Category Archives: Home Economics in 1970

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

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

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

Beryl ware


I wonder how many schools, village halls, scout huts and hospitals in the seventies were stocked with pale green, blue or yellow Beryl Ware.

The store cupboard shelves were stacked with the stuff when I arrived for my new job. Pale, insipid green plates, cups, saucers, tea pots, serving dishes, sugar bowls and jugs with Beryl Ware  marked on the bottom. Mr Beryl must have made a pretty penny from the stuff. Now it’s stocked in antique shops as retro ware.

Paperchase has just released it’s AW11 collection with Wood’s Ware cake stands and clocks, made from ‘upcycled’ Beryl plates.

Here’s a poem by Caroline Heaton about Beryl ware – it’s even got  a poem!

Gossip of teapots

It had a name,  the thick stuff

We ate our bread and butter on:

Beryl  Ware – serviceable clay moulded

With concentric rings, glazed pale green;

later I found it everywhere,

Indignant that it came in different colours.

Once my father bought  three Brown Bettys

In different sizes, chocolate coloured china

Banded with beige

Ranged them in descending order

Above the Beryl Ware and melamine,

Grinned at me, ‘ A  gossip of teapots.’

I stored the phrase, honed and polished it,

Handed it down to my own daughter.

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Filed under Home Economics in 1970

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

The governor’s tea


The school secretary pops her head round my room door.

‘Jenny, will you be able to make the governor’s tea next week?’

This kind woman has nurtured me since I arrived and this is no time for me to be stroppy.

‘Normally about fifteen to twenty people turn up. Nothing fancy. We just need a few sandwiches and some scones, biscuits and homemade cakes.

Your predecessor used to get the girls to do it. We’ll pay you back for the ingredients you use.’

Well that’s alright then. The girls will do it.  On top of all the other things they are learning and cooking in my lessons, somehow me and the girls will find time to prepare a not-too-fancy homemade tea for twenty.

I curb my fury and wonder if anyone who visits my room has any idea of the planning and preparation it takes to manage my large classes of noisy teenagers who want to cook.

School starts when students bring in cooking baskets with ingredients for the day. I register my form group, then progress through several classes when students cook, clear up, pack up, eat, catch up on homework, find out what to bring next week and come in for help with revision. I prepare demonstrations, sweep and clean the room before the cleaners turn up – they won’t do it if it’s too messy. I manage my food storeroom, checking the eight sinks, twelve cookers, cupboards full of baking tins, saucepans, frying pans, drawers full of cooking tools, and my tiny cupboard holding the latest precious electrical whisks and Kenwood chef.

When the bell rings at the end of school, I wash dishcloths and tea-towels in the ancient twin tub and hang them in the gas driers ready for the morning when they must be folded and packed away.

I check that aprons are clean, the ovens and gas rings are off, and that the rubbish is ready for collection.

And long after everyone has gone home or to the pub, I collect my marking which must be completed that night then think about what food I must buy for my teaching the next day.

And all with no help.

In my first week, a lad brings over a pile of muddy football shirts and shorts.

‘Sir says, can you wash these and send them back folded up when they are dry? The last teacher did it, and he said you wouldn’t mind.’

Somehow, things must change, but for now I put on a sweet little woman act, and comply with their needs. I’m new and want to get on with people.

Of course I will find time to prepare the governor’s tea and wash the football shirts.

But I have dark thoughts ready for a fight.

In this school, does the art department paint the school walls?

Do English students write the school brochures?

Will Maths present the school accounts?

And does Science manage the school grounds and dig the gardens as part of their biology studies?

Get the boys to do it, I say – the girls are busy cooking governor’s tea while their teacher washes the school football outfits.

Enough of grumbling. My grandmother has told me that one good turn deserves another. And it is my turn to begin.

Carol and Vicky are a natural choice for the tea task.

This pair of school ragbags refuse to bring ingredients to my lessons, and spend their time dithering over worksheets, comparing their latest boyfriends, chipping off flecks of pearl nail varnish and picking the split ends in their backcombed hair. They’ve cooked their way through the cheap ingredients in my storeroom and are bored with making jam tarts and scones.

Any reprimand from me gets a tornado reply.

‘Miss, we’re leaving at Easter, you can’t make us do anything.’

I’ve failed to persuade other teachers to take them into their lessons, so the ragbag pair is mine, once a week, for a whole afternoon, and we need to get on.

‘Carol and Vicky – you’re going to make the Governor’s tea. Write a shopping list so that you can go out and buy the food next week. We’re going to impress them with your cooking. This is the menu.’

They glower as I give them my written list. There is a risk that the pair could sabotage and poison the food for everyone on the committee.

Governor’s tea menu

Egg and salad cream sandwiches

Asparagus rolls made from tinned asparagus and brown bread and butter

Fruit scones with butter twirls

Brandy snaps with whipped cream

Flapjacks

Butterfly cakes with piped butter icing

Tea with milk and sugar.

This tea menu is fit for The Ritz tea rooms, but I’ve borrowed it from my days as a waitress in Wicksteed Park Tea Pavilion in Kettering.

