We don’t do washing up

My 1970s washing up lesson

Cynthia has been getting the empty room next to mine ready for some new cookery classes planned for the start of the year. Newly equipped room and a new part time teacher. There’ll be some fun cooking for the sixth form to help them when they leave school. They sniff the meaty smells and fragrant baking as they pass my room and now a gang has asked the headmaster for special lessons.

Cynthia brings in a pile of saucepans, jam tart tins and baking trays and dumps them on my demonstration table. Then leaves the room and returns with an armful of bowls and cooking tools.

‘Jenny. They’ve been leaving their dirty washing-up in the new room. They must be swapping it for the clean things in the cupboards.’

At the end of each lesson students stand by their workstation as we march round and check that all their equipment has been left clean and ready for the next class. Cynthia has stuck drawings of tools in each drawer and the cupboards have a checklist of equipment. All sharp knives must be returned to the knife rack. No-one leaves until all the slots are filled. Paring and cook’s knives cannot be snaffled out in their duffle bags. There’s no telling what they will be used for.

At the end of some busy lessons they rush out as soon as the bell goes. 

‘Bye Miss. All tidy. Can’t be late. Mr Smith in Maths will give us a detention.’

This is the time when Cynthia and I tour the room searching in hidey-holes. A burnt frying pan stuffed behind a cooker, an unwashed saucepan tucked behind the folded tea towels, and the favourite place where they shove mucky baking trays.  Stuffed down the back on the cupboard next to the exit. A sort of burnt baking tray post box.

‘Jenny. You’ve got to stop this. They’re really bad at washing up. Probably don’t do it at home.’

She’s right. Yuk. We need a special lesson. They’re going to hate it. I send a message out to all their class tutors.


They slump on the stools around my demonstration table. It’s piled with stuff that Cynthia found next door. And a plastic washing up bowl, a wooden brush with stiff bristles, a new pink Brillo pad and some Fairy Liquid. Well it’s not really Fairy Liquid. Just cheap stuff from County Supplies that comes in gallon-sized plastic containers. Like war-time jerry cans. Cynthia dilutes the soapy liquid with water then refills the Fairy Liquid bottles using a plastic funnel. Staff have kindly brought in the empty bottles for us to fill and they stand beside each of the butler’s sinks. We have to be thrifty as the headmaster says that cleaning stuff for my room comes out of my allowance. I wonder if the PE department has to pay for the playing fields to be mowed.

In my childhood home my brother avoided washing up with one simple trick. One evening my mother told him to wash up and he did it so badly that she grabbed the wet dishcloth, shook it over his head and shouted.

“Go away. You’re useless. I’ll never ask you again!’ So he’d won. And he didn’t. Ever wash up.

Today I’m picking on the boys as I reckon they are the main culprits. 

‘Some people in my classes have been hiding their dirty washing-up next door. Does anyone know anything about it?’

Silence. Eyes down. Scanning the floorboards.

‘OK. Seems you all need a washing up lesson so we all know how to do it properly. Tom – put an apron on and come and help with the demonstration.’

I’m ready in my pink nylon overall and matching pink Marigold rubber gloves.

‘Tom can you fill the bowl with hot water please?’

He shuffles over to the butler’s sink and runs the tap, splashing water over his jumper. His usual spark of humour is dampened by this dreary lesson.

“Is it hot?’  There’s no steam so I know the answer. ‘Start again. Hot.’

“Class. Why do we use hot water for washing up?’ 

They don’t want to know. Jill puts her hand up to break the silent stupor.

“Miss it helps to get off greasy food but you need washing up liquid too.’

‘Quite right Jill. Well done. Just one squirt will do. No more.’

I squirt my fake liquid from one of my Fairy Liquid bottles. 

‘Do you know the song from the Fairy Liquid advert?’

I’ll cheer them up by singing the memorable lines.

‘Hands that do dishes will be soft as your face. 

With mild green fairy liquid.’

