Author Archives: Jenny Ridgwell

About Jenny Ridgwell

I'm a food writer who specialises in UK food education. I run The Nutrition Program used by hundreds of schools worldwide. And Ridgwell Press providing food resources for teachers. I belong to the Guild of Food Writers which supports us with innovation.

Crunchy cheese biscuits


125 g plain flour
125 g butter
125 g grated mature Cheddar plus a little Parmesan if you like
Salt, pepper, pinch of cayenne or paprika or dry mustard powder to taste

Preheat the oven to 150C.
Sift the flour into a bowl with the seasonings.
Rub in the butter or blend in a food mixer, but not too thoroughly.
Add the cheese and work up quickly to a paste.
Roll out on a floured board into a sausage shape.
Wrap in clingfilm and put into the fridge for 20 minutes.
Cut into 5mm rounds and place on a non-stick baking sheet.
Bake for about 8 – 10 minutes until golden brown.
Leave to cool a little before taking them off the baking sheet.

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Vegan sponge cake

This recipe is from 2019. You can see what alarming things I had to teach about Vegetarians on this link. The textbook says the vegetarian diet leads to enlargements so watch out!

This sponge is more moist in texture than a sponge made with egg which has structural properties. But the recipe does work and sets to form a soft cake. Vegan margarines work very well with this recipe.

sponge cake 2


75 g vegan margarine

60g caster sugar

1 tbs, 15g honey or golden syrup

175g self raising flour

1 tbs, 15g baking powder

150 ml oat drink or oat milk


Strawberry jam

Icing sugar


Line a square cake tin with baking paper or use two 17 cm sandwich tins. Preheat oven 190C/170C fan.

Beat the margarine, sugar and honey or golden syrup in a bowl until smooth.

Mix the flour and baking powder together.

Stir in 2 tbs of the flour mix into the margarine mix then gently stir in 50ml of the oat drink.

Add a little more of the flour mix then the oat drink and keep going until all the flour and oat drink have been added to make a smooth mixture that drops off the spoon.

Spoon into the cake tin and place in the oven and cook 25-35 mins.

The cake springs back to touch when done, but check if a knife or skewer comes out clean. If not, bake for more time.

Cool in the tin for 5 minutes then take out of the tin and cool on a wire rack.


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Blackleg and teacher strikes in 1970s

My local NUT rep is holding a meeting and teachers from my school say we must go along, as strike action will be announced. For months there have been rumblings of discontent. People are disillusioned with pay and working conditions and want change. I squeeze into the back of the gloomy hall. There are no spare seats and people are jammed together. The fat man on the stage thumps his fist on the table and rallies us to take strike action. All NUT members must come out. Ra, ra they chant. I find it threatening and don’t join in.

When I started teacher training in 1970, most teachers joined the National Union of Teachers, to support us in difficult times and make sure we get a fair deal. I sign up and pay my dues unaware that I had a choice. Now the news rumbles of strike action from teachers and many other unions.

On strike day our school must stay open as some teachers do not belong to unions and others have joined other professional bodies.  Students are told they have a day off, and the staffroom becomes busy organising placards and banners ready for the march.

I do not want to go. If I go on strike I’d lose my pay for the day, but that is not the reason. Deep inside I can’t do it. I don’t want to follow the gang and march on Parliament. Surely change can be effected without this thumping, shouting and marching? I tell the union rep that I am not joining the others and will be coming into school. He seems very cross.

Then things get nasty.  When I go into the staffroom, friends turn away.

And it gets bad. As I’m taking a class, a teacher comes by and thumps on my classroom window and shouts ‘Scab’.

The class looks stunned and turns to me for a reaction. I’m shocked, weak and ashamed. Voiceless in this angry protest.  No-one to hear my meekest views.

Then things get really bad.

More teachers bang on the window. This time I was a ‘dirty blackleg’.

The union rep comes into my room at the end of school.

‘Jenny, you can’t belong to the NUT if you don’t join in the protest. I suggest you join the rest of us.’

He is not pleased when I say no.

On strike day I come to school as usual. The  NUT members will be marching in Trafalgar Square, banners and placards waving about their rights and more pay. And I worry deeply about my future, not belonging to something or joining in with all my colleagues,and not standing up with the rest.

Len comes into my room. I’m busy dragging the wet tea towels and dishcloths out of the spin dryer.

