Clarissa Dickson Wright dead: Appreciation - we’ve lost our foremost advocate of wholesome, hearty, British fare

One of her dishes was called Bugger Blair, as a protest against the ban on fox hunting

Like Bertie Wooster’s Aunt Dahlia, Clarissa Dickson Wright was forthright, assertive, plum-faced and equipped with a voice intended to carry across a hunting field. Her early departure deprives British gastronomy of its foremost advocate. Honest, ungussied, and wonderfully hearty, her dishes are among the best food to be found on these islands: rabbit casserole, hash of crabs, pork belly with anchovies and chestnuts…

Though the four series of Two Fat Ladies brought her to national prominence, she produced her finest work in the years after her television partner Jennifer Paterson died in 1999. Authoritative and inventive, her 2004 book on game is a classic text from a real enthusiast: “I think I could eat partridge every day.”

Her greatest book appeared three years ago. A History of English Food might be described as a magnum opus if it wasn’t so much fun. Packed with historical tips – a 1660 recipe for salmon with oranges is “one of the nicest ways of cooking salmon I know” – the narrative is embellished with recollections of eating badger (“rather like young boar”), rooks (“not unpalatable”) and swan (“very fishy, rather stringy”).

As these items suggest, you didn’t go to CDW for political correctness. One of her dishes was called Bugger Blair as a protest against the fox-hunting ban. In 2009 she was prosecuted for hare coursing with dogs and, despite pleading guilty, received an absolute discharge. The main reason for the verdict is that the dogs were muzzled, but it didn’t hurt that she was the most brilliant law student of her day.

Her legal career went to hell as a result of the alcoholism that soaked up a £2m inheritance. Far from drawing a veil over her bibulous past, CDW brought it up constantly and expressed justifiable pride in her 27 years on the wagon.

For a middle-class child growing up in London, CDW enjoyed a rare proximity to the realities of food production as her father raised pigs in St John’s Wood. When a neighbour asked who butchered the porkers, her dad replied: “I’m a senior surgeon at St Mary’s, Paddington. Who do you think butchers them?” The whole family helped “wash out the tripes and scald the hair off… We prepared a lot of bacon and ham and tripe chitterlings.”

The same robustness characterised her philosophy of food. As one of Britain’s best-known television chefs, she was not blind to the irony that “while post-war Britain has shown an ever-diminishing desire to cook, it has displayed an ever-growing appetite for watching other people cook on television.”

Her extempore food lectures, delivered note-free and with lawyerly panache, were impressive for their erudition, effortless articulacy and, it has to be said, somewhat blasé approach to pedantic accuracy. (She talked of “nine different types of tripe” while most authorities would say that the cow only produces four.) It would be surprising to learn that CDW was a devotee of Wikipedia.

Though the British may be addicted to watching the fiddly impossibilities of Masterchef, it is the practical, tasty food of this irreproachably down-to-earth cook that we increasingly eat in restaurants, pubs and, it is to be hoped, our own homes. The availability of such assertive items as kidneys, oxtail, liver and anchovies is a legacy of CDW. She may have gone, but she’s left a lasting impression on our plate.

election 2015The 10 best quotes of the campaign
A caravan being used as a polling station in Ford near Salisbury, during the 2010 election
election 2015The Independent's guide to get you through polling day
David Blunkett joins the Labour candidate for Redcar Anna Turley on a campaigning visit last month
voicesWhat I learnt from my years in government, by the former Home Secretary David Blunkett
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Guru Careers: Dining Room Head Chef

    £32K: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Dining Room Head Chef to work for one of ...

    Guru Careers: Pastry Sous Chef / Experienced Pastry Chef

    £27K: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Pastry Sous Chef / Experienced Pastry Che...

    Ashdown Group: Technical IT Manager - North London - Growing business

    £40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A growing business that has been ope...

    Recruitment Genius: Technical Supervisor

    £24800 - £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: As one of London's leading Muse...

    Day In a Page

    General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

    'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

    In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
    VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

    How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

    Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
    They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

    Typefaces still matter in the digital age

    A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
    Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

    'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

    New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
    The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

    Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

    Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
    Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

    Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

    Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
    Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

    Crisp sales are in decline

    As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
    Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

    Ronald McDonald the muse

    A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
    13 best picnic blankets

    13 best picnic blankets

    Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
    Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

    Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

    Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
    Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

    Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

    Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
    General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
    General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

    On the margins

    From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
    Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

    'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

    Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
    Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

    Why patients must rely less on doctors

    Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'