Sam puts his hand up.

‘Miss. Why are you wearing rubber gloves? Don’t you want soft hands?’ 

Firstly I can’t tell Sam the stuff in our Fairy Liquid bottles is an industrially fierce fake and secondly it’s not mild and green but pale blue. My hands will feel like sandpaper if they wash up as often as I do.

The biggest bugger is these bloody Fairy adverts with a woman stuck at the foamy, bubbly sink in her pinny encouraging her little daughter to admire the bubbles all over the family plates. And then stroking her hands still soft after hours of washing up. Women’s work! Bah humbug!  Where are the men and the boys in this household?!! No wonder the boys in my class don’t know how to wash up.

‘Tom – can you show us how you would wash this dirty pudding bowl that Cynthia found next door?’

He smirks at the group and we watch as he struggles to get the dried up Victoria sandwich mix off the sides.

“See how hard it is? You need to wash things up straight away. Thanks Tom. Rinse it in cold water in the sink and leave it to drain then sit down.’

It’s time for a few more washing up rules.

Wash the cleanest things first – the water gets dirtier as you progress.

Then wash cutlery and cooking implements.

NEVER PUT SHARP KNIVES IN THE BOWL. How many times do I put plasters on cuts from knives hidden in washing up bowls?

Wash baking trays and cooking pans last and try to get bits off with a brush or Brillo pad.

Rinse then let things drain on the draining board then dry up and put away ready for checking.

It’s time to pick on Sam. I reckon this pair could be the culprits. They sometimes ask to use the lav after cooking is finished, then hurriedly leave the room. I hand Sam a jam tart tin encrusted with burnt jam and dried up pastry.

‘Try and get this clean Sam.’ He scrubs and brushes to little effect.

‘See – if it’s left it’s so hard to clean. You need to let us know if there’s stuff burnt on then we can soak it in hot soda water in the sink.’ 

That is a dangerous task that Cynthia and I dread and too harmful for them to do.

‘So now for some written work so that you can remember how to wash up after your practical lessons and you might get a question in the EXAM! Turn to the page on `Care of Kitchen Equipment’ in Cookery for Schools.

Oh God! It starts with ‘An efficient housewife not only produces attractive dishes but uses all her equipment well.’ I bet she has soft hands from all the Fairy Liquid she squirts in her washing up bowl and never wears pink Marigold rubber gloves. These ghastly sexist textbooks need burning on Bonfire Night along with the practice exam papers that ask about housewives doing everything.

‘Class – answer question 7 for homework – it’s from a real exam paper.

‘How would a housewife clean the following a) a burnt aluminium saucepan, b) a kettle encrusted in fir, c) a fish kettle, d) a greasy frying pan and e) a greasy cooking stove?’ 

Help! Help! Let’s see who knows about fir and if anyone can find a fish kettle in the local junk shop.

See article on Daily Star Dec 2021

Toad in the hole

Toad in the hole has sauasages in it!

Excerpt from my next book on teaching cooking in a 1970s London comprehensive school

Today we’re making Toad in the hole, a thrifty dish made from cheap pork sausages and pancake batter. The batter bakes to a crisp, golden crust encasing sizzling sausages but if the recipe goes wrong, you get a gloop of indigestible dough which gets scraped into the bin.

Growing up in the Midlands, Yorkshire pudding is a staple food. My mother served Yorkshire pudding before our evening meal  – a cheap way to fill us up when we returned home from school. She didn’t serve snacks so we were hungry when we sat down to eat. Yorkshire was served with gravy made from meat and vegetable juices and thickened with flour. Never Bisto for gravy. My mother knew it was coloured with caramel and didn’t like us eating too much sugar or ‘muck’. 

‘It’s very nutritious. I’ve used four eggs to make it.’

She’d learnt about nutrition during her war-time teacher training but never seemed to enjoy family cooking. She taught in a busy junior school, cooked an evening meal for three kids and my father and did the housework at night so was no doubt exhausted.

