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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My book with pictures

Dave Smith has done some wonderful drawings that have gone into the hardback edition of I taught them to cook.

You can see the images by clicking this link

Food teachers have told me which are their favourite images in the book.

These are their choices and the images.

Simon – ‘No help in the Practical exam’ It reminds me of running so many catering exams with half classes of 12 students making 3 dishes each in 3hrs! I felt like a fireman on standby, a paramedic waiting for his first patient and a counsellor consoling students in tears when their gateaux came out as flat as a pancake and would double up as a spare tyre for a Go-cart. Such Fun!!!
Sara – This reminds of not only me and my best friend in school when we did A level food but so much of many of the girls I’ve taught over the years.
Liza – It’s got to be Angel Delight!!! A favourite in my house and for me growing up. Elizabeth – Angel Delight is my favourite – it takes my straight back to my teenage years and I can almost taste the butterscotch.
Manda – I’ve had a really tough half term and this is exactly how I’ve felt for most of it! I loved your book! I found it inspiring. I read it over the summer and it gave me great motivation to persevere with the new phase in my teaching career. Andrea – Having had no practicals last year I am truly exhausted each night after running round all day doing back to back practicals!
Heather ‘We want to cook – not do theory!’ is my favourite image in your book and made me laugh as it sums up what kids are like most of the time in the classroom when you tell them they are doing theory. So many people have the impression that ‘Home Economics’ is easy and you just do cooking (my biggest bug bare when people say this) so they think it is ideal for those who are not academic, whereas we actually do as much theory as practical and you end up with pupils looking like the person in the picture.
Adele – ‘A mouse watching me cook’ A couple of years ago school had all of the heating pipes & radiators replaced . They left holes in walls where they shouldn’t have been. We got some new pets in the form of mice.
Bea – Liked the mouse story and said ‘I wonder how many circles we have gone around and how many things we are starting to do that you used to and then went out of fashion!!!
Becky I love the drawing of the mini. I just adore them – I’ve got one now.

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.

Did famous Food writers learn to cook at school?

Grace Dent in her best selling memoir Hungry says home economics was the one lesson where she could shine. Nigel Slater was the only boy in his domestic science class but it took a long time for Miss Adams to teach him to cook.

So do other famous food writers value their cooking lessons at school? The Guild has nearly 500 members who are authors, broadcasters, columnists and journalists and they are passionate and knowledgeable about food. I asked if they learnt to cook at school and if not why not.

65% of respondents said yes and 35% said no. 

Many were not allowed to but why? The message was clear. Cooking was not considered an academic subject and clever students, like some Guild members, had to study Latin or science instead. They were actively discouraged from learning to cook. In high schools and grammar schools only the less academic were allowed to learn home economics. Several begged to take the subject but had to wait until they left school to study for themselves. A level Domestic Science was not accepted as a qualification for university and others, like me, had to take more exams to make up for this. Clearly, for Guild members, learning about food is their passion and they have a hugely diverse range of job opportunities open to them.

Here are replies from members who loved their lessons. 

Liz Trigg says ‘I absolutely loved it and had a great inspiring teacher Mrs Susan Hopps. I then went on to study a Bsc in Home Economics at Cardiff University’. 
Liz has a successful food media career as a food editor in magazines and writing cookbooks.

Lorna Rhodes replied ‘I loved domestic science at school and did the new course at Salford Tech for Home economics for higher education – led onto a job with Cadbury’s and then freelancing writing and food styling.’
Lorna’s website says ‘Food has been the story of my life!!  I have had a successful career as a cookery writer and food stylist for over 30 years having trained as a home economist.’

Charlotte Pike is Chair of the Guild of Food writers and is an award winning cookery writer, teacher and chef.
‘I did GCSE Food Technology in 2001. I was told off for taking my Mum’s copy of Delia’s Complete Cookery Course in by my teacher! Food Technology was dull.’

