I’m sure it will come as no surprise, but not only do I love cookbooks, I also love to watch cooking shows. One of the shows from the 90s that ran on The Food Network and The Cooking Channel was “Two Fat Ladies,” an original BBC series that featured two heavily endowed ladies that traveled the English countryside on a Triumph 950 motorcycle that had a Watsonian doublewide sidecar. Throwing calories to the wind, Clarissa Dickson Wright and Jennifer Paterson staged their show in highly unusual locations such as an army garrison, an all-girl school, and Westminster Cathedral. Their show, sometimes irreverently referred to as “Two Fat Ladies – Cooking With Lard,” thumbed its nose at haute-cuisine and featured traditional dishes that were prepared with an emphasis on strong flavors, fresh ingredients, and more than just a pat of butter.
Their 192 page cookbook “Cooking With the Two Fat Ladies” was published in 1996 by Clarkson N. Potter and features some really great lip-smackin’, thigh slapping recipes whose roots can be traced back to British cookery at its best. Packed with candid photographs of the two ladies in action and larded with tibits of culinary lore, this book definitely captures the voice and spirit of these unrepentant epicures as they cooked their way across the British countryside.
Beginning with the interesting story behind the conceptualization and realization of the program, the book continues with six sections that cover the gamut of yummy food preps from fish and shellfish to meat and poultry all the way to food in the wild. With anecdotes preceding every recipe, the ladies bring a lot of color and background to what might otherwise be taken as a rather mundane collection of recipes. Richly seasoned with spices and butter, they seem to make British cuisine, which traditionally is thought to be somewhat bland, come alive with all of the flavors necessary to turn a simple meal into a feast.
Along with wonderful tips about how to buy and store fish, how to determine if beef is aged, and a cautionary that “there is no substitue for lard – or beef drippings,” the Two Fat Ladies have shared recipes that hail, not only from Britain, but Wales, Scotland, Barbados, and France. If reading the recipes isn’t enough to grab your attention, this book contains some of the most tantalizing photos of the end results that I’ve seen in a long time. I’ve always been intrigued by the dish “Bubble and Squeak,” but have never had it – although I might have had the Netherland’s version of it when visiting some friends outside of Amsterdam. It was delicious! But, to make The Fat Girls’ version, first you start with 3 cups of finely chopped and crushed potatoes. In a frying pan, melt 1/4 cup of drippings or lard (remember: “There is no substitute for lard or beef drippings – if you object, eat something else.”) and lightly fry 1 minced onion. Mix in the potato and 1-1/2 cup of chopped, cooked cabbage or brussel sprouts. Add more drippings or lard. Press the bubble into the hot fat and fry over a moderate heat until browned underneath – about 15 minutes. Turn the bubble over, add the last of the drippings or lard, and fry until the othe side is browned. Clarissa shares that she “once lived with a man who could be stopped in midsentence of even the most savage argument if I started making this dish. You may imagine I am something of an expert at it.” This dish is so named because it bubbles and squeaks while it cooks and the thought of the smell of frying onions wafting through the kitchen makes me want to go right in there now and get some onions sautéing!