Tag Archives: O level cookery

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

Awful Offal

I have to teach Offal – it’s on the syllabus, and I face these lessons with dismay. How can I persuade a class of teenage boys and girls that liver, kidney and hearts are delicious, nutritious foods that they must learn to cook for their exams?

I don’t like offal any more than they do. Every Wednesday as a child, we had an evening meal of leathery liver and bacon. The later my father and I arrived home, the longer the liver had simmered to old cardboard and the bits that stuck outside the gravy were curled and crisp. Only the creamy mashed potato rescued the meal from being scooped into my handkerchief, so I could throw it in the garden later. Some friends took me for an East End meal of tripe and onions and I’d gagged at the white lumpy mess.

Liver and offal are excellent sources of iron – an essential mineral for girls in their teens and offal is such a cheap, nutritious food and I must teach my class how to cook it.

The butcher delivers 25 lamb’s hearts. To complete the recipe I’ve got in Paxo parsley and thyme stuffing, onions, Oxo cubes and flour. Oxo is supposed to give a meal man appeal and any encouragement to eat this dish is essential.

They perch on stools around a small, pink lamb’s heart which sits forlornly on its wooden chopping board. There’s groans of ‘I ain’t eating that’ as they push for a place on the stools at the back.

Bert speaks for the group.

‘What’s that miss? Looks like something I feed me ferrets.’

‘I’d give it to me dogs!’ chirps Ray.

Cackles of laughter from the rest of the stools.

I hold up a copy of O level Cookery with its red cover, the colour of blood.

‘Listen to what it says –  ‘Offal used to be despised and was very cheap, but because of its increased use and realisation of its high food value it is now popular and more expensive.’

See, more people are eating offal so we’re going to cook Stuffed Heart and learn a bit of biology on the way.’

Groans and vomiting noises, as I peel off stiff fatty bits and remove the tubes, then give the heart a squeeze. A large clot of blood oozes out the top. I give a gleeful hooray.

‘Look at this strong heart muscle that pushes blood around the lamb.’

‘Oh my god. I feel sick. You ain’t normal.’

It’s disgusted Liz, who is revving up the rest of the girls.

‘Miss, one week we learn about vegetarians not eating meat, and next we’re chopping up lamb’s bits and saying they’re good for us. I want to make cakes not cook meals.’

I fill the heart pouches with Paxo stuffing. It still looks like a heart.

‘Now fry some onions then roast it in a little stock. It’ll taste delicious.’

It is their turn to cook but they’re stuck to their stools.

‘Please get started – the sooner we begin the quicker it’s done. Let’s share the tasks – girls can cook the onions and boys can do the hearts.’

Beefy boys relish the heart dissection and stuffing Paxo into the cavities and the room warms the nourishing smells of fried onion, parsley stuffing and gravy.

My ovens fill with tiny pieces of roasting heart.

‘We’ll come back after school and fetch it miss.’

They pack and hurry  to more sensible lessons.

Sylvia helps me sweep up bits of fat, heart tubes and onion skins and makes a cup of tea.

We line up their stuffed heart dishes for collection.

And wait.

Ray pops his head through the door.

‘Sorry miss – we won’t eat it. Why don’t you sell it to one of the teachers?’

This is the last stuffed hearts lesson I’ll ever teach. The recipe for this delicious dish is for all to use. We’ll have to use liver for the awful offal lesson instead.

Today, hearts are a major ingredient in modern dog food, so my students are right – if you don’t like them, they end up as the dog’s dinner.

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Vegetarian cooking 1972

The 1970’s school cookery textbooks make strange, outrageous claims about vegetarian cooking, which I have to teach to get my classes to pass the exam.  At a time when large areas of the developing world eat a vegetarian diet, the books have odd things to say.

