Edie Bakes Cakes
by Susanna Crossman
The first time Edwina Fray, TV cook and punk gourmet celebrity, saw the green dragon, it was stood on her shocking pink marbled kitchen work surface, next to a plate of organic French goats cheese.
“That smells awfully strong,” the dragon said, in a deep, female voice with clipped pronunciation. It nodded towards the cheese, which had been matured in fermented vine leaves. The dragon was small and bright emerald green with a long spiked tail. Edie was short and curvy with blonde pin-up hair, seven tattoos and Wicked Black Cab varnish on her nails. Edie glanced at the dragon, as from between its jaws came a puff of smoke and an orange flame. Then, it disappeared.
As she returned to her evening meeting to discuss her latest show, ‘Edie Bakes Cakes’, Edie wondered whether too much cheese, work, alcohol, pills and many late nights were provoking hallucinations, or just making her fat and grumpy. Her black leather skirt was cutting into her waist. She went back to the dining room to her food photographer Elias Green, her TV producer, Helen Shoemaker, and her goddaughter, Flo. Edie thought she must ask Poppy, her secretary, to book her a doctor’s appointment.
It was a week later, as she was about to drunkenly whisk egg white into her crepe batter that the green dragon appeared for the second time. Edie had had a dreadful day, first bumping into her recently estranged husband Marcus buying ketchup in Harrods Food Hall, then breaking a black nail whilst getting into a taxi, only to find herself late for a Radio Four interview after being stuck in traffic behind demonstrating pig farmers.
“Bloody country bastard bumpkins”, she had almost shouted through the window, only remembering, in the nick of time, her supermarket campaign to buy local. In the advert, Edie was standing by hay bales wearing wellington boots, a fifties style headscarf, a tight black cocktail dress and bright red lipstick. Hideous.
The radio interview, to promote ‘Edie bakes Cakes’ had, initially, been a great success; the interviewee had pronounced Edie’s retro Black Forest Gateau “Divine,” and the walnut, turmeric and beetroot cake “Uber.” However, after the show, the producer’s assistant, who had eaten most of the cakes, had been violently sick in the toilets and was currently ill in bed with a high fever. The word “salmonella” was being whispered in the corridors of Radio Four.
Edie had grabbed another cab and headed home. She arrived in Primrose Hill in time for aperitif, and decided to console herself with Bellinis. Two hours later, having quaffed the greater part of a bottle of Italian Prosecco mixed with Californian chilled peach juice and a sprinkle of Madagascan vanilla—her original addition to the classic cocktail—she had begun, nostalgically, to make crepes. Her husband Marcus had taught her this recipe, when they had first fallen in love, late at night, in the tiny kitchen of his flat off the posh end of the Kilburn High Road.
As Edie added egg white to the batter, she was rudely interrupted by a loud female voice,
“It’s no wonder your husband left if you make crepes like that,” said the green dragon. It was standing, once again, on the pink marbled work surface. “Men are now well served in clubs, to compete with their attractions, you must be acquainted with the right cooking.”
“I kicked my husband out,” exclaimed Edie with a Bellini fuelled slur, “He did not leave me. I had to tell him to go, he insisted on eating white-sliced bread every morning. He wouldn’t even bite into my Edie Japanese Sushi Breakfast Bagels with kale crisp sides, or wear the handmade leather artisanal trousers I bought him for Christmas.” Edie swung her whisk violently at the dragon. “Get. Out. Of. My. Kitchen. Reptile”
“I can’t,” the dragon said, swinging its tail from side to side, “ I’ve been sent here by the Chief Dragon of the Galaxy. I have to teach you how to cook one dish. Then, I can leave. That is my mission, that is the way, that is my destiny.”
“What?” whispered Edie, sliding onto a chrome barstool upholstered with purple skull and crossbones leather.
“I suppose I had better introduce myself,” continued the dragon. “My name is Isabella Beeton. Yes, my dear, the one who wrote Household Management in 1861.” Edie was gawping. Her mouth dropped open, how could, what was, how come? Pacing up and down the pink marble, the dragon continued,
“—I was once a great cook, Britain’s greatest cook, an influential member of society, now I am a dragon. This happens to the best of us. It may be your own fate one day.” The dragon smiled, and added “I think you’d better wipe your chin.” A thread of saliva was dripping from Edie’s open lips. “Now dear, I’ve been told to come and teach you how to make cakes. The Company of Dragons strives to uphold traditional cookery standards across the Universe. Housekeeping is the oldest industry in the Galaxy. Statesmen may carve nations, we the cooks consolidate worlds. You have been a bad influence, your Red Velvet cauliflower rice, honey and curry bake with Korean kimchi icing has shocked the Company into action.”