My father took a slice of cold, leftover Yorkshire pudding for his lunch which he ate on a park bench below my posh Northampton school. One day I passed him as I walked with classmates to our tennis lesson.

‘Look at that old tramp on the bench.’ muttered my friend Stephanie.

Wearing his old shabby raincoat, he sat with his battered metal sandwich tin and a flask of tea. I didn’t say hello.

There’s a great debate on the correct way to make Yorkshire pudding. My grandmother believed fresh air was essential and took her mixing bowl and ingredients outside in sunshine, rain and freezing weather and beat until the batter plopped. 

‘It’s the fresh air that makes it rise, you know.’

She used Bero flour, Saxa salt, the freshest eggs and the creamiest Jersey milk. And melted a large lump of dripping in a roasting tin in a very hot oven, poured the batter into the sizzling fat, closed the oven door and waited.

‘Don’t open the oven door until it is ready!’  

Her Yorkshires always puffed to golden crispness and she served chunks with meaty gravy. A taste of childhood deliciousness.

‘Class! Today’s lesson. Toad in the hole. We’re going to make a Yorkshire pudding batter and cook it in your roasting tin with the sausages you’ve brought along.’

I scan faces of the aproned boys and girls sitting on their stools around my demonstration table. Tim has his hand up. 

‘Miss. I ain’t brought sausages or a tin.’ 

I knew it. Other boys shoot their hands up. I’m ready for them.

‘Can you pay me for a foil tin and the Toad ingredients if you want to cook?’

Yes! Yes! Boys hate bringing baskets to school. They rootle around and thrust out coins.

‘Later. Now watch. Turn on the ovens, put a knob of lard in your roasting tin with your sausages. Dripping is the best fat but the butcher didn’t have any. Now heat the tin.’ 

We don’t care about saturated fats. It’s the quality of the end result that matters.

‘Tim – in the oven please.’

I hand him an oven glove and my tin with a wary scowl of ‘No knob jokes, please.’ The boys exchange grins. They’ve had a smirk at making Turd in the hole, and now it’s prods about knobs and dripping. Another glower from me. This class must not drift into smutty chaos like last year.

‘Watch. I’m making the batter.’

The greatest Yorkshire pudding debate is whether to make and bake the batter or leave it to stand. In London and the south, people leave it to rest, but I’m teaching the northern way – make, bake and eat. I sieve the flour and salt into a large mixing bowl, crack in two eggs, beat rapidly with a wooden spoon then slowly add the milk. ‘Plop, plop.’ The batter flops against the sides of the bowl with memories of sitting in my grandmother’s Kettering garden preparing this triumph.

‘OK Tim, put the hot tin on this chopping board. Don’t burn the Formica tables like last year’s lot.’ 

At my start-of-term safety lesson we stood in sadness around a burnt ring on one of my Formica tables which added to the general shabbiness of my room.

‘Tim! Use an oven glove to take the tin out. One mark lost if you don’t.’

Our oven gloves are thick woven cotton cloth with pockets for each hand. Years of use have worn away the edges and it’s easy to burn your fingers through the holes.

‘Put the batter in a jug then pour it over the sausages.’

There’s a sizzle and spit as the liquid hits the hot fat. 

‘Into the oven for 20 minutes. Don’t open the door while it’s cooking. Now it’s your turn.’

They rush to their places and the room hums with beating batter.  

‘Get your tins out and show me that your jugs of batter are ready.’

Tim points his jug at the girls. 

‘Miss wants to see your jugs.’

Glower. Scowl. Cooking is littered with rude instructions.

‘Batter into tins ready for check.’

They stand alert like parade soldiers. Cynthia and I dance round the tables then nod for the baking to begin. There is a scramble to get their tins on the top shelf. Hot air rises and the top shelf cooks fastest. But Yorkshire puddings 

‘Don’t open the doors till I tell you!’

