Cooking has been my passion ever since the head teacher in my grammar school told me I couldn’t study Domestic Science. It was for the lower groups, and I must take Latin and Chemistry instead. My parents were called to school and told ‘She’ll never get a job if she learns about cookery.’
How I longed to join the classes that came out of the cookery room carrying tins filled with sugar encrusted rock cakes and spicy gingerbread. They smelled of nurturing and not the fierce chemicals that we used in the Chem Lab. At home, things were no better and I was rarely allowed in the kitchen.
‘Get on with your homework, Jenny. You’re too messy and too slow to cook.’
My mother was busy with her teaching job and housework, and although she cooked everything from scratch, her meals were hurried and dull.
Could I have learnt to swim if I’d stayed out of the swimming pool? No!
So how was I supposed to learn how to cook? I had to wait until I rented a bedsit with a Baby Belling cooker for my journey into magic recipes to begin.
And now my passion has become my work, teaching teenage boys and girls to cook and bake and hoping to inspire them with my excitement for food. My science degree is of some use as I know the chemistry behind many cooking processes, and I can dissect a fish, and I’m sure that Marguerite Patten’s Full Colour Cookery will see me through difficult cooking moments. How wrong that turns out to be.
This was my second teaching job and at 23 I’m head of home economics in this bustling comprehensive school. Public transport is tough from Hampstead to east London so I’ve bought a Mini traveller with plenty of room in the back for carrying shopping , marking and cooking equipment. The salesman calls it ‘timber framed’ as the chassis is decorated with strips of pine wood but with forty five thousand miles on the clock, I often call it ‘Stuck’. A yellow and silver old AA badge is screwed to the front bumper which I know one day will come in handy with my frequent breakdowns.
Each teaching day as I speed out into the suburbs, I leave behind exciting new ingredients which are arriving in the country. Avocado pears, that we eat with salt and pepper, the newly opened Pizza Palace and Spaghetti House with their exotic dishes. And wine bars where we sit at dark candlelit tables sipping Beaujolais Nouveau.
My new school is surrounded by comfortable streets, where working class families have lived for many generations. The mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles and cousins of my students have usually been to this school, and not much has changed since. Tea is a meal of meat and two veg eaten promptly at 6 o’clock, and jellied eels and tripe and onions are treasured dishes so I must tread softly and not bring too many of my fancy modern ideas crashing into the classroom.