One day I will never ever make rough puff, flaky and puff pastry again. It will be struck off by the exam boards when they realise it is a high fat waste of my student’s time. We might show videos about it as a piece of history. A nonsense done by daft cookery teachers in the 1970s and a bit of sticky fun shown on old TV shows.
One day a factory will make it and we can buy it in supermarkets ready made if we really want to cook with it. The cream horn tins will be thrown away. My students won’t know the meaning of mille feuille. Eccles cakes, sausage rolls and jam puffs will be bought in cake shops unless a future government puts a ban on them or labels them with big red sticker to show they are very high in fat.
No more pastry made from lard or cheap fishy margarine from county supplies. No more struggling on hot summer days trying to get layers of fat in between layers of fatty pastry. No more scraping off sticky failures from my work surfaces. Lessons are too short to let the pasty chill down and rest and my fridge is stuffed with tubs of margarine and lard and a pint of milk for my tea break whenever that comes.
No more greasy baking trays for me to soak after school in the butler’s sink full of boiling water and caustic soda. No more fatty cooking that drips through the shelves of the oven, splatters the oven sides and glass doors and covers the oven with blobs of grease. My cookers need an industrial cleaning company to come in after these pastry lessons and remove the amount of grease that has accumulated from these wretched high fat pastry dishes. My after school hours are spent lying on the kitchen floor in my pink nylon overall with matching rubber gloves, scraping out layers of fat and scouring the trays at the bottom of the oven with endless Brillo pads to stop black smoke from billowing out when the ovens are lit. And there is a limit to the cleaning greasy oven punishments I can hand out to naughty students to help with this task! And no, the school cleaners do not want to do this job – it is not part of their role according to Jim the caretaker.
The exam has been renamed Food and Nutrition. We learn about healthy eating and cutting down on saturated fat. Fatty pastry lessons must stop.
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.
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.
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.