“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.”
As a young teacher what was it like 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.
The 1970s was the first time boys could learn about cooking and schools weren’t ready. Most of the boys were rejected from metalwork and art lessons – their teachers didn’t want them. In 1970s London, food cultures were changing fast but to pass the exam they had to learn to cook high fat, high sugar cakes and pastries. And learn about invalid cookery and washing and ironing a shirt.
We cooked through the seasons, preserving autumn windfalls to make chutneys and pickles, making mince pies and cakes for Christmas. Spring brought Seville orange marmalade and pink rhubarb. In summer we made fussy salads with radish roses, tomato lilies and spring onion twirls all served in a sauceboat of Heinz Salad Cream. Then the dreaded practical exam when I would find out if they have really 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.