The Battersea College of Technology book of Cookery Recipes is one of our recipe books and sold for 3/6 – they haven’t accepted decimalisation yet.  Copies can ‘be obtained only from the secretary, Battersea College of Technology.’
Vegetarian recipes are suitable for ‘V.E.M.s – Vegetarians who include in their diet Eggs, Milk and milk products.’
This odd mnemonic is supposed to help us remember that vegetarians don’t eat meat.
It offers this advice for vegans:

  • ‘Replace milk with water in which vegetables have been cooked.’
  • ‘Replace cream with nut fat and butter with Nutter or Trex.’
  • Cheese must be replaced with Marmite and eggs left out altogether.

So there. That’s clear. When in doubt, leave it out.
Nut cutlets are my vegan recipe demonstration, made from chopped nuts and breadcrumbs, shaped into cutlets and deep fat fried.

If vegetarians don’t  eat meat, why have nuts shaped like an animal part? The fried, nutty bits are so unappetising that  even Bill, my food dustbin student, declines to taste.

O Level Cookery doesn’t help much on vegetarians either.

‘A vegetarian diet has limited choice and can be monotonous, bulky and unattractive.’
Well, to some people a bag of chips washed down with a can of cola unattractive too.
‘It is most difficult to supply protein as the protein in beans is of lower biological value so more must be eaten. This means the stomach is very full after each meal’.
Well good, isn’t that the point? Fill us up so we are not hungry?
‘This may lead to enlargements.’
Oh no! – enlargements of what?
And lastly
‘This vegetarian diet may be expensive.’
How so! Compared with rump steak or roast lamb? How much do they think a can of baked beans costs?
This textbook is written in 1971 and taught in cookery rooms throughout Britain, so how many children in our burgeoning multi ethnic society have to put up with this nonsense?

Cookery for Schools

Is Cookery for Schools more helpful on the textbook front? No.

  • ‘Meat and fish have distinctive flavours which stimulate the digestive juices and increase the appetite. In a vegetarian diet these flavours are sadly missing.’

Well, isn’t that the point! A vegetarian doesn’t want to eat meat of fish so they would hate these ‘distinctive meaty, fishy flavours’.

  • ‘Larger portions of vegetables should be served to vegetarians than to those eating a normal diet.’

So there we have it. Vegetarians aren’t normal, they must eat platefuls of vegetables which will fill them up and lead to enlargements. How am I going to teach that frippery?

At the end of the lesson, the class reads and answers the set questions in their exercise books.

Unfortunately the questions are as mad as the text – here’s the choice.

  1. Why are meatless dishes often unpopular?
  2. How can this be avoided?
  3. What are the difficulties in arranging and preparing meals for a vegetarian?

Here’s some answers that Cookery for Schools might expect from my kids:

  1. Meatless dishes are often unpopular because they don’t have any meat in them and me dad says he always has to have meat and two veg for his supper.
  2. Meatless dishes can be avoided by not eating them.
  3. The difficulties in arranging and preparing meals for a vegetarian are that you need lots and lots of beans and vegetables because they have to eat so many to get their protein and this can be expensive. And then they get really full and enlarged.

My class love to torment me with silly answers to my questions.
When I ask a test question ‘What are oats?’ Mick replies

‘Depends if you mean getting your oats, having your oats or porridge oats.’ I am careful with wording after that.

Changes in vegetarian cuisine are on the way. By the mid seventies, the financial downturn in the UK means thrifty cooking kicks in.  One day something big arrives on my desk. A bag of brown, dried bits that the sender suggests I use to make new, cheap high protein meals.  TVP has jumped into our food chain and the  company wants me to persuade the nation’s children that it is a delicious, cheap substitute for meat, which we can no longer afford.

My TVP lesson goes  like this.
‘This is called TVP – it stands for Textured Vegetable protein.’
I hold out a handful of dried, beige lumps which smell of damp cardboard. Next I pass a pudding bowl with larger, softer lumps.
‘I’ve soaked these chunks in water and now we are ready to make a meatless stew.’
Bill mutters first.
‘Looks like dried dog turds, miss’
‘Or bits of  old dishcloth.’ Len likes plain food that he can recognize. TVP is not plain.
‘Len this lesson is learning about vegetarians and we are going to cook something modern for them.’
They mumble and grumble and shuffle off to cook up some carrots and onions in a thick Bisto gravy.
‘Now we stir in the lumps of TVP.’
They pass round the bowl and spoon a pile of the soaked chunks into their saucepans.
I chivvy them along.
‘It’s very clever, this stuff. The soya  is extruded, texturised, then cut and dried into chunks. Come on class, what shall we call this new stew?’
‘Muck’ says Bill.
‘Brown muck’ adds Len.
They don’t want to eat it or take it home, and shamble out of the room clutching their out of date textbooks with the task of answering the impossible questions for homework.
That’s vegetarian cooking done for 1972.

