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50 years on, writers run the rule over Fanny Craddock’s legendary Christmas survival guide

© TopFoto1970s TV chef Fanny Cradock and husband Johnnie get to grips with some Christmas birds
1970s TV chef Fanny Cradock and husband Johnnie get to grips with some Christmas birds

Fanny Craddock’s Coping With Christmas was originally published in 1968 as a must-have compendium to all things festive, with decorative ideas and crafting practices, festive recipes to see you through every social eventuality, and gastronomic tips galore.

But reprinted this year by HarperCollins, Fanny’s guide, which was co-written by her trusty sidekick and husband Johnnie, now reads like a delicious parody. Fanny, who died in 1994, started getting ready for the big day in January with Christmas pudding making, through summer when it’s recommended we “preserve raspberries for Christmas buffets” and on to the winter months when it’s time to get started on making your own decorations (because who doesn’t have time to make a pom-pom tree?).

Meanwhile, the extract republished here, Fanny’s chapter on Christmas essentials, which includes face packs (for mother), pipes and laxatives, reads like a time capsule. So, what do modern women make of Fanny and Johnnie’s approach?

Here, our columnists Natasha Radmehr, Wendy Rigg and Agnes Stevenson reveal their own Christmas emergency kits.

Fanny’s Christmas essentials

Biscuits and books for spare bedrooms; spare bedding, bed linen, pillows and towels; toothbrushes for absent-minded guests; stamps, writing paper and envelopes for bread and butter letters; cake candles; children’s stocking gifts like a sugar mouse from Woolworth’s, chocolate money, giant lollies, jelly babies, liquorice allsorts, candyfloss, barley sugar, bags of fruit and nuts, puzzle games and some of those joke things like sausages which make rude noises; jigsaws to keep kids quiet after meals; comics; Silent Night gramophone record to play when the tree is lit; face pack for mum; extra orders for milk, cream and bread; coffee and instant coffee; chocolate and cocoa; breakfast cereals; tinned fruit juices; face tissues; laxatives; loo paper; soap (household and personal); extra cards, stamps and envelopes for the ones you have forgotten on your list; Alka Seltzer; kitchen foil, greaseproof paper, paper doilies and kitchen rolls; plenty of flour in case you run out of bread and need to make gran’s quick bread; salt; pepper; mustard; oil; wine vinegar; cornflour; potato flour; sugars including crystals for after-dinner coffee; vanilla pods; harmless vegetable colourings; soft drinks for children and teetotallers; beer for late-night thirsties; mulled wine and punch ingredients; cigarettes, cigars, pipe cleaners and matches; chocolate cigarettes and cigars; Father Christmas or tree for the cake; fuse wire; pet foods; orders for coal, coke and wood; spare electric light bulbs, including ones for fairy lights; wine glass and tumbler replacements; corkscrew; theatre tickets; container and wrapping for tree base; plenty of ice in refrigerator cube trays – order a block for buffet parties; small money for carol singers; not-so-small-money for tradesmen’s Christmas boxes.

If you are a country dweller, you may find something that you need which is additional to the preceding town dwellers’ list: check fuel stocks; order solid fuel for Agas, coal and make sure a good stack of logs and kindling are as much under shelter as possible and immediately adjacent to the house; paraffin; oil for central heating; dried milk; petrol and check tyres; toothpaste; playing cards, indoor games and parlour games for marooned kids; torch and radio batteries; and have TV and long player checked if either or both are showing signs of incipient temperament; overhaul first-aid box and replace missing items.

If you live in some desperately remote area, you may find something that you need which is additional to the preceding lists: Rock salt to put on paths and drives in the event of snow and ice; jars of long-keeping Double Devon cream; tinned and packaged foodstuffs and cleaning items in the event of anticipating being marooned; eggs if hens show signs of rebelling against inclement weather; cheeses like Stilton, which keep properly; blow lamps in case the pipes freeze up (try not to blow right through the pipe, dears, like we did once!); reserve supplies of plain and fancy biscuits; bring in supplies of clamped vegetables; and get some instant potato if potatoes have already got frostbite.

Christmas wrapping? More like festive flapping

By Natasha Radmehr, Sunday Post columnist

“Do you remember the year you…” I already know what my dad is going to say. He’s about to remind me of the time I was so excited on Christmas Eve, I threw up at the top of the stairs.

I was four years old and hadn’t even been snaffling the chocolate coins; I was simply so thrilled by the prospect of a visit from St Nick that I had to vomit. Ah, those were the days! I still love Christmas and I still get a bit sick beforehand – but it’s a sickness of a different kind. It’s the type of queasiness that emerges when you have a to-do list expanding faster than Santa’s sack but no elves to step in and ease the burden.

