Spag bog


I’ve never cooked spaghetti before but Zena Skinner showed me on her TV show that you ‘Throw the spaghetti at the wall – if it’s cooked it will stick’, so if it works for Zena, it will do for my lesson today. 

The nearest I’ve come to cooked pasta is my grandmother’s macaroni pudding made from full cream milk, macaroni and sugar, and baked in a slow oven for two hours. It comes out of the oven topped with a brown, chewy skin which is my favourite.
Pasta offerings of the 1960s include canned Heinz Spaghetti in a gluey, orange, tomato sauce – the soft spaghetti mashes to a mushy pulp. Then there’s Alphabetti Spaghetti with tiny pasta letters. I imagine that bored children, made to sit at the table until the family meal is finished, push letters around the plate in the hope of spelling rude words. I only know about these delicacies after visiting other children as my mother never buys such things for her kitchen cupboard. We had to eat plain,freshly cooked ingredients, not ‘muck’.

The shops round the school don’t sell pasta, but after a weekend trip to Terroni’s delicatessen in Clerkenwell, I’m laden with very long packs of spaghetti wrapped in dark blue paper – their red and white labels provide untranslatable Italian cooking instructions so I’m sticking with Zena, my plain cooking expert. A visit toTerroni’s surrounded by the aroma of hanging salamis and freshly ground coffee  leaves a lifetime food memory of delicious feasting and seems far away from the recipes I must teach at school.

‘ A new dish, class – spaghetti bolognaise – I’ve seen it on the TV.’

They gather on the stools keen to cook.

‘First the bolognaise sauce. Made from four ingredients – minced beef, lard, onions and tomato ketchup.’ 

Lard is an everyday food. We don’t worry about saturated and unsaturated fats – and I don’t need to teach about them. Fancy ingredients like garlic, tomato purée and oregano are also off the menu – my mother would not want them messing up her cooking, so I’m not taking risks today.

The mince and onions fry in lard until brown, then I stir in a squidge of tomato ketchup and a little water for a sauce. Lid on and leave it to simmer. 

It’s time to unwrap the blue paper from my spectacular packets of spaghetti.

Bert is alarmed.

‘Me dad won’t eat that! He’ll give it to the dog!’ 

‘Italians have been eating pasta for hundreds of years, so try it at the end of the lesson!’

A large saucepan of water boils on the gas ring.

‘Come round and let me show you how it cooks.’

The long, stiff strands take ages to soften and twirl into the water and some snap which makes the process much easier.

‘Get started and I’ll call you round when mine’s done.’

The room smells meatily appetising, but my pasta is done.

‘Come and watch!’ I use a fork to scoop out a long strand and fling it at the wall, just like Zena. It glues into a satisfying S bend.

‘See it’s cooked – let’s get on.’

Boiling pans of water steam up the windows and it’s time for Is your Spaghetti Cooked test.

‘Miss, the water’s too hot – I can’t get the spaghetti out.’ 

Bert sucks his hot fingers. I’d forgotten my basic rules of health and safety. 

‘Don’t pick the spaghetti out with your fingers. Boiling water scalds.’ 

They choose some poking tools and fling strands of pasta at the nearest vertical surface. 

By the end of the lesson walls and stoves are coated with spaghetti snakes. Stiff uncooked stuff falls behind cupboards, to be retrieved by visiting mice, or swept away in the end of term room clean. We’ve had some fun but Zena’s test needs adapting to stop my busy classroom looking like a modern artwork.

Now to present. 

Cooked spaghetti is piled into their take home dish, a mound of sauce spooned on top and sprinkled with grated Cheddar cheese. It’s always Cheddar cheese! Parmesan is off the shopping list as it’s another exotic ingredient that would send the meal dogwards, and anyway, we can’t afford it.

They bring me their cooking for a mark out of ten to reflect effort, enthusiasm and most importantly, how much of their washing up has been done. Then it’s covered with foil and into baskets for collection at home time. 

Except for the boys. Boys don’t carry shopping baskets. Boys don’t like buying cookery stuff. And boys rarely take their cooking home.

‘Can we eat it now? We’ll clear up, honest.’ 

Bert and Len spend lots of time in my room, and swap a mound of washing up for a toasted cheese sandwich. So while other teachers gossip, snack and smoke in the staffroom, my cookery room transforms into an eatery. Tables are set with blue seersucker tablecloths, green Beryl Ware plates, knives, forks and spoons and water jugs and glasses. This is a proper sit down meal.

‘Boys let me show you how to eat spaghetti. You don’t need knives.’

I twirl my fork round the great long strands then slurp it into my mouth.

‘Don’t cut it – Italians think that’s rude.’

‘This foreign food is nice miss. I’m going to cook it tonight.’ 

Bert and friends clear away and charge out the room.
The bell goes for my next lesson. The queue is jostling outside waiting to learn how to make lemon meringue pie and jam tarts. And all before tea time.

Heinz stopped production of Alphabetti Spaghetti in 1990 in the UK – but was re-introduced in 2005 as a newspaper article said  ‘in a bid to ensure that young children spend more time spelling out words and less time stuffing their faces’.

On TVs Food Unwrapped, nutritionist Jo Travers of the British Dietetic Association reveals that lard, despite being made from pig fat, contains so-called ‘good’ fats known as monounsaturated fats 

I’ve never cooked spaghetti before but Zena Skinner showed me on her TV show that you ‘Throw the spaghetti at the wall – if it’s cooked it will stick’, so if it works for Zena, it will do for my lesson today. 

