The local Gas and Electricity Boards loan cookers for my room and there must be equal numbers for each fuel so my students can compare their experiences of cooking. More likely I am in the unwitting vanguard for this energy supply war. Every two years the cookers are replaced with newer models, so I’ve got my eye on the Cordon Bleu with its huge double oven and eye level grill when it’s time is up. The next occupant of my bedsit can keep the two ringed Baby Belling as I’ll move into my new spacious home to cook elaborate dinner parties – well a girl can dream.
The weirdest appliance in my room is the gas fired refrigerator which clunks away behind my desk. The pilot light at the top has an annoying habit of blowing out and needs relighting before the melting ice cubes puddle onto the floor. The gas fridge needs electricity to run light that comes on when the door is opened so this fuel competition is pointless.
In Gas and Electricity showrooms around the country shiny new ranges of cookers are on display and helpful home economists guide shoppers in their cooker choice. And joy upon joy, they are willing to send these lovely ladies into school for cookery demonstrations.
Today Sue and Sandra, from the local Gas showroom are coming to show us how a three course meal can be cooked altogether in the oven to save fuel and help us use the new automatic timers on their latest ovens. This should be fun but no doubt the exam boards will invent more daft questions.
‘Describe how a housewife can use the automatic oven timer to help prepare a meal for her family when they return from a Sunday walk.’
I imagine the answers from those that don’t care.
‘She can heat up Fray Bentos steak and kidney pies for each of her kids and cook some baked beans in a tin.’
My O level group is chosen for the Gas Board visit. They’ll be respectful to these school visitors, and give a good impression to encourage future visits. I’ve briefed them with enthusiastic, intelligent questions to ask, and just hope that Carol and Vicky, who have been dumped in this group, will have bunked off for the afternoon.
Sue and Sandra arrive early, laden down with boxes and baskets for their demonstration. There’s a mutual look of surprise as they glance around my room, and I feel its shabbiness. The open stone drain running inside the room is a bit of a hazard, the formica tops of the cooking units are chipped, their doors battered and the deep butlers’ sinks would be better used for garden planting. But I’ve brightened the walls with posters of a Cow, Pig and Lamb showing how they can be cut into pieces, and there’s a coloured map of English Cheeses.
‘Ladies, mind your heads on those cables dangling from the ceiling – we plug the irons into them for our ironing lesson, but if you’re tall like me, they can clank you on the head.’
Sue and Sandra duck through the maze of black, hanging wires and set up their stuff on my demonstration table beside the impressive, new Cordon Bleu cooker, shining from my early morning clean.
The class eagerly lines up outside and it’s time to lead them to the stools. Shhh! No talking!
I introduce Sue and Sandra.
‘These ladies are your local Gas Board Home Service Advisors and your family will be able to visit them when you buy a new cooker.
No mention of the Electricity Showroom nearby.
‘Hello to you all. Very pleased to meet you.’
Sue is confident and clear – she’d make a good teacher!
‘We’re going to show you this new cooker and how to make use of the automatic timer. So useful if your mother wants to have a meal ready when you all return home from an outing.’
She hands round the Gas Board menu for our special three course meal.
Starter – Grilled grapefruit topped with brown sugar,
Main course – Roasted lamb chops with potato wedges and frozen peas
Sweet course– Baked treacle sponge with sauce
‘First, let’s prepare the grapefruit.’
We watch in awe as they cut zig zags round the middle of the grapefruit, then split it into two perfect halves.
“Sprinkle on some brown sugar, and could four of you prepare the rest, so there’s enough for you all to taste.’
Oven cooked, sugar topped grapefruit – what a treat! I hope the group will remember this dish for their practical exam.
‘Next, scrunch some foil round the top of the lamb chops to stop them burning, put them on a roasting tray with the potato quarters and dot with knobs of lard. The frozen peas go in this foil pouch with a little butter.’
Butter! Butter! We can’t afford butter. Thank goodness the boys aren’t here – they’d ask how big the knobs are. But it’s worse. Bang! Bang! Carol and Vicky burst in.
“What are we cooking Miss!’
‘Just sit on these stools – there’ll be something for you to eat later.’
But please don’t speak!
They thump down, outnumbered by the others and quietened by the seriousness of the demonstration.
‘Now girls, to make the sponge by the all in one method place all the ingredients in a bowl and beat together with an electric whisk.’
They’ve been taught this before by me but don’t let on. It’s pudding for tasting after all.
‘Spoon the golden syrup into the cake tin and smooth the sponge evenly over the top, You can heat up some golden syrup with water for the sauce when you are ready to serve.’
Why is treacle sponge made with golden syrup and not treacle? Don’t ask, Carol and Vicky, please don’t ask!
‘Put all of these dishes in the oven at once, set the timer so it comes on by itself and the meal is ready when you come in! Let’s cook this now so you have a taste.’
While the lamb chops sizzle, Sue and Sandra demonstrate the wonders of the Cordon Bleu cooker with its smart rotisserie, with tools and spikes that we will never use – we can’t afford CHICKEN!
And just in case there’s a boring time-filling question scratched on the rollerboard.
‘Describe a modern gas cooker with which you are familiar to show the special features that you consider important. Write out a menu for a three course dinner and say how you would use the cooker for this meal.’
‘Girls – there’s a question to answer while you’re waiting and some of you can lay the tables. And let’s say thankyou to the Gas Board ladies for a splendid demonstration.’
We clap as these two hard working ladies pack up their boxes and bags and head wearily back to the showroom. What a brilliant afternoon, and I’ve had a rest from teaching and now there’s baked grapefruit, lamb chops, roast potato chunks, peas and treacle sponge to taste.