History note

Vegetarian society

The Vegetarian Society was founded in 1847 and the first vegetarian hospital was opened in Ramsgate in 1846. It is amazing how little impact the society had on the things that were taught in school cookery lessons in the 1970s. The Vegetarian Society now has its own logo that goes on food labels and its extensive website ‘provides imaginative, creative and delicious vegetarian food.’

The Vegan Society

In 1944 a group of ‘non-dairy vegetarians’ formed a new society with a name to describe themselves – vegan derived from VEGetariAN. The Society wanted to show that ‘the use of animal products (such as meat, dairy, eggs, leather and wool) will be viewed as an inhumane and unsustainable practice from a much less enlightened age.’

Haldane Foods is one of the country’s oldest producers of meat and dairy-free produce. Some of their products are available under brands such as Realeat, Direct Foods and Granose which was established over 100 years ago, and some of its products were invented by a Dr John Harvey Kellogg.

Linda McCartney popularised a meat-free diet in Britain, published a guide to vegetarian cookery, ‘Linda McCartney’s Home Cooking’ in 1989, and launched her own range of ready-made vegetarian meals in 1991.


In the 1960s, there were fears that the world would run out of animal protein. In response to this, scientists set out to find an alternative protein source. The new protein was part of the fungi family and was called Mycoprotein after ‘myco’, the Greek for fungi.

TVP® – Textured Vegetable Protein – is a byproduct from soya beans, made after the production of soya oil. After World War 11 there was a huge demand for food, and sales of soya foods and soybean meal increased massively. In the 1930s the soybean meal had been used for animal feed, but by the 1940s it was ‘food grade’ and ready to use in soya products.

In the 1971 TVP was approved for the USA school lunch programme, and the product became an ingredient in many prepared foods, to reduce costs.

In 1973, in the UK, Cadbury’s launched Soya Choice which they claimed was ‘a roaring success’ because it was nutritious and half the price of meat. The UK economy was in a downturn, the price of meat had soared, so shoppers were looking at ways to reduce their food costs.

How is TVP made? When the oil has been removed from the soya beans, the remaining dough is cooked under pressure with steam and extruded. The extrusion technology changes the structure of the soy protein, resulting in a fibrous spongy matrix that is similar in texture to meat which is made into textured, dried granules, flakes and chunks. Add water and it swells up and is used as a meat replacer to extend dishes such as minced beef for pies and bolognaise.  It is low in cost, low in fat and relatively high in fibre as it is a plant food.

Today food producers around the world manufacture and sell extruded textured soy protein under a range of trade names, including soya meat. The modern versions come in many flavours including bacon, chicken, sausage, beef, ham and taco. One company website says that TVP can create some gas after eating, so maybe my early textbooks were true – a vegetarian diet can cause enlargements.

Today teaching about vegetarianism is a big topic in schools. Along with food allergies, e numbers and food labels, we have plenty of information and lots of delicious things to cook.

It is estimated that over 3 million people eat a vegetarian diet in the UK.

Brigid McKevith, Senior Nutrition Scientist, British Nutrition Foundation

‘Some large studies have shown that vegetarians have a lower overall mortality rate than the general population. A high intake of plant foods is associated with a reduced risk of some cancers and several studies have found an increased risk of colorectal cancer amongst those with the highest intakes of meat and the lowest intakes of fibre. However, there is no evidence that being vegetarian confers a protective effect.’

Vegetarian society

Vegan society www.vegansociety.com


Filed under Boys cooking, Jenny Ridgwell, Retro recipes, Vegetarian cookery