is a British company which this year celebrates its centenary. In 1912, Charles Reginald Belling and an assistant began making electric fires in a shed in Enfield, Essex with a start-up capital of £150.
In 1919 Belling launched its first complete domestic cooker called the ‘Modernette‘. In 1929, they produced the first Baby Belling, ‘No. 2. Baby Belling’.
During World War Two, production of cookers was put on hold and the factory turned over to War work. Hand grenades, mortar bombs, food cabinets for aircrafts, rocket guns, bomb snuffers and ammunition boxes were all made at the Belling factory. After the War, normal production resumed and one of the company’s first commissions was to produce cookers for pre-fab houses. The pre-fab cooker was called the ‘Vee’.
The catalogue I have from 1960-1 is such a fantastic snapshot of 1960s living. The illustrations are bright and all budgets are catered for. The 1960s was the decade of the bedsit and flat, young people leaving home for the first time to experience independent living. The Baby Belling is such a brilliant invention. I remember when I was a student several of my friends had bedsits and cooked using a Baby Belling and that was in the 1990s. Belling still manufacture Baby Belling today. CLICK HERE.
There is an entry regarding the brochure’s photography, an aspect of the brochure that Belling were obviously extremely proud of:
‘No wonder the food looks so real.. It is real. Such is the confidence in the performance of our cookers that we always use real food in all our photographs. All the food is cooked by our cooking staff in Belling cookers in our colour photographic studios, just before the colour photographs are taken. There is no retouching of any kind in any photographs in this book. We thought you would be interested to know.’ (p.60).
- For Belling’s company website, CLICK HERE;
- Belling have produced a fantastic book about the company’s history to celebrate its centenary. It can be viewed on-line. CLICK HERE;