Category Archives: Cookery exams in the 1970s

Making marmalade 1973


On a freezing January day the greengrocer delivers a large box of Spanish Seville oranges for my O level Marmalade lesson.

We’ve stripped labels from empty jam jars and made a collection of the black haired gollies from pots of Robertson’s Golden Shred. Wonder if anyone will raise objections to these in future?

This is the first outing for the giant aluminium preserving pans stacked on the top shelf of the larder and I’ve dusted them and removed dead spiders and flies.

‘We’ll work in groups and share out the marmalade when it is made.’

Clever, stroppy, foldy arms Carol looms towards me.

‘I ain’t sharing me cooking with no-one. How will I get a mark if we share! I ain’t sharing.’

Carol has been ‘placed’ in my O level group with Vicky as no other teacher wants them. Cooking lessons are easy so why should I make a fuss?

The class despairs at their constant outbursts. They’d  love the pair to toddle off to smoke and drink Maxwell House coffee in the station cafe.

‘OK Carol – you and Vicky make marmalade on your own. Now all of you, slice the orange peel really thinly like this.’

I demonstrate how to cut tiny slivers of peel,  leaving the bitter pith behind.

‘Put the pith, pips and orange fruit in these pieces of muslin, tie up with string and simmer with the orange juice and water.’

A bolt of muslin is stacked on the top larder shelf ready for wrapping Christmas puddings and straining curds from whey to make cheese. And today my London teenagers will be tying it in tiny bags to boil in a pan. Oh ancient tasks of yester year.

Carol is on the moan again.

‘I don’t want no pips or peel in mine. We don’t eat them things.’

‘Carol, the pips and pith contain pectin which helps the marmalade to set, otherwise it’s runny and the peel is lovely on buttered toast.’

She doesn’t care. She and Vicky will strut out of the room soon, off to meet the local smokers who lurk outside the school gates.

We settle into the gentle rhythm of slicing the peel which  bursts with zesty fragrance. A warm, pungent calm descends.

This lesson is going well until Janice yells, runs to the rubbish bin and spits out a large lump of orange flesh.

‘Urrggh Miss, this orange is vile. Sour as anything. It’s off. Take ‘em back to the shop.’

‘Class, put down your knives and let me explain.’

The quiet hush has been disrupted again.

Seville oranges are bitter and sour. You don’t eat them. You cook them with sugar. The first marmalade was made in a factory in Dundee – they got a delivery of sour oranges that they couldn’t use so they invented a new recipe – Dundee Marmalade. Now let’s get on.’

I’m like the smart arse from Listen with Mother, only with a Midland accent.

Steam blurrs the classroom windows as we simmer the orangey juice then tip in vast quantities of Tate and Lyle sugar. Ah Bisto! The room smells delicious.

‘Please don’t lick your spoons class or taste!’

Marmalade may smell nice but it’s reaching tongue scorching temperatures.

I rotate from pan to pan sticking the jam thermometer into the bubbling mixtures. Sylvia, my classroom assistant,  a 1970’s domestic goddess, follows with a cold plate for the wrinkle test.

‘If a spoon of your marmalade wrinkles on this plate, it’s setting!’ They look at me bewildered. Wrinkle? That’s for grannie’s stockings!

We’re ready. Hot jam jars come out of the oven and are filled with scalding, golden liquid. Quick now. Cover and seal it from germs with a circle of greaseproof paper and a crackly cellophane top tied with string.

The room glows orange –  floaty slivers of finely cut peel dancing in the gold jelly of our east London marmalade.

Two pots are different. Carol and Vicky have abandoned their sugary, orangey liquid which will probably never set and never deserve the name marmalade. But they gone down the cafe.

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Filed under Cookery exams in the 1970s, Home Economics in 1970

Cookery practical exams in the 1970s


The summer term of 1973 brings the final test for my teaching skills – the cookery practical exam. I have to get 60 students to cook an elaborate and edible meal, with hot drink, flower arrangements and all the other exam tasks that they throw at us. This feat takes place over several days as each student is allowed their own cooker and sink, which is unheard of during the rest of the year. And I provide all the ingredients. The headmaster has agreed that since it is an exam, the school will cover the cost!
These are some of the tasks.