‘Len, you’re not supposed to be in school. Students stay at home today.’

Len looks sheepish.

‘Shall I make us a cup of tea, miss?’

Len busies himself putting the kettle on the gas stove.  The atmosphere is sad. Len’s sad, and I’m sad. Neither of us has any support on this school day. Len gathers an armful of cloths and hangs them on the bars of my gas dryer.  Len and I have somethings in common. He doesn’t belong to the school groups and I wonder if there is anyone at home to welcome Len.

He often stays behind and helps me clear up at the end of the day and never takes his cooking home.  What will happen to Len when he leaves school at sixteen, barely able to read and write? Len and I are alone, offering each other wordless support.

Len stirs three large spoonfuls of sugar into his tea and we sit and drink together. No words. Just thoughts. If this continues, Len will use up my sugar stores.

On TV that night I see the fighting and punching as teachers and police come face to face on the marches.

Next day in the staffroom, they are all too excited to notice me.

‘Did you see me knock off the policeman’s helmet?’

It’s Elizabeth who only last week invited me round for tea in her lovely family home.  I feel my relationship with her and other staff members is damaged forever.

The next time the union calls a strike, I don’t go into school. I agree to go out on strike, but deep in my heart I’m angry. I’m only doing it to stop the bullying and the insults. My pay is docked and I spend the day wandering around Hampstead Heath, breathing in the city air.  It is time to leave the union, and maybe time for me to leave London and have a complete change.

That Friday in the Times Educational Supplement there’s an advert in the back section for a job in Jamaica. Teaching home economics in Kingston on a two year contract with living expenses and accommodation included. It would give me the chance to save some money for a deposit if ever I return to buy my own place.

I’ve taught a lot of children from Jamaican parents in my previous school and if the island is as charming as some of my students, it will be fun.

I ring up the telephone number in the advert and ask them to send me an application. Sunshine island with salt fish and ackee, welcome me!

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Silly fussy salad

My 1972 salad lessons teach students how to make elaborate plates of over fussed food. We don’t have exotic things like avocados or alfalfa, so we fiddle about instead. Radishes become roses, tomatoes turn into lilies, cucumber is stripped and scissored and spring onions are converted into tassels. Nothing is served simply. Every item is mauled and prepared, plated and primped. And if we can stuff it we do – stuffed eggs, stuffed tomatoes, stuffed cucumber.


radish roses opening in ice

radish rose

Radish roses that have been left in ice to open

Salads in these days are not tossed or dressed. Heinz Salad Cream goes with everything. My mother is horrified when, on a visit to Kettering from my London school, I toss a bowl of freshly picked salad from her garden with some French dressing.
‘You’ve ruined it with that muck. Keep out of the kitchen with your fancy ways! We eat salad cream with our salads, and we don’t need the French to show us how to cook.’

Lettuce from my mother’s garden is a choice of crunchy Cos or the sweet leaves of Little Gem. The greengrocers in East London, send us soft, floppy, round lettuce with limp, tasteless leaves. All fur coat and no knickers I call it – it looks OK but underneath it is naked nothingness. No wonder students hate it. When Iceberg arrives on our shores to accompany McDonald’s hamburger buns, our lettuce eating habits change forever.
The aim of this salad lesson is to arrange a plate of colourful cold vegetables and serve it with some stuffed eggs. I provide all the ingredients, so everything must be the same size and quality.
‘His tomato’s bigger than mine miss!’

Girls like Alice always protest about the size of my offerings. I wonder if Alice will get a job for a campaign organization, or work in politics.
‘I don’t want them radishes – they’ve got weevils in them!’

Ian likes the best quality produce and might grow up to be a greengrocer.

Stuffed eggs
Hard boiled eggs are our protein food today – the truth is we can’t afford anything else. I arrive early at school and boil 25 eggs in a huge saucepan of water for 7 minutes, then plunge them into a sink of cold water to keep the yolk yellow.
‘I want the brown egg miss – me nan says brown eggs are best.’
Janice’s nan often has stern things to say about my cookery lessons.
‘You peel off the shell and don’t eat it, Janice, – the shell colour doesn’t matter.’
Janice glowers. Nan is old and wise and always right.
Janice’s gran says she must have hot food at lunchtime. When I suggest making salad for a picnic, I get a note from Gran explaining that it won’t be eaten as it is cold, so can Janice make a sponge cake for tea instead.
Tim, a teacher, has kindly bought Janice’s fussy salad with stuffed egg  so I watch her hygiene to keep the food safe to eat. Janice needs reminding that hands need washing before food preparation, despite Gran telling her that a bit of dirt never hurt anyone.
I demonstrate how to crack and peel the egg shell – if the eggs are too fresh the shell sticks to the white, so I use older eggs for this lesson. There’s no date on the eggs or egg box, so age is guesswork or the float-in-water test. If they float they’re old.