The Park was famous for its brandy snaps, and sold them wrapped in crackly cellophane for teatime treats. On brandy snap baking days the chef offered me one piped with a swirl of fresh cream, topped with a squelchy red Maraschino cherry fished out from a jar in the cocktail bar. Brandy snaps are gingery and crunchy, and the cream oozes as you bite. They are a cake maker’s triumph, and a test for Carol and Vicky.

Carol and Vicky grumble in with shopping baskets laden with porage oats, tins of golden syrup, a glass jar of Heinz salad cream, boxes of eggs, punnets of mustard and cress and the very extravagant show off tins of asparagus. My elaborate governor’s tea menu is also a cunning plan to stock up my storeroom. After this first baking session, I hope we will have plenty of spare ingredients and I can save some fresh cream and use real butter instead of that fishy County Supplies margarine.

The rest of the class is busy making Swedish tea rings as I check the shopping list. But first Carol and Vicky must dress to impress. Someone might check the tea progress, and they don’t want to see this scruffy pair messing with their food.

‘Girls, hang up your duffle coats, take out your chewing gum, tie back your hair, and wash your hands. Then put on a clean overall before you start.’

Ha ha. I’ve got a couple of white cook’s overalls ready for smart occasions.

As they change and button up, Carol and Vicky transform. Gone are the short skirts with rolled up waistbands, and the half undone ties.

A pair of smart cooks emerges.

We prepare the hostess trolley. We need tea pots, milk jugs, sugar bowls, teacups and saucers, small plates and serving platters.

We need napkins and knives, cake forks and teaspoons, tablecloths and d’oyleys. And we mustn’t forget the tea strainer. We’re serving proper tea and need to make sure that all the china and cutlery is sparkling.

‘Carol and Vicky can you check that all the Beryl Ware and cutlery is clean?’

They glower at me.

‘Why can’t someone else do this, miss?’

‘Because, girls, they all want to get a CSE exam and you two don’t.’

This tea will test their stamina, and give them no time to gossip or sulk. As they start their baking marathon I keep a watchful eye knowing that at any time they could erupt, slam down their tools and leave the room with cries of

‘We ain’t doing no more! We ain’t school slaves!’

Into the oven go the scones, then a swift clear up ready for the sponges which they will transform into butterfly cakes. Then the flapjacks and finally our biggest cooking challenge of all – brandy snaps.

Dollops of gingery, sugary, syrupy dough go into the oven and out come golden brown craters which must be worked with speed. A snap is lifted, wrapped round a wooden spoon handle and held in place till it forms a roll. Your hands feel warm and greasy, but there is no time to enjoy this pleasure. There are trayfuls of snaps to roll and hold and more baking in the oven.

And on and on they come until the cooling rack is piled high.

I join team Carol and Vicky to finish off the horns with piped cream, glacé cherries and tiny angelica leaves. Wicksteed Park would be proud.

Then it’s on with the sandwiches.

Peeled hard boiled eggs, mashed smooth with salad cream, mixed with mustard and cress then spread onto soft Mother’s Pride white bread and cut into quarters.

We lift precious mushy spears of asparagus from the tins and place them on buttered brown bread, then roll them up tightly and cut into small portions. Tinned asparagus is our most expensive ingredient, and portions cannot be too generous.

The sandwiches go on a plate with a plain d’oyley. D’oyleys matter in my cookery world. Plain for savoury, frilly for sweet, and these rules must not be broken.

We pile the hostess trolley with sandwiches, buttered fruit scones, crunchy flapjacks, brandy snaps, and butterfly cakes.

The rest of the class gathers to coo and ah over Carol and Vicky’s work, amazed that these two can produce anything edible.

The feast is finished with hot brewed tea and they wheel the trolley into the headmaster’s study. The governors smile sweetly, but I’m thrilled at the surprised looks from the teachers on the school panel who know this unruly, disruptive pair from their wanderings around the school corridors.

Carol and Vicky return with me to my cookery room. It is a tip, but I’m too tired to fight with them over clearing up. Instead I give them a bag of spare sandwiches and cakes.

‘Thanks girls – you’ve been great. Impressive cooking.’

They throw down their overalls, and resume their usual scruffiness as they wander off into the dark night, cackling through mouthfuls of sandwich.

Next morning I arrive early as usual, to start a busy day. In despair I see the hostess trolley, parked in my room, piled with dirty tea cups, empty plates, crumpled napkins and tea pots full of cold tea leaves. As my form group catches up on their gossip, I pull on my overall and rubber gloves and clear up the mess, before my cooking classes arrive.

Next week I prepare my case to present to the headmaster. I need help. This cannot go on. I cannot teach and clean up and be a drudge on my own.

I need a daily ancillary help and more funds to buy essential ingredients.

A few days later, I get a note telling me to come after school and interview candidates for the ancillary position. Help is coming.

The following week, my chosen angel, the marvellous Sylvia, arrives to be my right hand woman and saviour.

Later the school secretary pops her head round the door and leaves me a note.

‘The head will increase the capitation for your ingredients from £50.

Please provide evidence to show how much money you would like for the year.’

As my grandmother said, one turn deserves another.

A year later I get a pay rise.

The school kitchens agree to take over making the governor’s teas.

The PE department buys an automatic washing machine and tumbler drier, and I am free to soar ahead and teach my subject with no distractions

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Filed under Cooking for the governors, Home Economics in 1970, Jenny Ridgwell