The nearest I’ve come to cooked pasta is my grandmother’s macaroni pudding made from full cream milk, macaroni and sugar, and baked in a slow oven for two hours. It comes out of the oven topped with a brown, chewy skin which is my favourite.
Pasta offerings of the 1960s include canned Heinz Spaghetti in a gluey, orange, tomato sauce – the soft spaghetti mashes to a mushy pulp. Then there’s Alphabetti Spaghetti with tiny pasta letters. I imagine that bored children, made to sit at the table until the family meal is finished, push letters around the plate in the hope of spelling rude words. I only know about these delicacies after visiting other children as my mother never buys such things for her kitchen cupboard. We had to eat plain,freshly cooked ingredients, not ‘muck’.

The shops round the school don’t sell pasta, but after a weekend trip to Terroni’s delicatessen in Clerkenwell, I’m laden with very long packs of spaghetti wrapped in dark blue paper – their red and white labels provide untranslatable Italian cooking instructions so I’m sticking with Zena, my plain cooking expert. A visit toTerroni’s surrounded by the aroma of hanging salamis and freshly ground coffee  leaves a lifetime food memory of delicious feasting and seems far away from the recipes I must teach at school.

‘ A new dish, class – spaghetti bolognaise – I’ve seen it on the TV.’

They gather on the stools keen to cook.

‘First the bolognaise sauce. Made from four ingredients – minced beef, lard, onions and tomato ketchup.’ 

Lard is an everyday food. We don’t worry about saturated and unsaturated fats – and I don’t need to teach about them. Fancy ingredients like garlic, tomato purée and oregano are also off the menu – my mother would not want them messing up her cooking, so I’m not taking risks today.

The mince and onions fry in lard until brown, then I stir in a squidge of tomato ketchup and a little water for a sauce. Lid on and leave it to simmer. 

It’s time to unwrap the blue paper from my spectacular packets of spaghetti.

Bert is alarmed.

‘Me dad won’t eat that! He’ll give it to the dog!’ 

‘Italians have been eating pasta for hundreds of years, so try it at the end of the lesson!’

A large saucepan of water boils on the gas ring.

‘Come round and let me show you how it cooks.’

The long, stiff strands take ages to soften and twirl into the water and some snap which makes the process much easier.

‘Get started and I’ll call you round when mine’s done.’

The room smells meatily appetising, but my pasta is done.

‘Come and watch!’ I use a fork to scoop out a long strand and fling it at the wall, just like Zena. It glues into a satisfying S bend.

‘See it’s cooked – let’s get on.’

Boiling pans of water steam up the windows and it’s time for Is your Spaghetti Cooked test.

‘Miss, the water’s too hot – I can’t get the spaghetti out.’ 

Bert sucks his hot fingers. I’d forgotten my basic rules of health and safety. 

‘Don’t pick the spaghetti out with your fingers. Boiling water scalds.’ 

They choose some poking tools and fling strands of pasta at the nearest vertical surface. 

By the end of the lesson walls and stoves are coated with spaghetti snakes. Stiff uncooked stuff falls behind cupboards, to be retrieved by visiting mice, or swept away in the end of term room clean. We’ve had some fun but Zena’s test needs adapting to stop my busy classroom looking like a modern artwork.

Now to present. 

Cooked spaghetti is piled into their take home dish, a mound of sauce spooned on top and sprinkled with grated Cheddar cheese. It’s always Cheddar cheese! Parmesan is off the shopping list as it’s another exotic ingredient that would send the meal dogwards, and anyway, we can’t afford it.

They bring me their cooking for a mark out of ten to reflect effort, enthusiasm and most importantly, how much of their washing up has been done. Then it’s covered with foil and into baskets for collection at home time. 

Except for the boys. Boys don’t carry shopping baskets. Boys don’t like buying cookery stuff. And boys rarely take their cooking home.

‘Can we eat it now? We’ll clear up, honest.’ 

Bert and Len spend lots of time in my room, and swap a mound of washing up for a toasted cheese sandwich. So while other teachers gossip, snack and smoke in the staffroom, my cookery room transforms into an eatery. Tables are set with blue seersucker tablecloths, green Beryl Ware plates, knives, forks and spoons and water jugs and glasses. This is a proper sit down meal.

‘Boys let me show you how to eat spaghetti. You don’t need knives.’

I twirl my fork round the great long strands then slurp it into my mouth.

‘Don’t cut it – Italians think that’s rude.’

‘This foreign food is nice miss. I’m going to cook it tonight.’ 

Bert and friends clear away and charge out the room.
The bell goes for my next lesson. The queue is jostling outside waiting to learn how to make lemon meringue pie and jam tarts. And all before tea time.

2020 update

Heinz stopped production of Alphabetti Spaghetti in 1990 in the UK – but was re-introduced in 2005 as a newspaper article said  ‘in a bid to ensure that young children spend more time spelling out words and less time stuffing their faces’.

On TVs Food Unwrapped, nutritionist Jo Travers of the British Dietetic Association reveals that lard, despite being made from pig fat, contains so-called ‘good’ fats known as monounsaturated fats 

“Lard has actually quite a lot of the monounsaturated fats, and that is the heart healthy fat. We need those kind of fats in our diets and it has much more in fact than butter.”

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Filed under Boys cooking, Cookery exams in the 1970s, cooking in the 1970s, Foods of the 1970s, Jenny Ridgwell

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