The hard yolk is scooped out of each half of egg and mashed with salad cream – yum.
‘Put this mixture back in the egg with a spoon, or use this piping bag and twirl it back into the egg like this.’
I pipe an impressive, golden, eggy twirl and top with a sprig of parsley.
Janice lets out a squeal.
‘It looks like yellow poo. Who’d eat that?’
Vegetable fiddling is next. Tomatoes are cut into lilies with pointed edges, and filled with salad cream and cottage cheese – a new ingredient on our shop shelves.
Radishes cut roses and sliced spring onions become tassels. This fussed over veg is dunked into freezing water to open up and lose its nutrients.

spring onion tassels

Spring onion tassels which open in iced water.

They are eager to get on.
‘OK – eggs then salad – we’ll do the lettuce later.’
They rush off to choose the largest egg or tomato. There’s always whines and swapping.
‘Miss, we don’t eat salad.’
‘Miss, her cucumber’s bigger than mine.’
‘Can I have tomato instead of this green stuff?’
At last they are sorted and busy. Eggs are twirled and salad chopped.
I dump droopy lettuces in a butler’s sink full of ice cold water. Examiners don’t like this , so I warn the class that the Vitamin C which will seep into the water, and the limp lettuce will not be so nutritious.
‘Come round and I’ll show you how to serve the salad.’
I remove the lettuce, radish and spring onions from cold water, and pat them dry with a tea towel. No fancy salad spinners here.
‘Place in colourful sections on a plate, sprinkle with bits of mustard and cress and serve with a jug of SALAD CREAM.’
What a fuss for something which today would be chopped, tossed and served in bowl!

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Mark Ridgwell died December 10th 2018

My posts on Mark went silent on public media after May 11th 2018 and we struggled on until his death in St Peter’s and St James Hospice outside Lewes. During the year of his dying I’ve moved house 5 times. Twice in Seaford, then a ghastly, dark rental in Lewes, on to Wimbledon and back to our tiny Lewes house. Without him I am a nomad. My companion of 52 years has gone and I am left with energetic photos of his highly active life.

Mark decided to pursue privately funded cancer treatment in London after his Sussex oncologist said she could do no more and we struggled on for an incredible six months. He suffered many blood transfusions, plenty of chemotherapy, one bout of toxic shock and took oodles of morphine. Although not enough to destroy the pain. His courage in enduring this disease was as outstanding as his enthusiasm for life.

Even when his body was like a skeleton, he achieved amazing things –

  • celebrating his 72nd birthday at the Snowdrop pub in Lewes
  • running training sessions for bar tenders to say goodbye
  • travelling to Amsterdam to deliver his library of drink’s books to a training room named after him
  • giving a whisky tasting for Lewes October Feast
  • celebrating my 70th birthday at the Coach and Horses
  • watching his favourite Southover Bonfire parade at Lewes Bonfire on November 5th

We agreed a family cremation with just myself, Annabel, Simon and Tamsin in attendance. It was Christmas time and the rest of the world was in joyous spirits.

On January 6th, we had a small  funeral for family and friends in St Michael’s Church in Lewes. Mark would have been proud of us all and the glory of a service on The Feast of Epiphany. Here is a piece I wrote for a competition.

At my husband’s funeral I wore a red and gold ikat coat that shimmered in the church candlelight, reflecting the ceremony date, the Feast of the Epiphany. Maybe one of the three kings would have worn such royal colours at the crib of baby Jesus? More importantly, long ago, A A Gill remarked ‘Nice coat’ when I sat next to him at Dean Street Townhouse. I was ready to order his favourite dish, shepherd’s pie, and quipped ‘It’s from Kazakstan.’

‘No, Uzbeckistan’ he replied.’

