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.
Toad in the Hole
100g plain flour
Pinch of salt
- Preheat the oven to 220C/Gas 7.
- Put sausages and lard in a baking tin and heat in the oven while you make the batter.
- Sieve the flour and salt into a bowl, crack in the eggs and beat until smooth.
- Gradually add the milk to make a batter and pour into a jug.
- Pour the batter into the tin with the hot fat and sausages.
- Bake for 35-40 mins until the batter is well risen, crisp and golden.