Category Archives: Boys cooking

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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Filed under Boys cooking, Foods of the 1970s, Home Economics in 1970, Salads in the 1970s

Peppermint creams – Christmas cookery lesson 1972

For days pungent smells of cinnamon and nutmeg have wafted out 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, and rich, dark fruit cakes are stacked in my larder ready for their final shroud of marzipan and royal icing.

Decorations are green holly leaves and blobby red berries made from fondant icing then the cakes are tied up with red ribbon tied in a giant bow. It’s the modern TV look to keep up with fashion.

Liz, as always, arrives late and dives in her bag to bring out a lump wrapped in grey tissue paper.

She plonks a grubby, plastic Father Christmas sitting on his even grubbier sledge on top of her cake. The plastic reindeer pulling the sledge need a good scrub. A faded red tinsel band is tied round the cake’s waist and Liz presents her cake triumphantly amidst the starker offerings of holly and berries.

‘We always have ‘im on our cakes, Miss and decorate it like this.’ She points to the battered tinsel.

Mr Bush the headmaster come in to judge my Best Christmas Cake competition. I’m showing him that I don’t spend lessons cooking my supper, or doing my washing in the school machine.

Liz, with the plasticly decorated, common Christmas cake, wins. She raises a fist in triumph. Some people have no taste.

On my last lesson of term, the boys are making peppermint creams as a Christmas present for gran. – or more likely they will eat them on the way home.

Gavin is back from his week’s suspension for bullying a younger boy.

I’ve been dreading the moment I have to start educating 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. Get yourselves ready and sieve your icing sugar into your bowls.’

Gavin thunders down to my desk and towers over me.

‘I’m going to make rum creams, Miss. Don’t like peppermint. And anyway rum is more Christmassy.’

He eyes me provocatively and sways unsteadily. His right hand clutches a bottle of rum. Half of the contents are missing.

How did Gavin know what we were cooking today?

Perhaps pinned a small boy to the wall with threats.

‘Tell me what she’s cooking else I’ll kill yer.’

Through clouds of sugary dust I wait.

‘Gavin – get ready to cook and leave the rum on my desk!’

Gavin ties on his apron and places the rum bottle gently on my pile of marking.

Amazed, I face the class of surprised faces.

‘Gather round – I’m going to show you how to crack an egg to separate out the white.’

They stand by my table except for Gavin.  Perhaps he’s gone home. Thank God.  But the bottle of rum teeters menacingly on my paperwork.

They sieve and mix icing sugar and egg white into a dough.

‘Now  add drops of peppermint essence and some green colouring.’

A sudden movement catches my eye. Gavin rises from behind his table and stamps his boots to attention. On his head is one of my pudding bowls 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 the drinking age.’

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

Gavin puffs like the Jolly Green Giant on adverts for tins of sweetcorn. Only Gavin is bigger.

And not jolly, not green and not friendly.

And not singing ‘Ho, Ho, Ho.’

He’s right about the brandy, and quick witted for a drunk.

But wrong that I would pick on him. Not on my own in my cookery room.

The group rolls and cuts out the icing dough into green shapes. A factory line 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 more trouble.

His great body suddenly thuds down on my chair and he lets out a gigantic yawn.

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

Obediently he spreads his fleshy arms on my desk, rests his head on his bulging forearm and begins to doze.

I turn to the class, industriously packing up their sweets and clearing away. We smile together.  Peace is restored. I have won. And next week it is the Christmas holiday.

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Filed under Boys cooking, Foods of the 1970s, Home Economics in 1970

Pickles and chutney – lesson of 1972!

My school food budget of £50 is so small that I’ve asked for donations of spare fruits and vegetables for our preservation lessons. London gardens spill out their windfall apples and pears and we get plenty of beetroot and onions from the pickings of allotments. The keener students bring in blackberries and crab apples gathered in weekend forays round Epping Forest and from the derelict building sites around the area.