Natasha Radmehr

There is no sleeping in heavenly peace at this time of year as we take on what amounts to another full-time job. Present buying and wrapping, card writing and posting, decorating the tree, sorting Christmas dinner, preparing the house for visitors. Advent calendars, school nativities, office parties, trying to get your hair cut before the year is out so people don’t mistake you for the dog from The Neverending Story (which is a more appropriate name for Christmas if you ask me).

Every year I dream of moving serenely through December like a Scottish Nigella. Gifts tied up with twine, a house that smells of cinnamon, always ready to greet friends with a mug of spiced cocoa in one hand and a slice of bundt cake in the other. And every year I fail. Currently my tree is bare save for a tangle of lights, I haven’t written a single card and the only wrapping I’ve done is the kind that begins with “r”, not “w”. Here’s what I need to keep the festive flapping at bay.

Natasha’s list

  • Old socks. The Christmas stockings in my household are my dead grandad’s giant socks, which sounds a lot weirder when I write it down. These socks are a reminder that it’s what inside that counts. You don’t need fancy felt stockings or posh wrapping paper – repurpose what you have and tell everyone it’s “for the environment”.
  • Baileys (to replace all milk). A dash in the morning coffees, a splash in the cereal bowls and you’re on your way to the most-complimented Christmas dinner of your life. Plus, everyone will fall asleep much quicker post-meal. Win-win.
  • Heated presents. Gift-giving is really very easy this year. An electric blanket, a heated gilet, a hot water bottle with a wearable strap…and as a bonus, you can ask everyone to use them on Christmas Day to save you putting the heating on. Merry Scroogemas!
  • A social media ban. Much of the inadequacy I feel at this time of year stems from seeing loads of photos of annoying families wearing matching Christmas onesies and smug crafty people showing off their homemade wreaths and gingerbread houses. Delete the apps and make them go away.
  • A costume for the dog. The turkey hasn’t defrosted! Granny’s being racist! But wait – who is this adorable creature waddling through the door dressed as a Christmas pud? A dog in a festive costume is a source of boundless joy and an instant tension-popper. I just need to get a dog first and then I’ll be sorted.

Compared to Fanny my Yuletide preparations are, well, haphazard

by Agnes Stevenson, P.S. Magazine gardening guru

Ah, dear Fanny. I have fond childhood memories of watching her stuffing a turkey the size of a small car while wearing a ballgown and holding a cigarette holder in one hand.

Even at that tender age I suspected the Grand Dame of home cooking didn’t actually cook her own bird but instead spent the day terrorising the waiters at the Ritz while the ever-loyal Johnny hovered in the background, clutching a double G&T.

But this run-down of Christmas essentials has made me reconsider. Fanny has thought of everything and while we are fine for pipe cleaners and doilies, thank you very much, there are many things on her list that make sense during this Yuletide of discontent when the threat of power cuts and travel disruption, coupled by the recent blast of Arctic weather, could disrupt even the best-laid plans. All those extra logs and matches, bags of flour, tins of long-life cream and spare toothbrushes could come in very handy if the electricity goes down on Christmas Day, the snow piles up, and guests who come for lunch end up as long-term residents.

© Andrew Cawley
Agnes Stevenson

Compared to Fanny, my idea of Christmas preparations are much more haphazard although, as it’s my turn to host friends this year, I have been making an effort. Alerted to turkey shortages by the scourge of avian flu, I leapt into action several weeks ago and stashed not one but two in the freezer.

Which was fine, until I switched off the freezer by mistake.

Fortunately I noticed my mistake the next morning before any hint of thaw had set in but I’ve got the feeling that Fanny would have administered a stiff reprimand if she’d been around to witness my error.

So while I may fall far short of Mrs Cradock’s military-level preparations, here is my own list in the hope others may glean a little comfort from it.