‘Cook a two course lunch for 4 people and prepare an evening dish for someone coming back from a fishing trip. Clean a pair of muddy football boots.’

‘Prepare a hot breakfast for a family of four who are going out for the day. Make a packed lunch and some cakes and a drink for them to take with them. Wash and starch some napkins.’

‘Prepare an evening meal for a family with a teenage girl. Make sure that the meal is rich in iron and calcium. Bake some pasties for a packed lunch. Wash and iron a shirt.’

On the day of the practical exam, I switch from helpful teacher to the role of THE EXAMINER and I march round the room with my clipboard, watching my students peel and chop vegetables, prepare pastry, bake cakes, biscuits and bread. I take off marks for poor cooking skills, messy worktops and general flustered bumbling.

They’ve had lots of practice at learning what loses marks. I peek over shoulders, open up saucepan lids, bend down and peer into ovens, and rootle in the rubbish bin and take off marks for food wastage.

On rehearsals before the exam, I bark out warnings.

‘John – don’t cut away all that potato skin– use a potato peeler.’

‘Claire – don’t peel the apple with the cook’s knife!’

‘Alice, turn the pan handle in – someone could knock over the boiling water.’

‘Martin – use your fingertips to rub the fat into the flour – if you squeeze it anymore it will be a soggy lump’

‘Jane – don’t throw those bits of pastry away – make some jam tarts – we have to use everything – no wastage!’

Licking loses loads of marks.

‘Don’t lick your food – I won’t taste it if you do!’

Privately I love licking. My favourites are spoonfuls of fluffy margarine and sugar, beaten to pale creaminess for Victoria sandwich, and the foamy, whisked eggs and sugar which make a Swiss Roll. With just a dash of sweet Marsala wine, whipped eggs and sugar are only a stir away from warm zabaglione served at the Italian restaurant on Camden High Street.

Savoury and sweet dishes have their own bizarre serving rules. Savoury flans and cheesy scones are cooked and cut with PLAIN rings and cutters.

Sweet tarts and lemon meringue pies must have FLUTED edges. These are the RULES laid down in some Victorian kitchen and they are not to be BROKEN.

Years later I am shocked when I see a Sainsbury’s savoury quiche cooked in a fluted flan case. This was an unforgivable sin committed by the food product developers.

D’oyleys follow savoury and sweet rules too – plain d’oyleys for savouries and frilly ones of sweet scones and cakes. The penalty for the wrong choice – half a mark lost and a scowl from me.

On the exam day they work in silence.  Questions are for emergencies.

‘I feel sick miss.’

‘Just keep on cooking Angie – we can’t waste these ingredients.’

‘I’ve dropped my eggs on the floor miss.’

‘Dan, here’s the mop – clear up and start again.’

I only come to their aid if there is real danger.

‘Paul – can you put the lid on your frying pan quickly and so that it doesn’t catch fire. And take the tea towel off the top of the cooker before it catches light too.’

I deduct marks from the chart on my clipboard. Paul looks forlorn.

‘Please miss, it was an accident.’

I press my finger to my lips. No speaking, no excuses, this is the real test.

The exam lasts for  two and a half hours. That is a lot of cooking and cleaning. They must keep to time and follow their plan and produce edible food on the table.

‘OK class you have 20 minutes to finish.’

They gasp in dismay.

‘I’ve burnt the cake miss.’

‘Jack, just cut off the black bits and cover it with icing.’

‘My chocolate mousse is all wobbly.’

‘Mick – stick it in the freezer, quickly.’

They fluster and scurry round the room, boiling up water for the hot drink and tarting up the dishes with garnishes of parsley for savoury and sticky glace cherries for sweet.

And suddenly it is over.

‘Time’s up – present your food.’

Amazing pies with crisp, golden pastry appear hot from the oven.

Steaming dishes of perfectly cooked cabbage and carrots sprinkled with chopped parsley and topped with a knob of melting margarine.

Soft mounds of creamy mashed potato, decorated with a sprig of parsley.

Pineapple upside down cake with glistening glacé cherries and shiny rings of tinned pineapple served with a jug of hot Bird’s Custard.

And a pot of tea with a strainer, jug of milk and sugar bowl.