As the class shambles in, the tables are piled with boxes of apples in various stages of dilapidation. There is a large sack of very small onions.
They settle on their stools.
‘These lessons are about preserving things so that they will last longer. How are we going preserve these apples and onions so that they last over winter?’
Silence. They don’t care.
‘Come on, what shall we do with them?’
‘Put them on the compost heap, miss – them apples look rotten.’
Terry is good in the school garden so he should know.
He’s right – we need to remove the battered and bruised fruit but I must inspire thriftiness in this throwaway world.
‘We’re going to use the apples to make apple chutney and pickle those small onions in vinegar.’
It is clear from the grumbles and shuffling that they’d rather do scones like last week.
‘Hurry up – you have to make a choice! Apple chutney or pickled onions?’
They divide by sex. Girls choose chutney, boys the onions. This separation often happens. They are not choosing what they want to cook. The boys and girls just don’t want to work with each other.

On a school training day we were told to mix up boys and girls and make them sit next to each other and work in mixed sex pairs. That night I’d gone past the deer in the park. The female deer huddled together and the giant stags patrolled the boundaries. No one made them mix up. And when they chose to it was on their terms and only for a few seconds on special occasions.

In the classroom the girls cook in clean, organised workplaces and the boys create a messy nest of ingredients and cooking equipment which soon spills onto the floor and ends up being kicked under the tables.
Big boys preparing tiny onions make me laugh as they peel away the withered, brown skins, then top and tail the onions and put them in salted water. Gradually the tears flow.
‘What’s up Terry – does this lesson make you sad?’
Terry rubs his fists into his eyes. Now his whole face is pink and blubbery.
‘Class – don’t wipe your eyes with oniony hands – the juice gets in and makes the crying worse.’ They blink at me, their eyes reddened and bleary.


I should have warned them earlier but they never listen to instructions. And crying is such a cissie thing which would never happen to these tough guys.

‘Me nan peels her onions under water so she don’t cry.’

Bill dumps his onions in the butlers sink full of cold water. A stream of dribble runs from his nose, over his chin and plops down in the water. Pickled onions and snot – now how are we going to make that safe to eat?

Squeals come from the girls who are peeling and chopping the pile of windfall apples. Liz has chopped through a slug and its innards ooze onto the table.
‘Err miss – look at this slug – I ain’t using them apples – they’ll poison me.’
They gather in disgust to watch the slug shrivel in green slime. Liz pokes the slug with her knife and holds it up for the class to see and share their revulsion  at using this less than perfect fruit.
‘OK. Throw those apples away and clean down the work surface to remove the mess. We’re still going to use the rest.’
‘Miss, I ain’t eating food that has slugs in it.  Why do I have to do this lesson anyway?’

Liz unties her apron, slings it on the table and stomps out of the room.  This is her afternoon trick  to meet her boyfriend at the school gates. He might not find the smell of vinegar, onions and rotten apples so attractive this time. But Liz wants to make babies and thinks school, and my lessons in particular, are rubbish.

Apple chutney is a piquant compote of apples, onions and sultanas gently simmered in vinegar and brown sugar and the girls stir the spicy broth as it softens and thickens.
The boys pack their onions in hot kilner jars and pour in hot, spiced vinegar.
The fragrance of cooking wafts into the school corridors and attracts wandering staff and students who sniff the air and go Ah! like the Bisto ad.
Biff is a frequent visitor to my room. He gets sent out of most lessons to drift around the school in search of mischief and sources of entertainment.
‘Miss – this room always smells lovely – when can I do cooking with you – please let me in.’
‘One day – maybe – now get on your way. I expect the headmaster is waiting to see you.’
Steaming apple chutney is piled into jam jars, with a circle of waxed paper on top and covered with cellophane and an elastic band.
The labels on the jars are designed to impress for the highest marks.
Alice’s Amazing Apple Chutney 1973.
Paul’s Perfect Pickled Onions.
Maybe some are still maturing in a secret east end cupboard somewhere, waiting for discovery. And maybe, like Lea and Perrin’s Worcestershire sauce, they will become a mass produced delicacy found on future supermarket shelves.