“No buts dear” interrupted the dragon, “I am Isabella Beeton, one of the Eldest and respected members of the Company of Dragons. I am here to teach you to make Tip Top Cakes. It is a simple recipe. I will tolerate no fussing or lateness. Punctuality and early rising are the secret of a successful home. I shall meet you in this kitchen at six am sharp tomorrow morning”.
Then, the dragon was gone.
Slurping the last of her Bellinis, before tipping her crepe batter down the sink, Edie wondered whether she should ring Marcus, contact her photographer Elias Green, her producer Helen Shoemaker or her goddaughter Flo. Instead, she set her alarm for five, and fell on her bed fully clothed. She dreamt of a salmonella monster making delicious crepes from Mrs Beeton’s Household Management.
Unfortunately, the next morning Edie awoke at five minutes to six, hungover, having missed the alarm. She stumbled from her bed still dressed in her olive green cocktail dress and ran into the kitchen. Smoothing down her blonde hair, she felt rather ridiculous, why was she rushing for a dragon? Edie made another mental note to tell Poppy to book a doctor’s appointment.
“Now dear” said the green dragon, “You may call me Mrs Beeton. I require an apron before the lesson commences. When at work, dress suitably”.
Edie handed the dragon a blue and white striped linen tablier from France. The dragon took it and it immediately shrank to the right size, secured around a spike on Mrs Beeton’s little emerald tail. “You will also need an apron, “ insisted Mrs Beeton, the dragon. “Edwina dear, do hurry up, I don’t have much time. The Company of Dragons is extremely busy at the present time; we are highly concerned about the state of cookery in the Universe. Standards are slipping. Battles must be won. I can’t even begin to tell you what is happening on the other planets. Did you know that on Mars, as we speak, someone is promoting chilled gooseberry sorbet in a fried cheese sandwich, served with a digital reduction of Spam.”
“Wow” nodded Edie, who was prone to mid-Atlantic slang, “How random”.
The dragon let out a violent puff of smoke and a roar of flames, shrieking,
“Random? I remind you, my dear, that my cookery book survived two world wars. I saved marriages from discomfort and suffering brought about by household mismanagement; badly-cooked dinners and untidy ways.”
“Well” exclaimed defiantly Edie, scraping her blonde fringe back from her face with her ebony nails, “ I strongly believe in mess.”
Mrs Beeton snorted, releasing more flames,
“I was only twenty-five when my book was published. I died three years later, but I knew more about cooking then than there is in your little finger”.
“You were only twenty-five?” said Edie, surprised, “…but, I always imagined you as unmarried, fifty, plain and fat.”
The dragon slumped on the work surface, deflated.
“Everyone always presumes I was plain. Unmarried. I may have been plump, but I was a pretty thing, a working mother, when I wrote my book. Edwina, do not let your brain be shrivelled by the toxic stereotype. I commuted from Pinner on the train everyday. I mean, I had all sorts of problems to deal with.” Mrs Beeton the dragon, swung her tail wistfully, and scratched her spiked head with a miniscule claw.
“You can’t imagine, dear, all that I went through with my husband Oswald. I mean really, don’t mention this to the Company of Dragons, I speak in all confidence, but I don’t blame you for leaving your husband. Relationships are complicated things, but you see, my ‘pitch’, I think that is how you put it, is ‘domestic perfection’. I was, I am the original house goddess, long, long before that Nigella woman. Miss Harthill once said that if it came to actual values she would rather do without Shakespeare than me. Just imagine the pressure I am under to keep up such high standards across the Universe. I mean, sometimes I just long to ruffle my hair, let the cobwebs lie and burn a fairy cake.”
“Multitasking is awful,” sighed Edie. “And I don’t even have kids yet.”
“Not yet” smiled the dragon fondly, “But you will soon dear.”
Edie glared from behind her fringe and smoothed her dress across her curved stomach,
“This is from too many cakes and too much cheese.”
“Yes dear” said Mrs Beeton, nodding her head. Her little teeth grinned in their green jaw, and the nails of her tiny feet tapped. “But I would avoid the goats cheese in fermented vine leaves. It can give one a rather fruity breath, and in your condition…”
Edie began calculating dates, remembering times, when had Marcus left? Only seven weeks ago. When had she last bought Tampax? A long time ago. She stared at the dragon
“You don’t mean…”
Mrs Beeton stared back.