And a rose in a polished vase.

And a clean pair of football boots.

They file out the room leaving sinks heaving with dirty plates, bowls, burnt pans and sticky baking trays.

Now for the tasting session.

Students watch this ritual peering through the outside windows. I have a tasting tray with knife, jug of boiling water, tasting spoons and teatowel.

The judgement begins. All dishes must be tasted – unless they have been made by LICKERS. My face remains deadpan. Once when I tasted a ragout of kidney, I realised the student had used icing sugar instead of flour to thicken the sauce. I remained impassive but gave the dish no marks. It was inedible.

For a thorough examination, pies are cut, fillings tasted, cakes are sliced in half and puddings relished. Are the vegetables overcooked? Has the egg custard curdled? Are the bread rolls crisp? Is the Shepherd’s Pie well seasoned? I poke and prod, taste and appreciate. It is delicious.

They have done me proud.

The tables groan with food fit for a king or queen – after all there is no sex discrimination in cooking.

The marking is over and they surge in to photograph and fuss. Friends come in to congratulate and commiserate.  But mainly to eat. Then pack up, wash up, and leave with a wave and ‘Thanks miss – I enjoyed that!’

I have taught them to cook and they have learnt well.

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Filed under Cookery exams in the 1970s, Jenny Ridgwell

Mock Home Economics theory exam 1973


January 1973.  It’s the mock Home Economics CSE exams. Judgement time for me.  And judgement time for everyone  I’ve taught for just one term. In two hours they must spill out the limited knowledge that I have drilled into them over the past few months. They may be able to cook two course meals and serve them with a flower arrangement, but if they don’t pass this theory exam all is lost. And some of them can barely read or write. Failure for them is failure for me. Results matter. Mr Nunn comes into my room as I’m scrubbing down cake encrusted baking trays in the deep butler’s sink.

‘Jenny – can you take the invigilation session this morning? The other teacher’s not turned up.’

Bloody hell. It’s not fair. I’ve longed for this free morning and a chance for some staffroom gossip when I’ve done my chores. And now I’m going to be stuck in a freezing, dingy hall watching the torment of my classes as they struggle to answer the questions that I’ve set for their exams.

‘You’ll be on the stage and supervising the morning.’

Mr Nunn gives me a confident smile and leaves for his cup of coffee. Oh that’s great. No early warning to bring long johns and fingerless gloves for this freezing task. Instead I’m in my shortest mini skirt and will be perched on stage above a group of bored teenagers.

I pick up work to mark and set off to the examination hall.  As chief invigilator,  I walk sternly past my chattering groups, through the doors and down the neat rows of hard chairs and splintery desks, which the caretaker puts out especially for the exams.  Their wooden tops are scratched with years of frustration.

Bill woz here!  I hate maths!  Get me out of here!

And other fierce gouges too rude to mention made with a frustrated penknife or compass point.

Up the stairs to my position at another uncomfortable desk, centre stage. So many desks, so much responsibility.

‘Open the doors, Mr Page, and let them in.’

The shambling queue idles in, searching for their names. Cries reach me on the stage.

‘Miss I ain’t got a ruler. ‘

‘Miss me pen won’t work!’

‘Miss I need to go to the lav!’

I hand round spare emergency tools that I keep in my handbag, and let Lenny go to the toilet. It’s time to start but several desks are still empty. The rowdy, naughtier boys have not turned up. Nor have Liz and Cath. Those two are probably thinking of making babies and some boys think exams are a waste of time.  Just messing about before real life begins.

‘OK it’s time to start. You have two hours. No talking and you can’t leave the hall until the time is up.’

‘Ugh’ groans Gary. ‘This is the only exam I’m doing. Ugh I hate exams.’

‘Turn your papers over read all the questions and please do your best.’

I want to add ‘For me, please try. ”

he ancient hall radiators ooze out little warmth on this freezing day. It’s like sitting in a fridge. Mr Page paces up and down the rows. The metal studs on his boots click soldier like on the wooden floor. Gary sharpens a pencil and coils of wood spiral from his desk. I glower at him. My mouth commands a silent ‘Get on!’. Gary continues his sharpening.

