I used Pen Vogler’s book for research for the History section of my book. Why did we call the midday meal school dinner and why did we have dinner ladies? Yet my textbooks talked about packed lunch? It’s all to do with the great north-south divide and our class system. The working class had their main meal at midday and so called it dinner and the industrial revolution was happening in the north of the UK. To distinguish themselves from their workers, the upper classes had their main meal at night and called it dinner. As there was a long gap between their midday and evening meal, they invented Afternoon Tea which became increasingly elaborate. Read my piece on the Governor’s tea and see how many dishes I served. Two sorts of sandwiches, scones and jam, brandy snaps and butterfly cakes!
In the seventies, most of our eggs had white shells but gradually brown shelled eggs appeared in the shops and people thought they were healthier. In 2021, during the pandemic, white eggs were back in the supermarkets and sold for half the price of brown ones. The reason? Specific breeds of hen lay white eggs and these breeds can be kept in very large flocks as the hens are not as aggressive as brown egg laying hens. The white shelled eggs are therefore cheaper to produce and used by the food and catering industry. The pandemic closed many of these companies so there was a surplus supply of white eggs which supermarkets are selling at reduced prices. There is no nutritional difference between white and brown eggs although my 1970s students insisted there was and always wanted my brown eggs.
Marguerite Patten’s Cookery in Colour was my first cookery book and I used it for all my cooking exams in the 1960’s. In 2009 I visited her at her home and got my well used book signed. Marguerite was as busy as ever, and at 93 years old, she regularly contributed to BBC discussion programmess on current food issues. We talked about the challenges of cooking in war time, and all the changes in equipment and ingredients that came during the following years.
Marguerite gave me a copy of A Century of British Cooking, as I was writing a memoir of teaching in London schools in the 1970s. She has written an astonishing 170 books, which makes my 70 titles seem like a starter. Marguerite worked on the launch of the new pressure cookers which saved fuel in the 1950s – interesting how many things are becoming topical today. She demonstrated the Kenwood Chef when it was invented, and promoted many of the food initiatives in the 50s and 60s – using more wholemeal flour and the soft margarines for cake making.
We talked of offal – Awful Offal my students called it- and remembered stuffed hearts, liver and bacon, and grilled kidneys. Marguerite was involved with many food initiatives, and believed that food should be well cooked and delicious. We sat down to a tea of smoked salmon sandwiches and asparagus rolled in brown bread with cream cheese, followed by homemade fruit cake.
Marguerite was an inspiration to anyone wanting to learn to cook, or write about food. So optimistic, generous and hard working, with a database of stories and memories. I value sharing her memories and sensible opinions on the food we eat.
Marguerite died in 2015 at the age of 99. Jenny Ridgwell
Photo by Jenny Ridgwell
Schools went metric in 1971 – that’s over 50 years ago! I threw out the scales measuring ounces and pounds and the jugs with pints and fluid ounces and changed all my recipes to grams and millilitres. Now fifty years ago the UK is still selling milk in pints and beer in half and full pints. Our recipe books are written in metric and imperial according to the Guild of Food Writers whose authors are publishing for 2021.
You can read about my struggle to teach in metric on this link
Students would bring in treasured recipe books with the old measures and tell me that the cake wouldn’t work unless it was measured in ounces! Please can someone decide that we should go completely metric and measure in cm and drive in km!
In the 1950s, Britain produced just 1 million chickens a year – today 2021 it is over a billion.
Intensive farming methods were imported from the US and in the late 1960s the price of chicken dropped by a third. During the late 1970s government campaigns advised people to eat less fatty, red meat and choose chicken as a leaner, healthier alternative. By the 1990s nearly a quarter of meat eaten in Britain was chicken or turkey.
In 1972, the year of my memoir, chicken was still too expensive to cook in school and none of the textbooks wrote about it or asked questions in the dreaded exams so I didn’t include it in my teaching. You can read about my chicken lesson here.
Today chicken is the most popular meat around the world – in 2021 there were 25 billion farmed chickens. Most poultry is intensively farmed but the price of chicken is now affordable and popular.