Category Archives: Foods of the 1970s

Rhubarb rhubarb

April 1971 – I drive the mini traveller back to Kettering for free food from my grandmother’s garden. She forces pink rhubarb  under old, metal buckets, with holes punched in the top to let in light. These tender delicacies are only for the family but now she’s happy to let me pick from the huge clumps  which thrive on her compost heap. I cut armfuls with leaves and all.
Grandma is worried.

‘Jenny- rhubarb leaves are poisonous. You can die if you eat them.’

She tells me about someone who ate the cooked leaves as a vegetable and was so ill with stomach pains that they had to go to hospital. Grandma boils rhubarb leaves in water to clean her saucepans. If they strip your stomach in the same way that they bring a shine to her aluminium pans,  that could be painful.

‘Don’t let those children have the leaves. They could get into all sorts of trouble.’

‘Don’t worry grandma – I’ll tell them all about it.’

Grandma knows about London children. During the war, evacuees from the east end were billeted with her, and they thrived on her cooking and helped with her garden. She’s proud of her certificate from  Queen Elizabeth 11 thanking her for this service which she keeps in a faded envelope with its official stamp.

Back at my London school, I plonk my huge pile of rhubarb with its massive leaves on my demonstration table.

‘OK class – first to warn you – these leaves are poisonous. They can give you stomach ache, make you feel sick and some people have even died from eating them.’

The death story may not be true but it’s  a good start to the lesson. I have their attention. They are curious.

‘How do they poison you, miss?’ Bert isn’t usually concentrating this early in the day.

‘The leaves contain oxalic acid which is toxic. That means they are dangerous. ’

‘But miss, why can you eat the stalk  and not the leaf – why does the poison just go into the leaf?’

There is no Google search for the answer, and Bert has a clever point. I’ll have to ask the biology teacher later.

‘Miss, what do you have to do to poison someone?’

Ah ha! I can see where this diversion is leading. Bert’s after my rhubarb leaf mountain. We’ve just had the school acid attack when someone sat a boy in concentrated sulphuric acid. It burnt the backside off his school trousers and he had to go to Whipps Cross hospital to have his bottom checked. Now it could be the rhubarb poisoning scandal. And it’s all my fault.

‘Bert, I’m taking these leaves home, so let’s get on. Today we’re going to make Rhubarb fool.’

‘First we wash and chop the stems and cook them in a saucepan with a little water and the lid on until they are soft.’

I’ve learnt to give clear cooking instructions after many disasters. Last week I told Robert to boil his potatoes and he stuffed them unpeeled into the electric kettle with some water and clicked it on. We had the devil of a job poking out the mushy bits. I pass round a dish of grandma’s soft, pink cooked rhubarb so they can see.

Now for the  custard. There is a magic moment when you mix custard powder with gritty sugar and milk. Suddenly as you stir in the milk, the pale peach powder turns to bright yellow  – a chemical mystery which probably holds its truth in tartrazine.

‘To make the custard, pour in the hot milk into this yellow mixture and stir until it thickens.’

A delicious, golden, glossy custard magically emerges in the bowl.

‘Add your cooked rhubarb, some red colouring then whisk an egg white and carefully fold it in. Spoon into the glass dish and top with a glacé cherry.’

I haven’t  told them that the cochineal red colouring is made from crushed beetles. Imagine the screams.

‘She’s making us eat beetles! Mad teacher from the north! We ain’t eating beetles!’

Tiny bottles of artificial colours and flavouring line my storeroom shelves to prop up our culinary skills and lack of tasty ingredients. Red for rhubarb and strawberry tart glaze. Green for anything made with gooseberries or cooked apples.
Vanilla essence goes in sponge cakes, drops of almond essence mix with the semolina that we use instead of almonds for Bakewell Tart and the ultimate sin, rum essence, is dribbled onto rum babas or into chocolate truffles. How I long to taste the real thing.

They chop, cook and stir and thicken and my table soon has a display of glass dishes in various shades from pink to plum. Each on a saucer with a frilly d’oyley. Always a bloody d’oyley!

The lesson is over. And we have  all made a potion of rhubarb with enhanced colours and flavours which richly deserves the name fool.

