Peppermint creams – Christmas cookery lesson 1972

For days pungent smells of cinnamon and nutmeg have wafted out my cookery room as we mass produce mince pies for carol services and Christmas parties.

Marzipan fruits, coconut ice, chocolate truffles and Christmas logs are made for special gifts, and rich, dark fruit cakes are stacked in my larder ready for their final shroud of marzipan and royal icing.

Decorations are green holly leaves and blobby red berries made from fondant icing then the cakes are tied up with red ribbon tied in a giant bow. It’s the modern TV look to keep up with fashion.

Liz, as always, arrives late and dives in her bag to bring out a lump wrapped in grey tissue paper.

She plonks a grubby, plastic Father Christmas sitting on his even grubbier sledge on top of her cake. The plastic reindeer pulling the sledge need a good scrub. A faded red tinsel band is tied round the cake’s waist and Liz presents her cake triumphantly amidst the starker offerings of holly and berries.

‘We always have ‘im on our cakes, Miss and decorate it like this.’ She points to the battered tinsel.

Mr Bush the headmaster come in to judge my Best Christmas Cake competition. I’m showing him that I don’t spend lessons cooking my supper, or doing my washing in the school machine.

Liz, with the plasticly decorated, common Christmas cake, wins. She raises a fist in triumph. Some people have no taste.

On my last lesson of term, the boys are making peppermint creams as a Christmas present for gran. – or more likely they will eat them on the way home.

Gavin is back from his week’s suspension for bullying a younger boy.

I’ve been dreading the moment I have to start educating Gavin again. Well not exactly again. I can’t make any claim to have educated Gavin, ever.

‘Hello everyone, and welcome to the peppermint cream lesson. Get yourselves ready and sieve your icing sugar into your bowls.’

Gavin thunders down to my desk and towers over me.

‘I’m going to make rum creams, Miss. Don’t like peppermint. And anyway rum is more Christmassy.’

He eyes me provocatively and sways unsteadily. His right hand clutches a bottle of rum. Half of the contents are missing.

How did Gavin know what we were cooking today?

Perhaps pinned a small boy to the wall with threats.

‘Tell me what she’s cooking else I’ll kill yer.’

Through clouds of sugary dust I wait.

‘Gavin – get ready to cook and leave the rum on my desk!’

Gavin ties on his apron and places the rum bottle gently on my pile of marking.

Amazed, I face the class of surprised faces.

‘Gather round – I’m going to show you how to crack an egg to separate out the white.’

They stand by my table except for Gavin.  Perhaps he’s gone home. Thank God.  But the bottle of rum teeters menacingly on my paperwork.

They sieve and mix icing sugar and egg white into a dough.

‘Now  add drops of peppermint essence and some green colouring.’

A sudden movement catches my eye. Gavin rises from behind his table and stamps his boots to attention. On his head is one of my pudding bowls and his right hand is raised in a Nazi salute.

‘Miss! I told you! I am using rum!’

The group is silent. No one wants to be noticed by Gavin.

‘Gavin – we can’t use alcohol in the classroom. It’s forbidden and you are under the drinking age.’

‘You let them girls put brandy in Christmas cakes last week.  Are you picking on me?’

Gavin puffs like the Jolly Green Giant on adverts for tins of sweetcorn. Only Gavin is bigger.

And not jolly, not green and not friendly.

And not singing ‘Ho, Ho, Ho.’

He’s right about the brandy, and quick witted for a drunk.

But wrong that I would pick on him. Not on my own in my cookery room.

The group rolls and cuts out the icing dough into green shapes. A factory line of peppermint creams  in a kitchen silent with tension.

Gavin stumbles to my desk and grabs his rum.

I must deal with him or there will be more trouble.

His great body suddenly thuds down on my chair and he lets out a gigantic yawn.

‘Gavin – the room’s hot – you must be tired. Put your head down and rest.’

Obediently he spreads his fleshy arms on my desk, rests his head on his bulging forearm and begins to doze.

I turn to the class, industriously packing up their sweets and clearing away. We smile together.  Peace is restored. I have won. And next week it is the Christmas holiday.

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Filed under Boys cooking, Foods of the 1970s, Home Economics in 1970

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