Lynsey Ainley/ Hollywood is the manager of the Food & Drink Business Development Centre and Course Director for the MSc Food Design and Innovation at Ulster University Business School.
‘I look back on my HE classes with really fond memories and am genuinely so appreciative of the topics I was taught relating to sustainability, health, budgeting and nutrition as well as the skills I gained in cooking and research.’

Jennifer John runs Ceres PR, a specialist food and wellbeing PR and marketing agency
‘I did O level & A level HE then the National Diploma was a brilliant education all round – in so many subjects!’

Jane Milton writes about the food industry and often appears as an expert on television programmes representing the industry.
‘I did O’ grade and Higher Home Ec. In my higher studies chemistry and Home Ec were time tabled against each other as ‘if you are clever enough to do chemistry, you would not do Home Ec.’ The School year book says – Course of Higher Education as they could not bring themselves to say I had gone on to do a degree in HE! ‘

Sam Bilton is an established Food Historian, writer and cook. 
‘I did Home Economics as an O level in the 80s. I had a very enthusiastic home economics teacher so I enjoyed it. No one suggested I do Home Economics as an A level. I wish they had as I’m sure I’d have got better results!’  

Clare Gordon Smith is a food writer, stylist and editor. 
‘I did Home Economics at school, but had to change school to get there as the previous school didn’t think it much of a subject!’

What are the views of food writers who did not study cookery at school?

Angela Clutton writes award winning cookery books and runs food events for Borough Market and the British Library and regularly appears on TV.
‘At my school you did either Latin or Home Ec – and this was a decision made by the teachers, not the pupils. The ‘clever’ girls did Latin… Ridiculous and makes me sad even to write it here.’ 

Liz Wright, editor of the Smallholder Magazine, replied
‘I’d like to have done more but I was academic so they wouldn’t let me – didn’t do me a lot of good, left school at 15 because I hated it.’

Kay Gale ‘I went to a direct grant girls’ school in the sixties. No domestic science, no sewing. The headmistress apparently didn’t approve.’ Kay has been a book editor for many years and runs a travel gourmet blog.

Not all are glowing about their cookery teachers. Some replies made me chuckle.

Steff Hafferty is a no dig gardener, garden and food writer, teacher, consultant. ‘It was dreadful, taught by a psycho maths teacher and a psycho nun. I learned nothing about making good food’

Sally Butcher says she’s a crazy cornershop keeper. Restaurateur. Masquerades as a chef.
‘My home economics teachers were appalling. I couldn’t wait to drop both classes.Kay Gale ‘I went to a direct grant girls’ school in the sixties. No domestic science, no sewing. The headmistress apparently didn’t approve.’

My conclusions?

Since I started teaching in the 1970s, home economics, domestic science, cookery or whatever else you want to call it, has been challenged. The Guild members describe the enjoyment many found in cooking at school, yet others were stopped from taking the subject and told they were too academic and had to do other things. Learning about food deserves more respect. Well done to those Guild members who found a way in later life to get qualified and earn their living working with food.

In 2021 there is a shortage of people needed in the hospitality and catering industry, our weekend papers are packed with food news and recipes, and the public demands good quality food in supermarkets and restaurants. But our food teachers still struggle with lack of technician support for their busy classrooms and need help funding ingredients so that all students in their classes can cook. Somehow we need to wave the Food flag and hope that schools of the future give students a chance to learn about this amazing subject that has been such an important part of my life for the last fifty years!

You can read my story teaching cooking in 1970s east London in I taught them to cook.

Guild of Food Writers Awards

My blog I taught them to cook is one of the 3 finalists in The Guild Awards Online Food Awards 2021 so I’m very pleased as it’s the first year in my 20 years of membership that I’ve entered for anything.

Food textbooks are the secret world of food writing. Each one takes a year to write and must match curriculum requirements and be up to date and accurate. Then we need to source all the charts, photos and drawings. The good news is that publishers sell loads.
So Thankyou Guild for seeing the value of school food education. After 50 years I am a piece of its history! And thankyou Satellite PR for sponsoring this award. Hope you don’t mind my tatty old site!