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Filed under Boys cooking, Home Economics in 1970, Jenny Ridgwell, Retro recipes

Spag bog 1970’s style

Spag bog I’ve decided to modernise my lessons, bring them into 1970’s and cook a dish I’ve seen on TV – spaghetti bolognaise. I’ve never cooked spaghetti before but Zena Skinner, the TV cook , has told us to ‘Throw the spaghetti at the wall – if it’s cooked it will stick’, so if it works for Zena, it will do for me. The nearest I’ve come to cooked pasta is my grandmother’s macaroni pudding which she makes from full cream milk, macaroni and sugar, sprinkled with nutmeg and baked in a slow oven for two hours. The creamy macaroni is topped with a brown, chewy skin which is my favourite. Other pasta offerings of the 60s include canned spaghetti in a gluey, orange tomato sauce. The spaghetti is soft enough to mash to a pulp with a spoon. Fussy eaters like Alphabetti spaghetti – tiny pasta letters in the same globby sauce. Bored children who have to sit at the table until the grownups finish their meal, can push letters around the plate in the hope of spelling rude words.

Our local shops don’t sell pasta, so I visit a delicatessen in north London and buy several large packs of dried spaghetti wrapped in soft, dark blue paper with a red and white label providing Italian instructions. The class is excited at preparing this new food. First is the bolognaise sauce made from just four ingredients – butcher’s cheapest mince, lard, onions and tomato ketchup. Lard and fatty meat are everyday food. We don’t worry about saturated fats – we don’t even know about them. Garlic, tomato purée and oregano are also off the menu. For children from the east end of London, these fancy foods just mess things up. Bert  has already warned me. ‘Me dad won’t eat it if you put that rubbish in – he’ll give it to the dog, miss.’ We fry the mince and onions in lard until brown, stir in some tomato ketchup and add enough water to make a sauce then leave it to simmer. Next we put large saucepans of boiling water on the stoves then twirl in the spaghetti, letting the stiff strands soften and cook, then wait until it’s time for the Zena Skinner  ‘stick to the wall’ test to see if it is done. ‘Miss, the water’s too hot – I can’t get the spaghetti out.’ Bert sucks his hot fingers. I’d forgotten basic rules of health and safety. Don’t pick the spaghetti out with your fingers. Boiling water scalds. They choose some poking tools and fling long strands of pasta at the nearest surface. By the end of the lesson, the beige walls and cooking stoves are glued with snakes of spaghetti. Stiff uncooked stuff drops behind the worksurfaces and cupboards, to be retrieved by visiting mice, or swept up in the annual room clean at the end of term.

Now for the presentation. Cooked spaghetti is piled into their take home dish, a mound of sauce spooned on top and sprinkled with grated Cheddar cheese. Parmesan cheese is off the shopping list too. It’s another exotic ingredient that would send the meal dogwards, and anyway, we can’t afford it.

They bring me their cooking for a mark out of ten to reflect effort, enthusiasm and most importantly, how much of their washing up has been done. Then it’s covered with foil. No cling film is available in the classroom yet, and into their shopping baskets for collection at home time. Except for the boys. East end boys don’t carry shopping baskets. Buying cookery stuff  is another embarrassment. And they must certainly never be seen taking their cooking home .

‘Can we eat it now miss? We’ll clear up honest.’ Bert and Barry spend lots of time in my room, and often swap a mound of washing up for a toasted cheese sandwich. So while other teachers meet to gossip, snack and smoke in the staffroom, my cookery room transforms into an eatery. The tables are set – blue checked seersucker tablecloths, pastel green Beryl Ware plates, and smart knives and forks. This is a proper sit down meal.

‘This foreign food is nice miss. I’m going to cook it for me mum.’ Alan and his friends clear away and charge out the room. The bell goes and it’s time for my next lesson – lemon meringue pie and jam tarts and all before tea time.

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1972 School trip to the butchers

We’re leaving school today. Not going far, just to the butcher’s shop at the end of the road. He’ll show us how to joint a carcass of lamb and since we’re cooking really cheap meat dishes, he must persuade the class that cheap can be delicious. Large posters showing pig, beef and lamb are pinned on my classroom wall, free from the Meat and Livestock Commission. The animals have cuddly faces but the rest of the picture looks like a chainsaw massacre as their body parts have been hacked it into bits.  Students must learn the names of each cut and know which pieces are tough or tender. We can’t afford to cook the tender bits, like fillet steak and pork chops, but we make tasty choices such as Lancashire hot pot, beef stew from skirt, and find many ways to cook beef mince.