Weeks after Adrian’s death, when I wore the coat at the Royal Academy, a woman in the coffee queue admired its colours.

‘A A Gill told me it was from Uzbeckistan’ I boasted.

‘And he was always right’’ said the lady in front of us. ‘I should know – I’m his mother.’

How I longed to smuggle her away and force out stories of their fabulous meals together, but in the politeness of the dark, Academy’s Member’s room we parted, so much from his Pour Me book bursting for answers.

On December 10th 2018, exactly two years after AA Gill, my husband Mark, died from the same ‘full English’ and I miss them both for their fierce passion for eating and their courage in challenging life to the limit.

Mark’s ashes are stored in a gold leafed casket and I scoop out small servings to take on my mission to sprinkle him in the waters of the world. So far he’s scattered in the Thames, the Channel and Derwentwater and now he’s on a journey to Famagusta, to float into no-man’s land to an out-of-bounds landscape forbidden to the living.’


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Whisked sponge with raspberries

This recipe makes a flat sponge which is sandwiched together with whipped cream and fresh raspberries. I’ve used the recipe for my book Food Preparation Task

whisked spongeServes 6


3 eggs

100 g caster sugar

100 g self raising flour

40 g raspberry jam

250 ml double cream whipped

200 g raspberries + 1 fresh fig

Sugar for dusting


  1. Preheat the oven to 200 °C/ Gas 6.
  2. Line a cake tin 20 x 30 cm with baking parchment paper.
  3. Whisk the eggs and sugar for about 10 minutes until the mixture is thick and creamy and you can leave a trail in the mixture. This forms a foam.
  4. Sieve in the flour and fold in gently with a metal spoon.
  5. Spoon into the tin and bake for 10-12 minutes until lightly browned and the cake springs back to touch.
  6. Leave the cake to cool on a wire rack. When cool, cut in half.
  7. Make the filling – whip the cream until it forms soft peaks and stir in 20g icing sugar.
  8. Mix the cream with a few raspberries.
  9. Fill the middle of the cake with some of the cream and raspberries.
  10. Warm the jam and brush over the top of the cake.
  11. Decorate the top of the cake with the rest of the cream, sliced fig and the raspberries. Sprinkle with icing sugar to serve.

The science bit – see my Food Science You Can Eat book

Eggs and sugar whisk to a foam. Albumen is the protein in the egg and this extends and traps the air bubbles.
On heating the air expands and pushes up the egg, sugar and flour mixture.
Flour contains gluten which is a protein which sets when heated.
The egg protein denatures, coagulates and sets with the gluten and forms the sponge structure.
The cake changes colour as the starch changes to dextrin and the Maillard reaction takes place.

Nutrition analysis – using Nutrition Program


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Pizza is another invention that came after my 1970 classroom recipes so we never made it with a yeast dough.

Nowadays ready made pizza bases make life easy but here’s a home made recipe.

Serves 2-4



200g strong, white bread flour

1/2 tsp salt 3g

1 x 7 g sachet dried yeast

2 tsp sugar

150ml warm water.



Passata or tomato paste – about 100g

100g grated cheese or mozzarella

2 tbs olive oil

Ideas for topping – Slices of aubergine, onion, yellow and red pepper, black olives, mixed herbs, mushrooms



  1. Preheat the oven to 250C/ Gas 9. Prepare large baking trays for the 2 pizzas by lining them with non stick paper.
  2. Put the flour, salt, yeast and sugar in a mixing bowl or food processor and work in the water until the dough forms. Use the blades in the machine to work the dough.
  3. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 10 minutes by stretching, pulling and pushing the dough to make it smooth and springy. This kneading helps stretch the gluten which forms the structure when baked.
  4. Put the dough in a bowl, cover with a cloth or clingfilm and leave in a warm place until double in size 20-30 minutes.
  5. Prepare the ingredients for the topping – you can roast or fry the peppers, sliced onion and aubergine.
  6. Grate the cheese and slice the mushrooms.
  7. Divide the dough in half and rub with a little oil and pat and roll out to form a large pizza shape. Repeat for the second dough and place on the 2 baking trays.
  8. Spoon on a layer of passata or tomato paste to the edges of each pizza then drop on the vegetables, mixed herbs and top with grated cheese. Place some olives on top.
  9. Bake 7-10 minutes until the pizzas are golden and crispy.



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