Toad in the hole

Toad in the hole has sauasages in it!

Excerpt from my next book on teaching cooking in a 1970s London comprehensive school

Today we’re making 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 but if the recipe goes wrong, you get a gloop of indigestible dough which gets scraped into the bin.

Growing up in the Midlands, Yorkshire pudding is a staple food. My mother served Yorkshire pudding before our evening meal  – a cheap way to fill us up when we returned home from school. She didn’t serve 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. My mother knew it was coloured with caramel and didn’t like us eating too much sugar or ‘muck’. 

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

She’d learnt about nutrition during her war-time teacher training but never seemed to enjoy family cooking. She taught in a busy junior school, cooked an evening meal for three kids and my father and did the housework at night so was no doubt exhausted.

My father took a slice of cold, leftover Yorkshire pudding for his lunch which he ate on a park bench below my posh Northampton school. One day I passed him as I walked with classmates to our tennis lesson.

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

Wearing his old shabby raincoat, he sat with his battered metal sandwich tin and a flask of tea. I didn’t say hello.

There’s a great debate on the correct way to make Yorkshire pudding. My grandmother believed fresh air was essential and took her mixing bowl and ingredients outside in sunshine, rain and freezing weather and beat until the batter plopped. 

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

She used Bero flour, Saxa salt, the freshest eggs and the creamiest Jersey milk. And melted a large lump of dripping in a roasting tin in a very hot oven, poured the batter into the sizzling fat, closed the oven door and waited.

‘Don’t open the oven door until it is ready!’  

Her Yorkshires always puffed to golden crispness and she served chunks with meaty gravy. A taste of childhood deliciousness.

‘Class! Today’s lesson. Toad in the hole. We’re going to make a Yorkshire pudding batter and cook it in your roasting tin with the sausages you’ve brought along.’

I scan faces of the aproned boys and girls sitting on their stools around my demonstration table. Tim has his hand up. 

‘Miss. I ain’t brought sausages or a tin.’ 

I knew it. Other boys shoot their hands up. I’m ready for them.

‘Can you pay me for a foil tin and the Toad ingredients if you want to cook?’

Yes! Yes! Boys hate bringing baskets to school. They rootle around and thrust out coins.

‘Later. Now watch. Turn on the ovens, put a knob of lard in your roasting tin with your sausages. Dripping is the best fat but the butcher didn’t have any. Now heat the tin.’ 

We don’t care about saturated fats. It’s the quality of the end result that matters.

‘Tim – in the oven please.’

I hand him an oven glove and my tin with a wary scowl of ‘No knob jokes, please.’ The boys exchange grins. They’ve had a smirk at making Turd in the hole, and now it’s prods about knobs and dripping. Another glower from me. This class must not drift into smutty chaos like last year.

‘Watch. I’m making the batter.’

The greatest Yorkshire pudding debate is whether to make and bake the batter or leave it to stand. In London and the south, people leave it to rest, but I’m teaching the northern way – make, bake and eat. I sieve the flour and salt into a large mixing bowl, crack in two eggs, beat rapidly with a wooden spoon then slowly add the milk. ‘Plop, plop.’ The batter flops against the sides of the bowl with memories of sitting in my grandmother’s Kettering garden preparing this triumph.

‘OK Tim, put the hot tin on this chopping board. Don’t burn the Formica tables like last year’s lot.’ 

At my start-of-term safety lesson we stood in sadness around a burnt ring on one of my Formica tables which added to the general shabbiness of my room.

‘Tim! Use an oven glove to take the tin 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.

‘Put the batter in a jug then pour it over the sausages.’

There’s a sizzle and spit as the liquid hits the hot fat. 

‘Into the oven for 20 minutes. Don’t open the door while it’s cooking. Now it’s your turn.’

They rush to their places and the room hums with beating batter.  

‘Get your tins out and show me that your jugs of batter are ready.’

Tim points his jug at the girls. 

‘Miss wants to see your jugs.’

Glower. Scowl. Cooking is littered with rude instructions.

‘Batter into tins ready for check.’

They stand alert like parade soldiers. Cynthia and I dance round the tables then nod for the baking to begin. There is a scramble to get their tins on the top shelf. Hot air rises and the top shelf cooks fastest. But Yorkshire puddings 

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

My Toad is ready and I carry it aloft from the oven. Da da. Brown, shiny sausages surrounded by a well risen, golden, crispy Yorkshire pudding. My grandmother would be proud. Now they are ready. Out come tins of golden, crusty Toads waiting for their marks. Not a pale, solid, leaden, doughy London 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.

Recipe 

Toad in the Hole 

Serves 4

25g lard

200g sausages

100g plain flour

Pinch of salt

2 eggs

200ml milk

200g sausages

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 220C/Gas 7.
  2. Put sausages and lard in a baking tin and heat in the oven while you make the batter.
  3. Sieve the flour and salt into a bowl, crack in the eggs and beat until smooth.
  4. Gradually add the milk to make a batter and pour into a jug.
  5. Pour the batter into the tin with the hot fat and sausages.
  6. Bake for 35-40 mins until the batter is well risen, crisp and golden.

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Cookery Exam Results 1973

It’s mid August. The height of summer 1973. Hot. Very hot and it’s the day that exam results are released. My Mini Traveller reluctantly leaves the sparkling seas of sunny Sussex and heads north to my east London school which is open just for this one day to hand out exam results to students and staff that choose to attend.