Suddenly the hall doors burst open. Kevin,  Gavin and the rest of the gang explode into the hall.

‘Miss,the bus! Sorry we’re late.’

More likely they’ve been puffing fags behind the bins and deciding if they’ll do a bunk. Mr Page scowls and gives me  a  ‘Shall we let the buggers in?’ look. I nod and he raises his eyebrows in despair. The late comers smirk their way to their seats, clatter down and rustle for writing tools.

‘Get started!’  I mutter in desperation and bang round some pens from my store. For the next half hour boys and girls scribble away and a cold calm descends on the room. From my exposed perch I watch and wonder how I’ve taught them so many words that I will now have to mark over the weekend.

From a desk beneath me a handsome boy with dark floppy hair glances up. He’s one of the sixth formers taking mock A level maths.  Bright boys don’t choose my classes. They are siphoned off to study more useful subjects. The boy must be nineteen and nearly a man and he has the most startling grey-green eyes. ‘Stop it!’ I tell myself. Must be boredom to notice a boy’s eyes. Or lack of a boyfriend of my own. I push my mini skirt down my thighs and hope the ribbed top of my tights is not showing. The boy smiles and resumes his calculations. Pull yourself together! Stop dreaming. Handsome young men who are four years younger than you must not be considered. I’m sad and single but I’m a teacher. If such thoughts became actions I’d lose my job. An hour passes. Mr Page stops click clacking and leans despondently against the exit door. Invigilation is incredibly boring and we’d both rather be drinking coffee and smoking in the staff room than pacing this dreary place.

Many of group are stretching, packing their bags and yawning for attention. They mouth ‘Miss let’s go! It’s done.’ Mr Pagr slides over to the noisiest.

‘Have you finished?’ Yes! Yes!

‘OK, go quietly and don’t disturb the ones still working.’

They lumber out, leaving the earnest behind. The next hour passes slowly. There’s no point in dreaming of plans for my weekend. I’ll be locked away with piles of marking, no wine bars or parties for me.

‘Time’s up, pens down.’ ‘Miss I haven’t finished ….’ ‘Too bad, pens down.’

They file out and I gather and stack the piles of answer papers. As I leave the hall the floppy haired boy is waiting round the corner.

‘Hello.  Are you a new teacher?  We haven’t met before.’

He towers over me and looks delicious. If he was four years older… Don’t be stupid. He’s a student and you are the teacher.

‘Yes. I mean no.’  I reply. ‘Yes, I’ve been here just a term.’

He wanders off smiling, then turns round with a knowing glance. Cheeky boy! One day he’ll break someone’s heart. But it mustn’t be mine.

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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

Toad in the hole


Now we’ve made pancakes it’s onto 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. If you get the recipe wrong, the pudding becomes a gloopy, glutinous glob of indigestible dough that should be scraped into the bin, but is often served by people in the south with their roast dinners.

Growing up in the Midlands, Yorkshire pudding is a staple food. My mother served our family with Yorkshire pudding as a first course when we returned home from school. At sixteen I was sick of the sight of it.

‘Why do we have to have Yorkshire with salad? Please no more Yorkshire!’

Deeply offended, she stopped for a few days during the hot summer, but soon resumed her old habits. Yorkshire pudding was a cheap way to fill us up before our main meal. Our household didn’t do 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. She’d been told it was coloured with caramel and didn’t want to encourage us to eat sugar. The meal was followed by stew or lamb chops in winter or ham salad in summer.

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

My mother knew about nutrition but she never enjoyed cooking. My father would take a huge slice of cold, left over Yorkshire for his lunch. He sat and ate it on a park bench below my posh Northampton school. One day I saw him as I walked  to a tennis lesson.

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

Wearing his old shabby raincoat, my father was eating his lunch from a battered metal sandwich tin. Beside him was a flask of tea. I did not wave as I passed in the distance, but quietly appreciated his thriftiness so I could benefit from this elite educational opportunity.

How to make a Yorkshire pudding is the great cook’s debate. My grandmother believed in the outside method and she would take her mixing bowl, eggs, flour, milk and salt and sit outside and beat them together with a large wooden spoon till the batter plopped. Grandma sat outside in sunshine, rain and freezing weather.