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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

Angel Delight and all that

In 1972 Angel Delight is a magical new food and we’re making Angel Delight tart  for  our lesson on Convenience Foods.

I’ve told them to bring in the flavour of their choice or  a packet mix of something that they think saves cooking time.

Instant goodies line up  on my table. What a feast we are going to have.

Packets of Instant Whip, Bird’s Chocolate Blancmange, and Green’s Sponge mix.

Someone’s even bought in an empty packet of Vesta Beef Curry which still has a whiff of curry powder when you sniff the cardboard carton. What an introduction to the foods of India, and so easy to cook by just adding water to the dried ingredients!

I’ve added to the collection with an empty can of Campbell’s Condensed Mushroom Soup which we use straight from the can as a vol-au-vent filling, a packet of Quick Jel, a can of Carnation Evaporated Milk, bottles of Heinz Salad Cream and Tomato Ketchup and a packet of Butterscotch Angel Delight.

I’m so in love with Angel Delight, especially the butterscotch flavour. What a magical new product this is! All you do is add milk to the powder, then whisk until it thickens to peaks of buttery, sugary, foamy chemical alchemy. What could it be made from? Why should I care? There’s no ingredients’ list, just claims of deliciousness, which I fully support. I sent a coupon for a free packet to my mother and urged her to try it as it takes under a minute to make. She hasn’t mentioned it in any of her letters and I wonder if she’s thinking ‘muck’ like she did for my French dressing.

For the students who haven’t brought anything to cook, although cook is rather a grand term for this lesson, I’ve bought in some ready baked pastry shells, and they’ll fill them with different flavours of Angel Delight – vanilla, chocolate, strawberry and the perfect butterscotch. We’ll sprinkle Hundreds and Thousands on the top – another brilliant new product that comes in loads of bright colours and gives a crunchy, sugary topping to this delicious dish. My mother would be horrified.

Alan puts his hand up as the rest get ready.

‘Yes Alan – what now?’

We’re impatient to get on and Alan can ask irritating questions.

‘Miss, me mum says you’re supposed to teach us cooking, not opening packets.’

The others nod wisely, but remain quiet. In my lessons they like the mystery of making things from scratch yet at lunchtime they pop into my room with their instant food.

‘Can I mix this packet soup with hot water, miss, for me lunch?’

But Alan needs an answer.

‘Look, all of you. We have to learn about convenience foods and things like Angel Delight are perfect for easy to make puddings.’

My brain cells scream a question. There is no food yet invented that looks remotely like the creamy, soft foam of butterscotch Angel Delight. It is not a convenient way of inventing anything, just a spectacular triumph on its own.

The electric beaters are busy frothing the powder and milk into foamy peaks.

‘Pile the Angel Delight into the pastry then come round for a mark.’

A mark is a joke for following instructions from a packet of chemistry but we’re eager to eat.

Sylvia puts the kettle on for tea and eases a slice of pastry with beige topping onto my plate. A spoonful of froth melts in my mouth and fills it with caramelly flavours. Thankyou Mr Food Chemist for this taste sensation.

Nutritional value of this pudding – bah humbug! Who cares!

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Filed under Convenience food, Foods of the 1970s, Home Economics in 1970

Teaching bread

My first full time teaching job in 1970 was in a large north London comprehensive school, just east of Finsbury Park. Schools in inner London were under the control of ILEA – the Inner London Education Authority, and I’d been interviewed for the role at their vast headquarters at County Hall over the river, opposite the Houses of Parliament.

The walk down the endless, gloomy corridors to the interview room was long and daunting but my interview was quick and the result instant.

‘Do you want a job teaching home economics in London?’ said the people behind the desk.

‘Yes’, I replied.

‘Can you start in this school in September?’ said the people.

‘Yes’ , This interview was quick and easy.

‘Then we will find you a school and send you the letter of appointment with the details.’

No more questions, no interrogation, no ‘come back next week for your second, or third interview’, and certainly no ‘will you teach a sample lesson for us.’

I was ushered back down the corridors, past the benches of other interviewees sitting in the dim light and out into the summer sunshine, beside the sparkling river Thames, ready to start my new career.

No-one in authority had asked me if I knew how to cook, nor if I was good at keeping discipline in the classroom.