First I need parental permission so that my students can leave the school grounds. No-one should trot up the school drive without a note. I’ve seen the bands of naughty students skiving off through the fence at the bottom of the school playing field, but they’ve been too quick for me to chase for long, especially if I’ve got cakes baking in the ovens.

My note for the butcher outing goes like this

Dear Parent /Guardian
Next week I am taking my group to the local butchers to learn about meat.
Please could you give permission for me to take your son/daughter out of school for this lesson?
Please sign below
I agree that Name of student… can go on the visit.
Signed                    Dated
Miss Whitney Head of Home Economics

The week before the outing is tense. If I don’t get all the signed forms back we can’t go. I suspect that many forms are signed by students, just like their sick notes or the ‘Jimmy could not do his homework because …’ letters.

To raise the profile of my subject and get some school publicity, I’ve asked a photographer from the local newspaper to come to take snaps. I hope my group will impress him so that he will write about the importance of teaching boys and girls how to cook.

We snake down the road in an ordered line and gather in the butcher’s shop.

He heaves a lamb carcass onto the thick wooden block and sharpens his knives on a steel. This is manly, grown up stuff and my group are keen. As he deftly butchers fleshy chunks of meat from the large bones, the lamb is reduced to chops, shoulder and leg, and the cheapest bit that we are going to cook – the rather fatty but very delicious, breast of lamb.

I wait in anticipation for news of our visit in the local paper. Will we make the front page? But what a disappointment. For all my talk of modern men and women sharing tasks in the home and family, the reporter has chosen to put us on page three with the sexist headline

‘It’s not easy for mum, is it!’

Underneath is a photo of my class smiling at the butcher and his dead beast. My interview with the reporter ends with a further piece of sexism:

‘Miss Whitney says that the idea is that the girls should get a visual impression of the cutting up of pork and lamb, in addition to what they learn from their textbooks.’

Oh no I didn’t. But it’s too late, and just reinforces the views that mum does the shopping and cooking, and the challenging questions asked by the dads of the future that day are just ignored.

One day, I’ll get things changed. One day!

Back at school Sylvia sharpens our filleting knives and the butcher delivers a pile of plump lamb breasts with strict instructions that they must be the same size and not cost more than 50 pence.

Each cooking place has a plastic tray containing a breast of lamb with a pink stamp on the skin stating New Zealand Lamb, which is the cheapest at the time. The boys jostle for the largest breast, moving from tray to tray like a game of musical chairs.

‘Stand still class, this is serious cooking. Stand by your place and don’t mess about!’

Boning meat is a very skilled task and I want no fooling around.

We’re using sharp knives, which are normally locked away, safe from harm.

Sylvia and I count them out and count them back in at the end of the lesson.

No-one dares to leave the room until all knives are returned.

I use my VERY STERN VOICE for this serious task. The rib bones are carefully cut from the flesh of the breast. They gather round.

‘Bert, watch carefully. Only cut the meat off the lamb bones, not yourself. These knives are sharp and I’ll stop the lesson if anyone messes about. So no stupid behaviour, this is really skilled meat boning like the butcher.’

Sylvia and I patrol the group like lions watching their young at play, encouraging, warning, and keeping an eye for their safety. We collect the bones, fat and gristle in a large bin for Mr Davey in history to take home for his dog.

‘Spread the flattened lamb with sage and onion stuffing, roll it up and tie it like this.’

I show them how to tie the joint with string using butcher’s knots.

There are no quips today. This is impressive. No chat back. Miss is deadly serious and she will take no nonsense.

A line of neatly tied and stuffed rolled breasts of lamb appears on my table for marking. The butcher would be proud to sell them in his shop. Beside each one is a clean knife.


‘I’ll cook these for you while you go to your next lesson so they are ready to eat tonight.’

I don’t want anyone munching on raw lamb on the bus home.