Agnes’s list

  • A Christmas table cover, to replace the one that’s lost somewhere in the depth of the linen cupboard; an extra chair to make up for the half dozen we gave away earlier this year before working out how many people would be sitting around the Christmas dinner table; a new box of Christmas crackers (we have some left over from last year but, like the chair, we are one short); Prosecco (for personal use).
  • A fibre broadband connection to facilitate faster online ordering (we are currently locked in stalemate with OpenReach who say they will have to fell a forest between us and the nearest connection before they can hook us up). A full tank of petrol to allow for repeated trips to the Post Office with online returns following late Christmas wish-list changes by an undecided son.
  • More Prosecco.
  • Fuel refills for the camping stove (being rural and subject to regular power cuts, we may have to cook the turkey by alternative methods). A fresh order from the wine club to replace the previous two that have gone astray.
  • Extra supplies of sponges, jelly and custard to allow for an emergency trifle in case someone can’t resist temptation on Christmas Eve. Smoked salmon for those who like it. Something else (I have no idea what) for those who don’t.
  • Crisps, olives and cocktail cherries for grazing on while I’m pondering the smoked salmon problem. A stack of festive cookbooks to leaf through while weeping. Tissues.
  • Carpet cleaner for mopping up mulled wine, whole walnuts and a nutcracker, plus hammer for the toughest shells, oranges from this year’s crop to remind me of sunny days in Spain, pigs in blankets. Spare blankets in case of power cuts (see above). Ice for drinks and for injuries caused while opening walnuts.
  • Teabags; lots. Coffee, ditto. More Prosecco (make that a Magnum).
  • Iron cleaner to repair the hotplate damage caused while ironing Christmas outfit. New Christmas outfit.
  • A new address book to replace the one that’s lost (a shout out to all those who were expecting a card from me – I do wish you a merry Christmas, honest).
  • A spare hour each day to spend in the greenhouse and think about nothing but plants.

Merry chicmas! Style is so important to us, even the fruit cake gets to wear a fancy belt

By Wendy Rigg, P.S. Magazine fashion editor

Life gets stressy around Christmas. There’s all that very bespoke present buying – I have to spend time immersing myself in each person’s lifestyle before buying, and that takes time!

Then there’s the tree. I have a collection of baubles and decorations made by the granddaughters over the years which are kept in a storage box. But this year I’ve had to start from scratch after searching high and low and not managing to find that treasured container. Then there’s food shopping, travel arrangements and all that pre-Christmas socialising with friends, and everything else that culminates in having a wonderful festive time.

© Andrew Cawley
Wendy Rigg

So, the last thing that’s needed is any last-minute panic about what to wear. For me, that means every possible occasion and weather condition must be covered, and packed and ready to travel, to the family seat in Fife, along with the beautifully wrapped presents.

To cap all of this, my 96-year-old mum gave me strict instructions on how to bake a rich and boozy fruit-laden Christmas cake, and I learnt that even that has to be accessorised with a silver belt before it goes in the oven (PME level baking belt, £3.99, to stop it burning round the edges.

Look, I’ve got my own accessories to sort out, let alone what a cake has to wear!

So, I’ve compiled a list of the fashion essentials the best dressed will not be without this festive season.

For him

All-weather outerwear, such as a parka style or padded coat; leather gloves; a cashmere scarf; sunglasses; waterproof footwear; hiking boots; wellington boots; a warm hat such as a Baker Boy cap or beanie; sunglasses with UVA/UVB protection; opticals; base layer thermals; long-sleeved T-shirt; roll-neck sweater; chunky-knit cardigan; Fair Isle or other classic knit that can look like a Christmas jumper (but not); thick winter socks (several pairs); several pairs of trousers including waterproofs and classic-cut jeans; casual or tailored jacket for lunchtime gastro pub outing; tuxedo jacket and white shirt ensemble; for evenings out to the theatre or dinner; black lace-ups; cosy but stylish underwear; monogrammed pyjamas; dressing gown for long lazy breakfasts; shearling-lined slippers.

If spending Christmas away don’t forget chargers for smartphones, tablets or laptops, along with earphones; personalised hip flask; Apple watch; washbag and toiletries; signature scent; car coat to stay toasty while driving.

For her

Puffa jacket or warm coat for snowy weather protection; bobble hat or beanie; a scarf that doesn’t itch in a bright colour; snow boots such as Chelsea boots or hiker boots or even shearling Moon or Ugg boots; statement designer sunglasses; waterproof or leather gloves (can be shearling or fleece-lined for extra warmth); cosy sustainable cashmere sweater by Brodie; Fair Isle sweater or cashmere snowflake ski sweater by Chinti and Parker; faux fur ear muffs; thermal base layers; waterproof trousers; thick, comfy socks; two or three different tops – can include print blouses and sparkly styles for wearing with jeans or faux leather trousers when you need to glam up quickly; suede kitten heel ankle boots or ’60s-style slingback heels; a silver sequin skirt which can worn be with a sweater for Christmas Day and can also be glammed up for nights out with a fitted black jacket and a satin camisole; faux fur jacket; dangly statement earrings; satin PJs with piping; cashmere bed socks; shearling or faux fur slippers; stylish robe.

If you’re headed away from home, don’t forget pretty lingerie; velvet Elizabeth Scarlett washbag; Christmas sparkle eye shadow; have mani and pedi done; check you haven’t run out of favourite perfumes; any exercise wear you might need (which of course you are highly unlikely to use) and lastly a stylish, preferably monogrammed suitcase to put everything in.