My Toad is ready and I carry it aloft from the oven. Da da. Brown, shiny sausages surrounded by a well risen, golden, crispy Yorkshire pudding. My grandmother would be proud. Now they are ready. Out come tins of golden, crusty Toads waiting for their marks. Not a pale, solid, leaden, doughy London pudding in sight. Grandma is right. Beat it, bake it and eat it. We sit down and share our lunch with some caramel coloured Bisto gravy.


Toad in the Hole 

Serves 4

25g lard

200g sausages

100g plain flour

Pinch of salt

2 eggs

200ml milk

200g sausages


  1. Preheat the oven to 220C/Gas 7.
  2. Put sausages and lard in a baking tin and heat in the oven while you make the batter.
  3. Sieve the flour and salt into a bowl, crack in the eggs and beat until smooth.
  4. Gradually add the milk to make a batter and pour into a jug.
  5. Pour the batter into the tin with the hot fat and sausages.
  6. Bake for 35-40 mins until the batter is well risen, crisp and golden.


Christmas cooking 1972

This is the story of my lessons for Christmas at my east London school when we made Christmas cakes, peppermint creams and coconut ice. Well some of my students did and others caused a bit of bother!

Christmas cake 

Dave Smith did this wonderful drawing of my school Christmas cake.

For days, pungent smells of cinnamon and nutmeg have wafted out of 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. Rich, dark fruit cakes have been stacked in my storeroom to mature and every week Cynthia helps me stick skewers into the cakes to dribble in brandy to add more flavour. This is not just any brandy. This is Hennessy finest cognac that Mark brought round to the front door of my bedsit house, but I didn’t ask him to stay. 

Now the cakes have been topped with marzipan and enrobed in fondant icing and today we’ll finish them with green holly leaves and blobby red berries moulded from the icing. Then we’ll tie round the sides with a red ribbon in a giant bow. It’s the modern TV look to keep up with fashion.

Vicky, as always, arrives late, dives into her bag and plonks a grubby Father Christmas and his grubbier sledge on top of her cake. The man, his reindeer and the sledge need a good scrub. She wraps a faded red tinsel band round the cake’s middle and sticks a pin in to hold it in place. 

‘Our cake always looks like this and we have ‘im on our cakes, Miss.’ 

Mr Shield the headmaster is invited to judge my Best Christmas Cake competition. This time, surely, he’ll realise that I don’t spend my lessons cooking my supper or doing my washing. He accused me of this a few weeks ago. He glances round the tidy cakes then makes his announcement.

‘The winner is Vicky.’ The room cheers. So the common looking Christmas cake decorated with a plastic toy wins. Vicky raises a fist in triumph. Some people have no taste.

Dave Smith’s images of men in the Loose Box wine bar

My evening outings to The Loose Box winebar have been successful and I’ve been on a few dates as part of my manhunt. The trouble is, we can’t phone each other to fix or change a date since my bedsit has no phone. Dawn, the school secretary, is getting increasingly crabby taking personal calls for the young teachers who are working at the school. She does not want us in her office, however serious we say the call is. Being late for a date means I don’t need to prop up some wall outside a busy pub and wait, looking like I’m a prostitute touting for business. There was one date when the man never came. 

Peppermint creams 

It’s the last week before Christmas, and we’re making peppermint creams as a Christmas present. More likely they’ll eat them on the way home, or throw them at each other for target practice. Gavin is back after another week’s suspension. It’s not clear what he’s done, but some think that prison is his destiny. I’ve been nervous about starting to educate 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. Now you’re ready, sieve your icing sugar into your bowls.’

Gavin lumbers down to my desk. He seems to have grown bigger.

‘Miss, I’m making rum creams. Rum is for Christmas.’

He eyes me provocatively and sways unsteadily. I see he’s grasping a small bottle of rum with most of its contents missing. The room fills with sugary dust as the class shake their sieves. I stand up, ready for conflict.

