Today is the birthday (1924) of Clement Freud. He was born Clemens Raphael Freud in Berlin, the son of Jewish parents Ernst L. Freud (an architect) and Lucie née Brasch. He was the grandson of psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud and the brother of artist Lucian Freud. His family fled to Britain from Nazi Germany, and his first name was anglicized to Clement. He spent his later childhood in Hampstead where he attended the The Hall private preparatory school. He also attended two independent schools: he boarded at Dartington Hall, and also went to St Paul’s School, London.
During the Second World War Freud joined the Royal Ulster Rifles and served in the ranks. He acted as an aide to Field Marshal Montgomery. He worked at the Nuremberg Trials and in 1947 was commissioned as an officer. He married June Flewett (the inspiration for Lucy Pevensie in C. S. Lewis’s children’s series The Chronicles of Narnia) in 1950, and the couple had five children. Flewett had taken the stage name Jill Raymond in 1944, and since Clement’s knighthood has been Lady Freud.
Freud was one of Britain’s first “celebrity chefs”; he worked at the Dorchester Hotel, and went on to run his own restaurant in Sloane Square at a relatively young age. As well as this, he had various newspaper and magazine columns, and was later a familiar face on television for his appearance in a series of dog food advertisements (at first for Minced Morsels, later Chunky Meat) in which he co-starred with a bloodhound called Henry (played by a number of dogs) which shared his trademark “hangdog” expression.
Whilst running a nightclub, he met a newspaper editor who gave him a job as a sports journalist. From there he became an award-winning food and drink writer.
I first came across Clement Freud on occasional appearances on television as a guest on talk shows – often doing a cooking demonstration with deadpan but hilarious commentary. His humor appealed to mine. Here are some typical quotes:
“If you resolve to give up smoking, drinking and loving, you don’t actually live longer; it just seems longer”
“To barbecue is a way of life rather than a desirable method of cooking.”
[As an Argentino I agree with the first sentiment but not the second.]
Eating is to put off the evil moment when one has to write an article. I trot into the kitchen instead of sitting down. I make some mayonnaise and open a can of tunny fish, and I eat tunny mayonnaise which I don’t really want. This is obviously how one gets so fat and slothful.
I love angels-on-horseback. Oysters wrapped in bacon, smoked streaky bacon, however socially desirable back of bacon may be. Never fry bacon, grill it. Skewer the bacon round the oyster and grill it. You can get it crisp this way because the fat runs off.
The depressing thing about an Englishman’s traditional love of animals is the dishonesty thereof … Get a barbed hook into the upper lip of a salmon, drag him endlessly around the water until he loses his strength, pull him to the bank, hit him on the head with a stone, and you may well become fisherman of the year. Shoot the salmon and you’ll never be asked again.
About one thing the Englishman has a particularly strict code. If a bird says Cluk bik bik bik bik and caw you may kill it, eat it or ask Fortnums to pickle it in Napoleon brandy with wild strawberries. If it says tweet it is a dear and precious friend and you’d better lay off it if you want to remain a member of Boodles.
Congealed fat is pretty much the same, irrespective of the delicacy around which it is concealed.”
Here’s one of his trademark tales:
The Inland Revenue decide to audit Cyril, summon him to their office for an appointment with their most thorough auditor, who is not surprised when Cyril arrives with his solicitor. The auditor says: ‘Sir, you cannot deny that you have an extravagant lifestyle, no full-time employment, and pay no taxes on the grounds of your contention that you win money gambling. I have to tell you that Her Majesty’s Customs and Excise finds that explanation difficult to believe.’
‘I am a great gambler and can prove it,’ says Cyril. ‘Would you like a demonstration?’
The auditor considers this for a moment and agrees. Cyril says: ‘I bet you a thousand pounds I can bite my own eye.’ The auditor thinks for a while, finally says: ‘It’s a bet.’
Cyril removes his glass eye and bites it. The auditor looks sick.
‘I’ll bet you two thousand pounds that I can bite my other eye,’ says Cyril. The auditor can tell Cyril isn’t blind, so he accepts the bet. Cyril removes his false teeth and bites the good eye.
The stunned auditor now realises he has bet and lost £3,000, with Cyril’s solicitor as a witness; he gets very nervous. ‘Double or nothing?’ Cyril says. ‘I’ll bet you six thousand pounds that I can stand on the righthand side of your desk and piss into the bin on the far side without getting one drop anywhere between.’
The auditor, twice burned, is cautious now but examines the proposal carefully. Cyril is not a tall man, the desk is eight foot wide; he decides there is simply no way Cyril could do that, so he agrees again.
Cyril stands at the side of the desk, unzips his trousers, strains for all he is worth but cannot make the stream reach the bin on the far side, and finishes up having urinated pretty well all over the auditor’s desk. The auditor leaps with joy, realising that he has just turned a major loss into a sizeable win, then notices that Cyril’s solicitor is moaning, with his head in his hands. ‘Are you okay?’ asks the auditor.
‘Not really,’ says the solicitor. ‘This morning, when Cyril told me he had been summoned to this audit, he bet me £20,000 that he could come in here, piss all over your desk and you would be happy about it . . . and I took the bet.’
Inspiration for today’s recipe:
“In moments of considerable strain, I tend to take to bread-and-butter pudding. There is something about the blandness of soggy bread, the crispness of the golden outer crust and the unadulterated pleasure of a lightly set custard that makes the world seem a better place to live.”
I thought it appropriate to use a recipe for bread and butter pudding from the BBC’s website given that Clement worked on BBC radio and television. I also decided to filch a recipe because I really don’t like it and have nothing of my own to offer. The original is here:
25g/1oz butter, plus extra for greasing
8 thin slices bread
2 tsp cinnamon powder
350ml/12fl oz whole milk
50ml/2fl oz double cream
2 free-range eggs
25g/1oz granulated sugar
nutmeg, grated, to taste
Grease a 1/2 litre pie dish with butter.
Cut the crusts off the bread. Spread each slice on one side with butter, then cut into triangles.
Arrange a layer of bread, buttered side up, in the bottom of the dish, then add a layer of sultanas. Sprinkle with a little cinnamon, then repeat the layers of bread and sultanas, sprinkling with cinnamon, until you have used up all but one layer of the bread. Finish with a layer of bread, then set aside.
Gently warm the milk and cream in a pan over a low heat to scalding point. Don’t let it boil.
Crack the eggs into a bowl, add three quarters of the sugar and lightly whisk until pale.
Add the warm milk and cream mixture and stir well, then strain the custard into a bowl.
Pour the custard over the prepared bread layers and sprinkle with nutmeg and the remaining sugar. Leave to stand for 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 180°C/355°F.
Place the dish in the oven and bake for 30-40 minutes, or until the custard has set and the top is golden-brown.