“We dragons travel through time and space. It’s one of the greatest advantages of being a member of the Company. Anyway, dear, we must get on with the Tip Top cakes. We must prepare. I believe you have a mixer, a labour-saving device; the home must be run on labour-saving principals.”
Mrs Beeton the dragon bustled around Edie’s kitchen, while Edie clung to her stool, unable to move. She had just discovered she was pregnant, and a dragon called Mrs Beeton had told her the news. Edie frowned, thought of Marcus, and a tear trickled down her cheek. She had a sudden craving for a fried egg sandwich and a cup of builder’s tea. How dreadful, she thought, her gourmet taste was slipping. The idea made her weep loudly.
“Edie dear-” the dragon perched on the capped sleeve of Edie’s olive cocktail dress, gently patting her blonde hair. “Don’t worry dear, it will be fine. I will send you a copy of my book; I’ve been told that it has more wisdom to the square inch than any work of man. Now, do wipe those tears and stand up straight, we have Tip Top cakes to make.”
Mrs Beeton the dragon handed Edie a small piece of paper with the recipe for Tip Top Cakes, enough for about four-dozen. Edie slowly gathered the ingredients from cupboards and shelves, under the dragon’s watchful gaze, and put them on the shocking pink work surface: high grade flour, butter, castor sugar, fresh eggs, currants, clove, cinnamon and nutmeg. As Edie worked, Mrs Beeton the dragon was explaining the reasons for cooking: 1) to render mastication easy, 2) to facilitate digestion, and 3) to increase the food value. As Edie collected a mixing bowl and a large spoon, Mrs Beeton was expounding on how food protects the body from disease. While Edie creamed the butter and sugar, Mrs Beeton the dragon gave forth on the Nine Methods of Cookery upheld by the Company of Dragons. Edie added the separately whisked eggs as the emerald dragon walked back and forth on the marble surface discussing her various Kitchen Maxims: ‘There is no work like early work’, ‘Clear as you go’ and ‘Wash well a saucepan, but clean a frying pan with a piece of bread’. Once Edie had added the spices, fruit and flour and placed the mixture in small cakes on the tin sheets, the dragon Mrs Beeton was pontificating on the topic of the calorific value of food. During the ten minutes that the cakes baked, the dragon covered the subjects of haybox or fueless cookery, marketing, the art of carving at table, spring-cleaning, table decoration, the Home Doctor, the Home Lawyer and the art of using up.
Suddenly, the kitchen was filled with the scent of homemade cakes. Edie Fray smiled,
“I think they’re ready.”
She removed the four dozen Tip Top cakes from the oven and put them on the work surface. Mrs Beeton, the dragon, examined the cakes and nodded slowly.
“They are ready and so are you,” she said, wagging her little green tail. “I must go now”, she continued, “My schedule with the Company of Dragons does not allow for dawdling, that is my mission, that is the way, that is my destiny but…” the dragon hesitated” I do have a favour to ask, you see, I rather like your nail varnish. I just wondered…”
Edie grinned, “Of course”. She hurried to the bathroom, returning quickly with her bottle of Wicked Black Cab. Five minutes later, Mrs Beeton the dragon had shiny black claws.
“Delightful! Good-bye dear, and good luck” said Mrs Beeton the dragon, and with a puff of smoke she was gone. Edie Fray was left alone in her kitchen staring at the four dozen Tip Top Cakes. She wondered if she should call food photographer Elias Green, her TV producer, Helen Shoemaker or her goddaughter, Flo. Then, Edie she looked down at her round stomach, remembered what the dragon had said and decided that she must ask Poppy, her secretary, to book her a doctor’s appointment.
Image: Dragon/Devil attacks winged woman. Apocalypse. France c.1370-90. BL via Wikimedia Commons (cc).
About the Author:
Susanna Crossman is an Anglo-French fiction writer and essayist, winner of the 2019 LoveReading Very Short Story Award. She has recent/upcoming work in Neue Rundschau, S. Fischer (translated into German), Repeater Books, The Creative Review, 3:AM Journal, The Lonely Crowd and more. Nominated for Best of The Net (2018) for her non-fiction, her fiction has just been short-listed for the Bristol Prize and Glimmertrain. Co-author of the French roman, L’Hôpital Le Dessous des Cartes (LEH 2015), she regularly collaborates on international hybrid arts projects. Currently, she is showing the multi-lingual prose film, 360° of Morning, with screenings and events across Europe and USA. She lives in France. @crossmansusanna.