This is a day of reckoning for me. One year at the school. One year of teaching my exam students. One year to get my raggle taggle groups able to cook an edible two course meal, with a cake or batch of biscuits, iron a shirt, clean a pair of football boots and lay out the table, with d’oyleys, cruet set, flower arrangement and serving dishes. One year to drill in stuff for the theory exam, with some of them struggling to read and write. I’ve learnt that at the start of the new term each department’s results will be pinned on the staffroom noticeboard and I’m a department of ONE. One year when I might get named, shamed and singled out for improvement. Evidence of my success or failure in the first year of teaching at this school will be pinned up for all to see.

Today very few staff have turned up. Their six summer week break is sacrosanct. Time to get away. End of term chatter in the staffroom boasted of long family trips to France on camping forays or staying in gites in the Dordogne. No doubt they’ll come back glorifying du pain, du vin and du some delicious French cheese and saucisson. A group of young teachers is taking a trip to America, driving down the west coast searching for the Beach Boys’ lifestyle and told me they’re visiting seafood shacks by the ocean to sample lobsters, crab and fries. Older teachers say they’re just as happy sitting in their Cromer caravan overlooking the icy cold North Sea and watching the wind whip up the waves. A picnic on the beach with brown bread Cromer crab sandwiches and a glass of warm Adnams Southwold beer is perfect. They deserve their holiday and will be back fresh at the start of the new term.

Kind Mr Lewes, who supported me with my class discipline in that first year, sits in the entrance hall at an enormous trestle table filled with rows of brown envelopes, lined up in alphabetical order.  Eager students file past. ‘Surname and exam number?’ They hurry away, tearing open the envelope and pulling out the typed sheet that decides their future. Followed by jumping squeals of delight or subdued shrugs of disappointment. No one from my classes seems to have turned up.

Mr Lewes hands me a large envelope containing two printed lists. One with my CSE results and the other O level and I scurry away to my cookery room to discover my fate.

The CSE result sheet is first and I scan down the familiar names. Out of sixty candidates, fifteen have a Grade 1. That’s amazing. If they’d been allowed to join my O level group they would have a proper O level certificate and grade. How they could have shone. The low expectation from the old secondary modern thinking makes me sad. Many boys have scored grades 4 and 5 and two have got a U which means total failure. My O level results are spectacularly poor and no doubt the headmaster will call me in for an explanation at the start of term.

There’s a timid knock at my door and Alice walks in. The quiet girl who wasn’t allowed to change classes to move away from the boisterous boys and work with the gentle, hardworking O level group. She’s no longer dressed in her prim school uniform and looks surprisingly pretty in her flowery summer dress and bouncy blond hair. Alice may well smile. She’s achieved her goal – a Grade 1 CSE, equivalent to an O level.

‘Well done Alice. This means you can do A level Home Economics with me in the sixth form.’

‘Thanks Miss. I got some really good results. See you in September.’

There’s another bang on the door and in comes a joyous Bert.

‘Miss, I passed. It was the only exam I took and I got it.’ Bert, in his out of school clothes, looks distinctly grown up. ‘Yes Bert – you got a Grade 5.’ It’s the lowest grade before total failure, but we’re both pleased. Bert, whose practical exam was a disaster. His Cornish pasty shortcrust pastry was such a sticky mess that he scooped it into a bowl, mixed in the minced beef, onions and potatoes, patted it flat and baked it. A sort of Cornish Pasty pizza. And his Swiss Roll didn’t roll but he still served the spongy lump with some jam and a jug of custard. If only he’d chosen his favourite shepherd’s pie and apple crumble we would have been in business.

“See you at prize giving day, Miss.’ Bert leaves my room waving his result’s paper in triumph.

Marguerite Patten

Marguerite Patten’s Cookery in Colour was my first cookery book and I used it for all my cooking exams in the 1960’s. In 2009 I visited her at her home and got my well used book signed. Marguerite was as busy as ever, and at 93 years old, she regularly contributed to BBC discussion programmess on current food issues. We talked about the challenges of cooking in war time, and all the changes in equipment and ingredients that came during the following years.

Marguerite Patten signing my copy of Cookery in Colour

Marguerite gave me a copy of A Century of British Cooking, as I was writing a memoir of teaching in London schools in the 1970s. She has written an astonishing 170 books, which makes my 70 titles seem like a starter. Marguerite worked on the launch of the new pressure cookers which saved fuel in the 1950s – interesting how many things are becoming topical today. She demonstrated the Kenwood Chef when it was invented, and promoted many of the food initiatives in the 50s and 60s – using more wholemeal flour and the soft margarines for cake making.

We talked of offal – Awful Offal my students called it- and remembered stuffed hearts, liver and bacon, and grilled kidneys. Marguerite was involved with many food initiatives, and believed that food should be well cooked and delicious. We sat down to a tea of smoked salmon sandwiches and asparagus rolled in brown bread with cream cheese, followed by homemade fruit cake.

Marguerite was an inspiration to anyone wanting to learn to cook, or write about food. So optimistic, generous and hard working, with a database of stories and memories. I value sharing her memories and sensible opinions on the food we eat.

Marguerite died in 2015 at the age of 99. Jenny Ridgwell

Photo by Jenny Ridgwell