My new students challenged my ability to keep order, and my classes were known for being noisy, which I felt was just teenage excitement and my enthusiasm when we produced something edible. The families in the north London catchment area came from many parts of the world, especially Trinidad and Jamaica, and I wished someone had educated me more about the culture and recipes of the Caribbean. Students told me of their famous dishes of ackee and salt fish, rice and beans, jerk pork, curried goat and cassava dumplings, and I longed to try these out in the classroom. But I had to stick to the recipes from our class sets of Good Housekeeping Cooking is Fun with its endless cakes, biscuits and scones.

Good Housekeepings Cooking is Fun

The bread lesson is the one of the first tests of my limited culinary skills.

I’ve never cooked bread before but as the new teacher in the department, I don’t want to show my ignorance in front of the team of very experienced cookery teachers. They already find my miniskirts and noisy classes bothersome.

On my way to school I pop in for advice from the Jewish baker who works at the Manor House Bakery. He’s swaddled in large white overalls, and wrapped with a floury apron.

‘Help! Please help me with this class – how do I make bread,  how do I use fresh yeast and have you got any for sale?’

The baker knows many of the students I am teaching as they surge into his bakery before school, hungry for bread and cheese rolls and doughnuts for their breakfast.

He opens the huge fridge and takes out a beige yeast block carefully wrapped in soft white paper.

‘Just crumble a piece of this it into the bowl of flour and salt and mix it to a dough with warm water.  And keep all the windows closed. You need a really warm room for the bread to rise.

Good luck Jenny– let me know how you get on.’

Fresh yeast has a strange smell like the whiff of a damp basement. I break off beige crumbly lumps and line them up on a tray. In ILEA schools we provide all the ingredients and students pay ten pence a lesson. Everything must look the same in size and shape otherwise there is a squabble.

‘You chose the boys first, last time. The girls should be first this lesson.’

Grace lives up to her name, but she sometimes has a fierce side.

‘His is bigger than mine, Ma’am, it’s not fair.’

Tex is bigger than anyone, but he’s not going to bully me into a larger lump.

For some reason female teachers in inner London have to be addressed as Ma’am. If the entire class is calling for me, it sounds like a sheep field.

Ma’am, ma’am, mum….’

The class gathers around my demonstration table, waiting for instructions. There is the usual well meaning pushing, but they are eager to get on.

‘Weigh out your ingredients and take a piece of fresh yeast. Make sure your hands are really clean – any muck will get into the dough.’

They crumble the yeast into the flour, and add warm, sugary water which is carefully measured.

‘It smells like me dad’s beer kit’.

Dan sometimes helps me clear up after school.

‘The yeast is fermenting with the flour, Dan, to make carbon dioxide and alcohol, so it’s like beer making.’

‘So can we get drunk on bread Ma’am?’

Dan and friends chuckle at the prospect of an alcoholic snack.

‘No – as it cooks the alcohol evaporates.’

‘Shame that.’

‘Now class, work this dough with your hands. The more you squeeze and knead, the better it will be.’

For boys this squelchy stage is magic. Girls would rather stir elegantly with a wooden spoon. Sticky, doughy hands are distasteful.

‘Tip it out onto a floury table and knead it.’

I demonstrate how to pull and push the dough. The room warms as they punch and stretch the mixture.

‘Ma’am, help it’s slimy.’

Tex as always has not followed the recipe, and has taken more than his share of flour, and then guessed at the amount of water he needs to make the dough. His great sloppy mixture oozes over the table. I shake on more flour as a rescue remedy, but this means that Tex gets more cooking for his money, something his classmates have come to resent.

‘Now divide the dough into six and roll into balls to make your bread rolls.’

I’d forgotten to say divide equally. Balls come in all sizes.  We end up with bread rolls the size of ping pong and tennis balls but it’s too late.

‘Onto the baking trays and cover with a wet teatowel. Then into the drying cabinet to let the bread rise.’

These are the days before tumble dryers. Schools have large gas fired drying cabinets where I hang washed teatowels and dishcloths each night to dry. One weekend I was sure I’d left the gas cabinet on and couldn’t get back into school to check. I was right and on Monday morning my teatowels were crisp and dry – but also burnt to a brown crisp. I was lucky the school buildings didn’t join them.