They pack and go and once again the room is a culinary haven filled with roasting lamb, and sage and onion stuffing. It feels nourishing and nurturing and I know that these new skills will set them up for family meals in the future – and they might even pass the exam!

Breast of lamb with roast potatoes


1 breast of lamb with the bones in

1 packet of sage and onion stuffing mix

1-2 potatoes for roasting



  1. Buy a breast of lamb in one piece with all the bones still in it. Use a sharp knife to cut round each rib bone. Don’t  pierce through the skin. Take out the rib bones in one piece. Cut off any big bits of fat.
    Make the stuffing with a dried sage an onion stuffing mix or make your own from bread, onions and herbs mixed with egg.
    Put the boned breast of lamb flat on chopping board, with the skin side on the board. Smooth the stuffing evenly over the top. Roll up the breast of lamb starting with the thin end.
  2. Squeeze it into a roll and then tie with string. Rub the outside with salt.
  3. Set the oven at 150 c, Gas 4.
  4. Place the lamb on a roasting tin and roast the joint slowly for two hours, so that the fat melts out and the meat is tender with some crackling skin on the outside. Pour any excess fat into a large glass jar. Do not pour down the sink as it sets solid in the u bend and is impossible to budge!
  5. Put the roast potatoes in after about an hour and baste with some of the fat.

Serve with some green vegetables and gravy.  Carve the meat by cutting into medium slices, lifting them so that the stuffing doesn’t fall out. Put in a warm oven to keep warm until ready to serve.

Food history note

In the 70’s New Zealand lamb sent demonstrators into British schools and provided us with recipe books and teaching resources including large posters to go on the wall. Mutton was also on the menu.

Philip Harben wrote a leaflet New Zealand lamb with helpful hints –

‘New Zealand farmers believe in producing meat which the housewife likes and there are over 15 million housewives in Great Britain. New Zealand livestock has been bred from the best British strains and is hygienically wrapped and preserved in cold, clean air, for transportation to Great Britain in speedy refrigerated ships.’

The brand mark New Zealand was stamped on different parts of the animal.

When the UK joined the EEC in 1973 it was still a major market for NZ sheep meat and New Zealand sheep exports were allowed preferential access as a transitional measure from 1973 to 1977, as New Zealand had voluntarily restricted exports. After 1977, meat exports were subject to the European Union’s Common External Tariff of 20%. In 1980, New Zealand agreed to limit sheep meat exports to the European Union.

Today more than 70 per cent of the New Zealand lamb sold in Britain comes from halal slaughterhouses  so that the New Zealand meat industry can sell its lamb in Muslim markets round the world.

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Invalid cooking – 1970’s cookery lessons

Why, oh why do we have to teach Invalid cooking? Is it a spill over from Victorian days when women had the vapours and collapsed on the chaise longue to be attended by servants and nurses? If so, Invalid cookery ranks even lower than Awful Offal in educational pointlessness. We’re supposed to make our lessons real and relevant to teenage needs, but I’m teaching the skills of Mrs Beeton. And she died at 28 so clearly wasn’t a great success at making invalid food.

Tasks for the exams go something like this:

‘Plan a meal for an invalid. Lay the tray with a starched tray cloth and serve the meal.’

So not only must we make a meal that will slip down the sick person’s throat but we will starch and iron a traycloth, stick a flower in a vase and arrange an invalid tray with food.

As a working woman of the 1970’s, I have little time for sick leave, and anyway, I’d be left on my own in my flat with a cup of tea. No invalid food in sight for me. Really serious invalids are hospitalised and attached to drips, providing rehydration and nourishment. And hospital food is notoriously disgusting.

O level Cookery tells me

O level cookery

‘The main aim of invalid food is to build up wasted tissue and give a supply of protective food’.

Invalids, it seems, start at the very sick stage with a liquid diet of beef tea and barley water.  As a young child, when I was ill, my mother made me banana custard before she cycled off to work as a teacher. My grandmother would pop in and check if I was still alive, but I was otherwise left alone and we had no telly or phone for comfort. If I was really ill, the banana custard had a bright red glacé cherry on top. If my mother did that today she’d be done for child neglect and struck off from teaching.