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

It was other things too. She had the best Be-ro flour , the finest Saxa salt, the freshest eggs and the creamiest Jersey milk. And a  large lump of tasty dripping which was melting in the roasting tin in the hot oven.

She poured the batter into the sizzling fat and closed the oven door. The Yorkshire puffed from the creamy batter to golden crispness and the oven door could not be opened until it was ready. We cut the Yorkshire into quarters and ate it hot from the oven with meaty gravy. A taste of childhood deliciousness.

My class is eager to get cooking.

‘Light the ovens, put a knob of lard in your roasting tin and pop it in the oven to heat up. It’s best to use dripping but the butcher didn’t have any.’

The boys exchange grins. They’ve already smirked about making Turd in the hole, but so far I’ve heard no mutterings about knobs and dripping.

I use my grandmother’s method of making Yorkshire pudding but we stay indoors. Wandering students beating their bowls of batter outside my room might raise alarms in the headmaster’s office.

Irene Finch, a progressive home economist with a passion for science, has been trying to introduce some science and comparative cooking into our teaching.

Which flour should we use? Plain, strong or self raising?

Which fat – dripping, lard or vegetable oil?

We don’t care about saturated fats. It’s the quality of the end result that matters. But the greatest debate is whether to make and bake the batter or leave it to stand. In London they seem to like the soggy dough, but I’m not teaching it this way.

For me it’s beat, bake and eat.

‘Sieve the flour and salt in the bowl and make a well in the middle then crack in the egg, add a little milk and beat with a WOODEN SPOON.’

I march round and check as the batter flip flops in the bowls.

‘Use an oven glove to take the roasting pan 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.

We put four bright pink sausages in the roasting tin, pour over the batter then it’s back in the oven with the doors tightly closed. There is always a scramble to be first and get your cooking on the top shelf as this means you can finish first too. Hot air rises and the top shelf cooks fast.

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

I crouch and peer through the glass oven doors to check on the baking and hold onto the back of my nylon overall so the tops of my tights don’t show. A passing member of staff might think the cooking teacher has left the room and been replaced by a moving pink hump.

Now we are ready. Out come pans of golden, crusty Toads waiting for their marks. Not a pale, solid, leaden, doughy southern 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.

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Filed under Cookery exams in the 1970s, Home Economics in 1970, Retro recipes

Cookery and boys


Housecraft and Home Economics exams and gender issues

The Sex Discrimination Act of 1975 required schools to provide access to the study of all subjects in the curriculum for both sexes. However, studies later showed that despite the government requirement for boys and girls to have equal opportunities when choosing their practical subjects, boys were actively discouraged from taking the subject by their teachers, peers and parents.

In a report on ‘Gender roles and the curriculum boys and home economics’ published in 1983, Susan Johne strongly criticised the strong female bias of the home economics textbooks, and questions set for the exams. Her report showed how boys change their mind when they discovered that so many girls took the subject and that it was considered cissy to cook.

Here are some exam questions from the time that reinforce the role of the woman as cook, caterer and cleaner for her husband and family. Remember these questions were given to boys and girls for their practical and theory exam and I had to persuade them that it was old fashioned, but things would change!

In 1981 only 7% of boys were entered for exams in domestic subjects.

Teachers at the time are not allowed to set their own CSE home economics practical tests.

Practical Cookery exam questions from 1970s
1. Your brother and a friend are playing football. Prepare, cook and serve a substantial meal for them on their return home. You are all going out for the evening. Iron the shirt your brother will wear and sponge and press either the skirt or trousers that you will wear.

2. Your father and brother are going fishing for the day. Launder your father’s sweater. Leave to dry and press it if it dries in time. Make some meat pasties or pies and pack up with salad and fruit and a flask of coffee for their picnic meal. Cook and serve a substantial two course dinner ready for their return.

MREB 1974 Metropolitan Regional Examinations Board

Cookery Theory questions 1970s

1. Many families have a home freezer. It helps the working mother to cater for the family’s needs. Discuss how she could prepare dishes to freeze and fill the freezer. 1979

2. List 3 different places where the housewife can purchase meat for her freezer. How can the home freezer be of value to a family when the mother is out at work? 1980

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