My recipe bible, Cooking is Fun, says that when the rolls double in size, they are ready to bake. Someone has scratched out the word Fun and written Cooking is Horrible on one of the book covers. By the end of this lesson I might agree.

Under the teatowels, nothing is happening, but we must get baking.

‘Put your rolls in the oven and sit round my table.’

In this stonking hot room inside a London school surrounded by busy roads, roaring traffic and concrete buildings, I bring out my bundles of wheat, barley and oats picked from the quiet Northamptonshire summer fields far away up the M1.

‘Class, where does the flour come from that we use for our bread?’

They gaze back silently. We can smell the bread baking.


I hold up the stems of wheat.

‘See the grains in the top?’

I squeeze them out and pass a handful of seed around the group.

‘We crush them to make flour.’

More silence.

‘Have any of you ever seen barley? It’s used in beer and whisky making.’

There is a mild rustle of interest.

Barley is golden and spiky and the spikes make good darts which stick to your clothes, but I’m not telling them that.

‘Do you know what this last cereal is called?’

This stem is tall and dangly, with the seeds hanging on tiny threads.

Not a glimmer.

‘Oats. You know about oats?’

They do, but they’re not letting on what kind.

‘Made into porridge which you might have for breakfast.’

Breakfast? What’s that?

Enough! The rolls must be ready. They take solid, crisp lumps from the oven and put them on wire racks to cool.

‘This bread ain’t much good Ma’am. It’s too hard.’

Dan is fed up. He is proud to take his cooking home and this time it’s awful. The whole class has baked awful, hard lumps of dough. And it’s my fault.

They bag up the hard balls, pack them in their satchels and shuffle out the room. I hear the boys scuffling in the corridor and see a lump of dough arching into the air.

On my way home, I pop into the bakers.

‘How did it go?’ he asks hopefully.

Sadly, I show him the lumps from my demonstration which I plan to throw out when I’m far away from school.

‘Jenny, you didn’t prove them properly’

I explain about the hot drying cabinet and the rush to get things cooked before school ends.

‘Turn the cabinet temperature down next time and don’t be in such a hurry.

Letting bread rise is like life. Take it nice and easy and you’ll get a good result.

Rush at it and it just gets hard.’

At home, I toss my bread rolls into the garden. Even the hungry pigeons peck and go.


Filed under Foods of the 1970s, Jenny Ridgwell, Uncategorized

Silly fussy salad from 1970’s

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.

Salads in these days are not tossed or dressed. Heinz Salad Cream goes with everything. My mother is horrified when, during a half term 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, but this means 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.’
I get a glower. Nan is wise and old and always right.
Janice’s gran also 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 the overfussed salad with stuffed egg that Janice will prepare today, so I must watch her health and hygiene so she keeps the food safe to eat. I’m sure she won’t spit in it to show her disgust at not being allowed to bake a cake, but Janice needs reminding that hands need washing before food preparation, despite Gran telling her that a bit of dirt never hurt anyone.
I demonstrate the new skills they will learn today. I crack and peel the egg shell – if the eggs are too fresh the shell sticks to the white, so I keep older eggs for this lesson. I slice the eggs in half lengthways, scoop out the yolk then mash it with salad cream – yum.
‘You can put this mixture back in the egg with a spoon, or if you are really skilled, use this piping bag and twirl it back into the egg like this.’
Janice lets out a squeal. ‘It looks like yellow poo. I’m glad I’m not eating that.’
I decorate the twirl with a sprig of parsley. This is fiddled food at its most extreme. Good enough for any hostess trolley.

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.
I cut the radishes into roses and slice spring onions to become tassels. This fussed over veg is dunked into freezing water to open up and lose its nutrients. We peel and slice the cucumber then scoop out the middle and mix with salad cream.
They are eager to get on.
‘OK – eggs then salad – we’ll do the lettuce later.’
They rush off to choose a tray of ingredients which has the largest egg or tomato. I dread this choosing stage. There’s always grumbles and swapping.
‘Miss, I don’t eat salad.’
‘Miss, her cucumber’s bigger than mine.’
‘Can I have tomato instead of this green stuff?’
‘Miss, my tomato is missing.’
At last they are sorted and busy. Eggs are twirled and salad chopped.
I dump the droopy lettuces, in a butler’s sink of ice cold water. Examiners don’t like this , so I warn the class that the Vitamin C which will leach out into the water, and the limp lettuce will not be so nutritious.
‘Come round and I’ll show you how to present the salad.’
I remove the lettuce, radish and spring onions from the 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 Foods of the 1970s, Jenny Ridgwell

Egg magic

Eggs are teaching magic. I can use my science knowledge to impress them – a little biology, some physics and a bit of birdwatching along the way.

