Pop Pedestal: Two Fat Ladies

Welcome back to Pop Pedestal, the series where we pay tribute to pop culture figures we admire. Up today are Jennifer Paterson and Clarissa Dickson Wright, better known as Two Fat Ladies.

Jennifer and Clarissa, two older fat white women, behind a pile of bright ingredients Pedestal Profile: Clarissa and Jennifer could be seen making impressive meals on the go for their cooking show on the BBC in the late '90s, and you can currently catch them (in reruns) on the Cooking Channel. Traveling by motorcycle and sidecar to various locations around the UK, the two fat ladies always made a special meal for special diners, from Rabbit Isabel for the Boat Club in Cambridge to chocolate crème brûlée for a pony club in Cotswold—and they did it all with a charming repartee, a healthy dose of fat acceptance, and an eye for fresh, local ingredients.

Admirable qualities: Where to begin? First of all, these two have mastered witty banter like only proper British ladies can—their back-and-forth in the kitchen will satisfy even the most hardcore of Anglophiles. Check out this clip from the Lock Keepers episode, where Clarissa tells Jennifer about spending "a rather diverting part of my debauched existence down there" in Quercy (and keep watching to see Clarissa make what is seriously one of the most complicated cakes I've ever seen):

Of course, amid all the quips and anecdotes, the two fat ladies cook the shit out of some really elaborate and delicious-looking food. While it's not an instructional cooking show per se (you'd have a hard time cooking along with them at home), you can learn quite a few helpful tips from the two fat ladies while they move around the kitchen like twin Julia Childs, making complicated and oh-so-British cuisine. Did you know that you can pour stock right into a pie to keep it fresh on a picnic? Or that you can't make mayonaise unless the ingredients are room temperature? I didn't. (I'm not likely to make Welsh lamb pie any time soon, but it's still impressive advice.) The great thing about the two fat ladies is that their sense of humor and down-to-earthiness takes the edge off of the fancy food they make, so it all seems really accessible (until you realize that you do not possess a massive stone mortar and pestle, at least).

Two Fat Ladies bonus: They sing their own theme song!

Though not overtly political, you can't separate the two fat ladies from fat acceptance or locavorism, two philosophies that guided the series. They were unapologetic about their size, and they celebrated the ingredients of the region where they lived way before Michael Pollan said it was a good idea. They always advocated for fresh ingredients and for finding out where food comes from, often taking their motorcycle on the road to visit farms or restaurants to learn more about smoked kippers or wild mushrooms.

Clarissa and Jennifer on their motorcycle
Fasten your seat belts for a gastronomic ride!

Their influence: The two fat ladies have quite a devoted following, and have even inspired a few parody videos. (I read that Brendan Fraser played one of them on Saturday Night Live, but I can't find a clip.) Now that the show is in reruns on the Cooking Channel, a whole new batch of groupies is bound to crop up.

That's not all: Sadly, Jennifer Paterson passed away in 1999, during the fourth season of Two Fat Ladies. Clarissa Dickson Wright is still cooking though, and she's also written several books about cooking, game, travel, dogs, a book on the history of Haggis that appears to be illustrated, and a memoir of her early life. (Before she was half of Two Fat Ladies, Dickson Wright was the youngest female barrister in British history, the offspring of nobility, and an alcoholic with a troubled past full of abuse and neglect. Though it's a story for another post—or several—you can read an excerpt of her memoir Spilling the Beans here and see some photos of her as a young woman. Trigger warning for descriptions of domestic violence.)

Think of them when: Think of the two fat ladies when you're in the kitchen of course, but also consider them when you feel like letting it all hang out and truly not caring what others think. Hop in that sidecar and go for it! They certainly would.

Previously: Paula Small from Home Movies, The Honorable Violet, Dowager Countess of Grantham, Downton Abbey Badass

Comments

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Wonderful!

I have always loved the Two Fat Ladies! Their down to earth style and friendly attitude made me feel like I was hanging out with old friends.

Oh how I miss those dynamite dames!

I remember watching Two Fat Ladies on PBS, and being gobsmacked by how bold, raucous, and unapologetic they were about cooking, eating, and living large.

In the wake of the shitstorm surrounding Paula Deen, I've found myself more and more infuriated by the "fat cook/foodie" double standard (yes, if you're a dude, no sodding way if you're a woman), the fat hatred pushed by the likes of Anthony Bourdain and Jamie Oliver, and the ongoing demonization of weight.

So thank you for bringing a smile to my face, and giving me a bit of encouragement.

Two Fat Ladies.

What a delightful pair. Thanks for sharing!

Cambridge Lore

The Two Fat Ladies were totally badass, I loved watching their programmes as a child. The best parts are when Jennifer nips out for a fag; I'm pretty sure no other television chef would have dared to do that! Also, that's *the* Boat Club, not just *a* boat club, you can tell by the pale blue blazers - you're only allowed to wear them if you've represented the University rather than just your college.

Thanks!

As someone who knows close to nothing of the Cambridge Boat Club, I appreciate the catch :)

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I love the Two Fat Ladies!!

I love the Two Fat Ladies!! I don't miss a chance to watch them every Saturday without fail, and it's really been fitting that they air right before another Cooking Channel obsession of mine, "The Supersizers Go...". I think Jennifer and Clarissa differ greatly from Paula Deen in the sense that they use fat in their dishes in ways that make sense, they don't go overboard with piling on the calories in their dishes (even Clarissa's "oily beans" recipe contains no more oil than would make sense in the recipe/application), their desserts look divine instead of disgusting, and they don't delude themselves into thinking they can spout off on things they're complete novices at. (I mean, seriously, I grew up the daughter of a diabetic and I know I know more than Paula Deen ever will about diabetes, how to eat properly as a diabetic, etc., and I don't need to be lectured to by some boozed-up liar, schemer, and opportunist who didn't bother to step forward with her diagnosis until she could make money off it. And her hideous personality is written all over her hideous face, while Jennifer's and Clarissa's faces both glowed because they radiated honesty and delightfulness.)

You know, this last weekend I noted with a little bit of humor that I was watching "Two Fat Ladies" while exercising on my elliptical at home, but then I stopped when I realized that while yes, Clarissa and Jennifer were big women, they were big while also being very physically strong and capable women. They had the physical endurance necessary to cook all those elaborate dinners, go shopping for their supplies while in town, grab a bite to eat in the midday, and do more than a little exploring of the local environs. They were tough, strong women who didn't just lay about -- they defied the stereotype inherent with their body type by being extremely active and not eating an overly excessive amount. So no, it wasn't ironic that I was watching "Two Fat Ladies" while working up a sweat -- it was APROPOS that I was. And I had the best time watching that show while exercising! It made the time pass by in a flash.

So all hail the Two Fat Ladies, for being unabashedly proud, strong, confident, honest fat women who cooked truly good food (minus Clarissa's occasional hamfisted attempts to delve into Tex-Mex and Southern American cooking). And they, unlike Paula Deen, knew when enough was enough when it came to their food AND the way they acted. There was no laugh that turned into an obnoxious cackle, no TMI moments, no ridiculous clowning around or overemoting, etc. The Two Fat Ladies rock!

Quercyan Apple Cake

I had occasion to visit your post and saw your comment regarding the apple cake. I realized that my mother (Romanian from the former Yugoslavia) used to make an apple strudel which was very similar in form and construction to this 'cake'. She made her own strudel dough (though she didn't use liquid which came out of the macerating apple slices for it) which I cannot replicate even with her verbal instructions. I regret not hanging around the kitchen and being more hands on when I had the opportunity to do so. Good memories. :)