I was very sad to read that a favourite cook of mine – a cook of the old school but a great innovator of her time, Zena Skinner has died aged ninety-one.
This is what I wrote about her last year:
‘Town and Around’ was a 1960’s TV programme; it was a London and South East regional programme, the BBC’s first regional news programme. It was replaced by ‘Nationwide’ which started in 1969 and continued until the 1980’s, an early evening news, current affairs programme. ‘Town and Around’ didn’t exactly die, it became another programme which was on a couple of times a week, ‘London This Week‘. ‘Town and Around’ had many different features, and one of them was a cookery feature with Zena Skinner.
Like many other of the first TV cooks, Zena was originally a cookery demonstrator for London School of Electrical Domestic Science. However, during the war she had joined up as a WRNS – The Women’s Royal Naval Service (known as the Wrens) and she became a decoder. Her first TV appearance was in 1959, and she went on to become a popular TV cook, and also published many books.
I’ve just been glancing through the little book I have ‘100 More Town & Around Recipes’ published in 1965. it’s interesting to look t the fish section, as fish was much more commonly eaten than it is now. This is a book for ordinary people who would want economical as well as tasty meals; her first recipe is for dressed crab … and then she has a variety of different fish and shellfish, some of which I’m not sure we would find today:
- cheese and shrimp fritters – not a combination which I have ever had, but Zena makes a comment that whenever she made them, she never made enough!
- creamed kipper fillets – a basic recipe really, white sauce with flaked kipper fillets, mustard, lemon juice, served with mashed potato piped round the edge; I love kippers but I’m not sure I want to try this either!
- marinaded dabs – can you get dabs any more? I used to love them as a child! They are marinaded in olive oil, lemon juice, finely chopped onion and a pinch of rosemary, then grilled or bread-crumbed and fried
- prawns with macaroni – this actually doesn’t really sound very nice; heat a tin of tomato sauce and add grated cheese, (she has a thing about shrimps/prawns and cheese) milk, butter, and prawns, and then the cooked macaroni when everything is hot – apparently it’s a tasty supper dish
- baked stuffed herring – you need herrings with soft roes, boned and stuffed with the lightly fried roe, onion, mushrooms and mixed with breadcrumbs and lemon juice. They are cooked in greased grease-proof paper and baked… might be nice…
- crunchy tail of haddock – well, since haddock has just gone onto the endangered list I don’t think I’ll be trying this soon! However, the fish is grilled and well basted with plenty of butter, before being spread with a thin layer of mayonnaise, coated in crushed cornflake crumbs and crisped under the grill… strange but sounds a possibility, the crushed cornflakes might be quite tasty!
- savoury fish pancakes – cod, simmered in water and lemon juice then flaked and added to a white sauce with mushrooms, Worcester sauce, sherry, and yes, grated cheese, spread on thee pancakes which are rolled up, decorated with flaked almonds and browned under the grill – actually could be quite nice, but I’m still not sure of the cheese
- plaice or cod in orange sauce – fry the fish then make a sauce from the butter it’s been fried in, marmalade, and orange zest and juice – simples!
- sprats – Zena describes them as ‘delightful little fish… and you get very good value for the money’. How charming that their Latin name is ‘sprattus’! Zena just flours and fries them, or batters and fries them, or egg and breadcrumbs and fries them – she likes Cayenne pepper with them!
- shrimp and orange cocktail – shrimps but no cheese! Oranges cut in half and the flesh scooped out to make a cup of the shell, line the shell with shredded lettuce, shrimps mixed with mayonnaise, chopped cucumber, and the drained orange pulp (I’d take out the pips, pith, and skin!) then put the filling in the shells and chill
Zena was born in 1927 so she will be ninety this year! Well done Zena!