The egg is the centre of my cooking world, the source of endless cheap dishes, and a good way to teach nutrition. ‘Go to work on an egg’ is an advert at the time, made famous by Fay Weldon. If I have an egg, I have a lesson, and even a breakfast to go to work on.

‘Gather round and stand in a circle – I’m going to show you a trick.’

I roll the egg gently on the floor. It curls, curves and circles back to me. They are so impressed, I do it again.

‘Look at that for magic – see how it rolls back to me. In nature it rolls back if it falls out the nest. That’s why seagulls have very pointed eggs, as they build nests on cliff edges and this way the egg rolls back in a very tight circle.’

My scientific brain questions this story, but they are intrigued and desperate to try rolling their eggs around the cookery room floor.  I’m thinking that seagull’s nests cling to the sides of cliffs and the egg would more likely drop over the cliff edge than stay near its nest, but I’ve got their attention and this stunning fact might stay with them for the day. Later I’ll tell them about the poor, bald battery chickens that lay most of the eggs that we buy in the seventies and never ever see a nest or daylight. Their eggs drop through the bars of their prison cages and down into collecting tubes. But we don’t care. It makes them cheap which is perfect for our cookery recipes.

Some of the eggs that I buy have a little red Lion symbol on them, from the Egg Marketing Board but there are no clues to show when the eggs have been laid. No date stamp, no worries about how old, but I know that there is a TEST.

‘How do you know if an egg is fresh Emily?’

I’m trying to give the girls more attention. I’ve been neglecting them as the boisterous boys shoot up their hands when I ask a question.

I wait for quiet, gentle Emily to give me an answer, but she’s surrounded by male cries of ‘Ask me, miss, ask me!’

I try to ignore the boy’s enthusiasm this time. My girls have equal importance in this thrusting, testosterone world, and I must give them a chance.

But Ray can’t contain himself any more.

‘Miss you can smell the egg – if it’s off it really pongs – a nasty smell but good for stink bombs.’

I give Ray a stern look. He’s right, an off egg has the disgusting smell of sulphur but it is the girl’s turn. They must not be bullied into silence.

‘OK Emily, come and help me with the egg test.’

Emily stands by the large jug of salty water on my demonstration table. I can see she is nervous as I hand her the three eggs. Two eggs have been bought recently and the other comes from the collection of old eggs that I keep hidden in the store cupboard to use for this age test.  Sometimes, I forget, and we use them anyway.

‘Emily, drop each egg carefully into a jug of salted water – the fresh eggs sink and the stale egg floats.’

One of the eggs bobs to the top of the water and the others hang somewhere in between.

‘See, this floating egg is stale so we don’t use it. Thankyou Emily for helping’

Miss, the Magician has done it again, and I’ve let the girls have a turn. This lesson is going well and I’ve got more egg tricks to share which will take this session into the stratosphere.

‘Did you know that whole eggs are passed over a light to see if they are clear inside with no bloody bits or chicks growing?


It’s called candling and you can do it with a candle. Emily, can you light the candle please?’

I hold an egg in front of the golden candle light. The eggs looks golden and the candle flame is bloody hot. This piece of magic is proving nothing. Just that the egg looks golden brown when I hold it in front of a candle, and that candle flames are hot. I’m no better at tricks than Tommy Cooper. It’s back to the lesson, before I lose my dignity.

I hand them each an egg and a saucer.

‘OK – you’ve each got an egg – go back to your places and crack your egg in the middle and then slide the contents of the egg onto the saucer. I’m going to give you a biology lesson.’

‘Aren’t we cooking today, miss? I hate theory.’

Dan struggles with his reading and writing. He’s small, neat and quiet for his age and he tells me that cooking is his favourite subject. He can ‘do’ cookery but he just gets bad marks in everything else and can’t do them.

