“Class! It’s time to see if your spaghetti is done. Throw it at the wall and if it’s cooked it will stick.’ Strands of hot pasta hit the nearest surface and soon my walls and ovens are covered in soft spaghetti snakes. The stiff uncooked stuff falls behind cupboards, waiting for the end-of-term clean.”
This book is a love letter about food teaching, life in 1970s London and to my husband Mark who enjoyed eating my stuffed hearts. What was it like to be a young teacher in the 1970s teaching classes of rowdy boys and girls in an east London school how to cook? Would I succeed? Well, yes and no.
I couldn’t cook when I started teaching – I thought my science degree and a copy of Cooking is Fun would do.
It was the first time boys chose to learn about cooking. Most of the boys had not chosen my lessons – they were rejects from metalwork and art. In 1970s London food cultures were changing fast but I had to show students how to cook high fat, high sugar cakes and pastries to get them through their cookery exam. And learn about ‘invalid cookery’ and washing and ironing a shirt.
We cook through the seasons, preserving autumn windfalls to make chutneys and pickles, making mince pies and cakes for Christmas. Spring brings Seville orange marmalade and pink rhubarb. In summer we make fussy salads with radish roses, tomato lilies served with a jug of Heinz Salad Cream. Then the dreaded practical exam where I discover if they really have learnt to cook.
I have to teach Offal for their exams, and I face these lessons with dread. 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? Twenty tiny lamb’s hearts sit waiting for them on my demonstration table ready for them to stuff and roast.