Onto today’s lesson. What shall we cook?

Cookery for Schools has a list of invalid dishes which fill me with dread.

Egg nog, beef tea, lemonade, junket, egg jelly, savoury custard, baked fish, cheese pudding, apple snow and fruit fools.

For some reason the examiners think white food is best for the sickly.

The teenagers gather round my table, hoping to learn something interesting.

‘OK class – you have to plan a meal of soft food for this invalid. Something they don’t have to chew. I’m going to demonstrate steamed fish, white sauce and cauliflower.’

‘Don’t invalids have teeth miss?’ Jessica is always concerned about people, and will make a good nurse or social worker, so this lesson may have some purpose after all.

‘Me nan never puts her teeth in when she eats.  Only when she goes out for Bingo and then she takes her curlers out and puts her teeth in.’

Bert is clowning again, trying to raise our spirits. I imagine his nan, reminding herself before she goes out.

‘Teeth in, curlers out, fetch the Bingo money.’

I have to get this lesson over with.

‘Look! Invalids need nourishing food that is easy to eat like steamed cod in white sauce with well cooked, soft cauliflower.’

I show them a picture from the Good Housekeeping recipe book

‘But that looks like sick miss – who wants to be served sick food when you’re sick?’ Jessica is alarmed.

‘Look – we’ve got to do it – it’s in the exam. But first I’m going to show you how to make the junket.’

This is like going back a hundred years. I’ve never heard, eaten or seen junket.

‘Watch while I demonstrate.’

They like sitting on stools and watching me cook.  It’s a time for jibing and jollity and a chance to tease and test my patience.

‘Warm the milk to body temperature – dip your finger in the saucepan and when it feels warm, it is ready. Now add the rennet. That’s from the enzyme, rennin that comes from a calf’s stomach. It clots the milk and makes it set.’

Jessica is aghast. Why should she put the contents of a calf’s stomach into milk? Her mad cooking teacher has landed from Planet Pointless again, demanding that they use suffering animals to make inedible food that will be thrown into  nearby gardens when they get out of this crazy lesson.

The junket is poured into a cut glass sundae dish and presented on the pastel blue Berylware saucer with a frilly d’oiley.

Resentment is brewing.

‘ Miss, we ain’t making that – when do we move onto cakes and stuff?’ Alan folds his arms defiantly.

‘ Please class – it is in the exam – you have to know about it!’ I beg with increasing despair.

‘And why must sick people eat white food miss? I had mashed baked beans and Angel Delight when I had me tonsils out.’

Bert is right. Perhaps the Victorians thought coloured food was too much of a shock if you were sick. Would the sight of bright red tomatoes raise blood pressure?

Did green cabbage make them feel nauseous? The smell of it boiling for our school dinners at nine in the morning certainly makes me feel sick.

We need to get this over with. I tip the cauliflower florets into boiling water, put an enamel plate with a tiny piece of cod on top, and cover with a lid to cook. Bert helps me make an all in one white sauce and the room smells of boiled fish and cauliflower. Just like the school kitchens at nine in the morning.

I tell them the Rules for laying a serving tray for invalids, using the gospel of Cookery for Schools. I read to them as Bert cooks on.

‘When the doctor orders the invalid to have a light diet, the meals must be served punctually, as they are the main interest of the day. If the invalid does not want to eat at the appointed time, remove the meal and re-serve it later.’

Now that could make you ill, eating food that has been kept warm and then re-served. Imagine as your food is shuffled backwards and forwards all day and being told

‘Eat it! This is your main interest of the day!’

The invalid is promptly sick into a bucket, and their carer offers encouragement.

‘It’s OK. I’ll come back and serve you with it again later.’

The white meal is ready and I arrange the cod and cauliflower on my blue Beryl ware plate.

The book bleats on with advice on how to lay the invalid tray. Some of my students don’t have a dining table but they know about trays as they use them for their TV dinners.

My invalid task must finally prove to them that I have landed from Doctor Who’s Time Machine. From an age long ago when we all lived on turnips.