‘Dan, we’ll cook when we’ve finished this bit.

‘Crack your eggs and look at the sac of air in the top of the shell. This is where the chick takes its first breath before it pecks its way out.’

The egg shell is lined with a thin, shiny white membrane and this air sac at the blunt end of the shell is one of nature’s mysteries.

‘Will we get a chick in our eggs then?’ Dan’s enthusiasm is returning.

Some of the girls look up from their shells with alarm. Once again, I forget these city kids think that milk comes from the milkman and fish fingers from the freezer in the supermarket. The rest of the food chain is unknown.

‘It’s OK – there are no chicks in these eggs. The hens have been reared in cages with no cockerels around.’

They stare back blankly. What have hens and cockerels got to do with chicks? Oh God, and I’ve got a sex education lesson next week with my form group.

They crack their eggs onto saucers and poke at the air sac in the shell.

‘Look at the egg you’ve cracked and on the yolk, can you see the germ, the tiny white circle where the chick grows?’

‘You said this egg won’t be a chick so how is it supposed to grow there?’

Dan is increasingly frustrated by my teaching methods and wants to get on with COOKING.

‘Look at the two chords which hold the yolk in place. And the thick and thin whites. ’

They peer at their saucers. What is the point in this?

‘Miss, what has this got to do with cooking?’

It’s Dan again. Frustrated Dan.

‘You might get asked to draw a cross section of an egg for the exam, so I’m showing you what it looks like.’

Here she goes again. The exam – everything is learnt to pass the exam.

Dan can hardly write but he’s still got to do the exam, and I’ll be judged on the grade that he gets.

Please try, Dan for both of us. If you get Unclassified because you only write your name on the exam paper, I’ll be blamed for poor teaching.

‘OK class, we’re ready to make Chocolate Mousse – it’s just raw egg and chocolate.’

These are the days before Edwina Currie’s egg and salmonella scare. By the 1980’s chocolate mousse made from raw eggs will be a pot of poison.

‘Scoop the yolk and put it into a glass. Then whisk the egg white until it is stiff.’

The room is busy with whirring rotary whisks.

‘When it’s ready you can turn the bowl upside down and the eggs whites stay in.’

This is the most stupid and wasteful test of all. If they turn the bowl over too early the whole lot plops on the floor, accompanied by screams of hilarity. The sticky, eggy mess which streams over the old, grimy wooden floor can’t be rescued and we must start again. Thank goodness eggs are cheap.

Chocolate mousse is easy to make. We use cheap cooking chocolate which is high in fat and low in chocolate and taste. But if it’s in the storeroom, I add it to my lunchtime speed nibbles of sultanas and angelica.

‘Melt the chocolate in a bowl over a saucepan of hot water, stir in the yolk and then fold the melted chocolate gently into the whites – gently!’

Good mousses are light and fluffy. Bad mousses are just a runny mess which still taste delicious.

They pile the soft, brown mixture into glass dishes, top with a glacé cherry and bring to me for marking on a saucer with a frilly d’oyley. Someone should make Beryl Ware with an imprint of a frilly d’oyley. It would save so much time and exam marks.

This brown gloop does not leave the classroom. They must sit and eat it. I don’t want the local bus company complaining again of a strange stickiness spread over their bus seats after my cooking class has travelled home.

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Filed under Foods of the 1970s, Jenny Ridgwell, Uncategorized

Stuffed eggs

This is the seventies recipe but you can liven it up with chilli sauce or curry powder which we didn’t use.

Makes 8 halves of stuffed eggs


4 eggs

Salad cream

Paprika pepper

Parsley sprigs

  1. Put the eggs in hot water in a saucepan , bring the water to the boil, and simmer for 10 minutes.
  2. Remove the eggs and put into very cold water to stop the yolks from turning black.
  3. When cool cut the eggs in half, lengthways and scoop out the yolk
  4. Mash the yolk with some salad cream and then with spoon or pipe back into the whites.
  5. To serve, sprinkle with a pinch of paprika and decorate with a sprig of parsley.

You can serve the eggs with silly fussy salad – tomato lilies, tassels of spring onions, radish roses and leaves of limp lettuce and of course, a jug of salad cream.

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Filed under Foods of the 1970s, Retro recipes