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‘Gavin – get your cooking things ready and leave the rum on my desk.’

Amazingly Gavin puts the rum bottle on top of my marking and ties on his apron. I face a class of surprised faces.

‘Gather round – I’ll show you how to crack an egg to separate out the white. Then mix it into the icing sugar with some peppermint essence and green colouring. OK let’s start.’

Where’s Gavin? I hope he’s gone home. The rum bottle is still on my desk. They sieve and mix and roll out balls of green dough. A sudden movement catches my eye. Gavin rises from behind his table and stamps his boots together. One of my pudding bowls is on his head 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 age for drinking.’

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

Gavin puffs up like the Jolly Green Giant on those adverts for tins of sweetcorn. Only Gavin seems bigger. And not jolly, green or friendly. And not singing ‘Ho, Ho, Ho.’

He’s right about the girls and their brandy. But wrong that I would pick on him. Not in my cookery room with the door closed. The group makes lines 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 trouble. His great body thuds down in my chair and he lets out a noisy yawn.

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

He spreads out his fleshy arms, and seems to doze. But Gavin can’t be trusted – I wait for the storm. The class quietly clears away. We smile together, wrap up the sweets in greaseproof paper and tie each bundle with a green ribbon. I send Len off to the office to get Mr James who comes in quietly and removes a dozy Gavin from my desk. Whew. That was easy. Perhaps he’ll go to another school next term. And in a week it’s the Christmas holidays.

Next day a packet is left on my desk.

‘Hello Miss. I’ve moved into another group. I’ll be in your O level class next term. Happy Christmas, Alice.’

I unwrap the red and gold paper. Inside is a tin of Yardley’s English Lavender Talcum Powder. Now that brings back memories. Thankyou Alice. It’s nice to be appreciated.

You can find my book as Kindle, Paperback and Hardback on Amazon.

My book with pictures

Dave Smith has done some wonderful drawings that have gone into the hardback edition of I taught them to cook.

You can see the images by clicking this link

Food teachers have told me which are their favourite images in the book.

These are their choices and the images.

Simon – ‘No help in the Practical exam’ It reminds me of running so many catering exams with half classes of 12 students making 3 dishes each in 3hrs! I felt like a fireman on standby, a paramedic waiting for his first patient and a counsellor consoling students in tears when their gateaux came out as flat as a pancake and would double up as a spare tyre for a Go-cart. Such Fun!!!
Sara – This reminds of not only me and my best friend in school when we did A level food but so much of many of the girls I’ve taught over the years.
Liza – It’s got to be Angel Delight!!! A favourite in my house and for me growing up. Elizabeth – Angel Delight is my favourite – it takes my straight back to my teenage years and I can almost taste the butterscotch.
Manda – I’ve had a really tough half term and this is exactly how I’ve felt for most of it! I loved your book! I found it inspiring. I read it over the summer and it gave me great motivation to persevere with the new phase in my teaching career. Andrea – Having had no practicals last year I am truly exhausted each night after running round all day doing back to back practicals!
Heather ‘We want to cook – not do theory!’ is my favourite image in your book and made me laugh as it sums up what kids are like most of the time in the classroom when you tell them they are doing theory. So many people have the impression that ‘Home Economics’ is easy and you just do cooking (my biggest bug bare when people say this) so they think it is ideal for those who are not academic, whereas we actually do as much theory as practical and you end up with pupils looking like the person in the picture.
Adele – ‘A mouse watching me cook’ A couple of years ago school had all of the heating pipes & radiators replaced . They left holes in walls where they shouldn’t have been. We got some new pets in the form of mice.
Bea – Liked the mouse story and said ‘I wonder how many circles we have gone around and how many things we are starting to do that you used to and then went out of fashion!!!
Becky I love the drawing of the mini. I just adore them – I’ve got one now.

White Eggs

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.

Photo by Debby Hudson on Unsplash


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!

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash



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.

Photo by William Moreland on Unsplash