‘Make sure the patient has all the accompaniments salt, pepper, butter and add flowers in tiny posies in small low vases which cannot be knocked over, or single blooms such as roses which can be tucked into the table napkin.’

Oh great. The school gardener will love me as his borders are raided for the posies to plonk on the bloody tray. Perhaps they can snap off some rose buds as they walk to school.

The CSE exam has one more rocky horror story for them to practice. We have to wash and starch a traycloth using powdered starch, blended with cold water and then boiling water. I can’t bear the screams of shock as they discover, once again we are practising homecrafts from a museum age.

‘First starch your traycloth. You dip it into this bucket of starch, wring it out and then iron it.’

‘What! We’ve got a Formica table – why can’t they eat off a plastic tray!’

‘What’s a traycloth?’

Alan is fed up. He loves cooking but this phaffing to pass this awful exam just takes the biscuit.

Please let this lesson end!

I haven’t got a traycloth so I starch one of my tattered teatowels instead. The iron is plugged into one of the black overhead cables which dangle from the ceiling. The boys frequently  swing these clonking cables in the direction of their latest enemy.

I read on.

‘We need a traycloth and napkin, matching china and cutlery, cruets, butter dishes and a small posy, and use a tray of suitable size and arrange all serving dishes so that they are ready for use. Tea pot and milk jug on right hand side, cruet etc on left hand side.’

So that’s a tray the size of a small table. And we’ve got flowers and food as well.

Gawd almightly!

I place the steamed cod and cauliflower, junket and a glass of water carefully on the tray and IT’S DONE.

We’ve DONE invalid cooking. But there’s still two questions for their homework from the wonderful Cookery for Schools.

  1. State six points that should be kept in mind in the choice, preparation and serving of foods for invalids. Give reasons.
  2. What differences in diet would you suggest for a) a bed-ridden elderly person, b) a convalescent from pneumonia?

I can imagine some of the answers.

Would anyone would like my cod and cauliflower?

Alan sums up the feelings for the rest of the class.

‘Na thanks miss, no-one is sick in my family at the moment.’

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Filed under Boys cooking, Cookery exams in the 1970s, Foods of the 1970s, Invalid cookery

Chicken – we never eat it!

‘Chicken! Chicken! You want to roast a chicken!’

Christopher has drifted into my room with a plastic carrier bag containing a trussed chicken, some muddy potatoes and a packet of dripping.

‘Christopher, we can’t afford to cook chicken. It’s too expensive. Where did you get it from?’

I want to say ‘..nick it from?’ but that would open a can of worms.

Chicken is for special occasions like Easter and Christmas.  We don’t have to learn anything about chicken. Teaching chicken would be as pointless as a lesson on beluga caviar. And I’ve never cooked a chicken in my life – or eaten caviar.

Christopher doesn’t do school much. He doesn’t do his hair or take his grubby anorak off. And sometimes he doesn’t do his flies up. And Christopher never does my homework, but it’s pointless chasing him.

‘ Find a recipe in my books for roast chicken and you can follow that.’

The rest of the class is busy making shepherd’s pie, and Christopher’s idea of roasting a chicken is a nuisance, but this is a surprise visit to my lesson and he needs encouraging to cook.

Marguerite Patten takes him  through the recipe in simple steps, and as the rest of us busy on making mashing potatoes, the room fills with the rare, delicious smells of roasting chicken.

Skin crispening to golden, breast softening to melt point, and legs ready to rip off and ooze juice. The chicken nests in a circle of roasting potatoes which Christopher occasionally bastes with melting dripping. Crisp, golden potatoes , with crisp golden chicken. Yum.

I comfort the class who are suffering from the roasting smells.

‘We don’t need to learn about chicken, you’ll never be asked any questions about it in the exam, and it’s in none of our textbooks. And there are no recipes for chicken in Cooking is Fun. It’s too dear.’

Christopher brings over the roasting tin and holds out his sizzling feast.

‘Can you give me a mark for this miss, and can I eat it here?’

No sharing, no offer of the smallest taste.

That night I go out to Villa Bianca in Hampstead and order their latest feast – chicken Kiev.

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Filed under Boys cooking, Jenny Ridgwell