We’ve all heard that haven’t we. Whether it’s to do with the kids’ homework, PE lessons, field trips or classes of some kind, Teacher is always right and knows best (or not).
I went to an all girls grammar school. Sadly, so did my sister 4 years before me, so I was always compared to her in needlework (which end has the eye again?), sports (too slow), languages (couldn’t cough my Rs in French), science (turned a frog orange), you get the picture.
My Mum is a great cook. My Dad was also pretty good in the kitchen, but most of the baking was left to Mum, and of course growing up we were allowed to do kiddie things like lick the cake mix bowl (my husband still does), cut out the little rings of pastry for tarts and mince pies, or make the doughboys for the stew.
I love to cook….. today. At school though, I could never get it right, and it didn’t matter if my efforts looked and tasted OK, if they weren’t done Teacher’s Way, any test was an immediate flunk.
Teach was an unmarried squat dumpling of a woman in her 40s, which seems very old when you’re only 14. She would give us a demo one week, then hand out the recipes so that we could bring in the ingredients to make the dish the following week. Some of the muck she mixed together and described as muesli turned my stomach, so as there was no point making something no-one in our house would eat, I was ‘ill’ that day.
They say the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. It said a lot she was still single.
One particular lesson was for a basic victoria sponge sandwich. Teach had everything to hand and once we’d taken our seats proceeded to cream the fat and sugar. When she added the eggs, it went all slimy and she said she’d deliberately made it curdle so that she could show us how to avoid it if it happened to us. Yeah, right. (Apparently adding a little flour with the eggs stops this). Next we had to ‘fold in the flour’ with a metal spoon. It was never explained why it had to be metal. I must confess she did have a rather good wrist twist technique for this bit.
The oven had been heating during her preparation, and she spooned the mixture into the greased and floured baking tins, then popped them in the oven for 20 minutes. As usual, I got nominated to do her washing up and missed any visual tips because the sinks were behind her.
Our lessons were only 40 minutes long, so as that had to include cooking time and clearing up, it was suggested we weighed all our ingredients at home so that it was just a case of putting them all together. That was going to be a major problem for me as a set of kitchen scales were not part of the home cooking tool kit. I told her this and she got all huffy puffy saying it was typical that I had to be the exception. Of course the whole class heard her and started sniggering.
Dad, bless him, helped me get all my stuff together by guessing the weights of fat, flour and sugar. He was more or less spot on so I had little raw ingredients to bring home. Teach was not impressed though, so black mark number one and I hadn’t even started yet. I set out my mixing bowl, utensils and ingredients, not forgetting to switch on the oven before I began. I worked my way through the method and soon the cakes were rising, turning nicely brown and smelt really good.
Remember me washing up last time? Well, I missed the important bit taking the cakes out. Mum always tested her cakes with a sharp knife, so I did too. Teach went berserk.
‘Don’t you ever pay attention in class?’ she screeched. ‘Did I test it with a knife last week? You gently press it with your fingers and know it’s done when it springs back. Look at it! Yours is all flat and more like a biscuit!’
Close to tears, but determined not to give her (and the class) the satisfaction, I let my effort cool as I cleared everything away. Teach was strutting round the class as they stood to attention guarding their cooling trays, and marking everyone’s results. She cooed over the favourite’s (Daddy’s on the Board) cake which was twice as high as anyone elses. The smug cow had doubled up on everything but still got Best in Class (again) and I was bottom, again.
At home, Dad had a look inside my tin and insisted there was nothing wrong with my cake, apart from the little slit in the wrinkly top where the knife had gone in. We sandwiched it together with jam (not done in class), sprinkled a bit of icing sugar on top to hide the hole, and it tasted just fine.
A few weeks later, I decided to have another go with a different recipe using butter instead of margarine and made Mum a cake as she hadn’t been well. To save future prejudice, we had some scales now so I was able to measure everything properly. Left to my own devices, and without Teach breathing down my neck, I creamed, beat (no curdling) and folded, then split the mixture and cooked. After 25 minutes, I tested and it was lovely and springy. It turned out nicely onto the tray without sticking, and when cool I sandwiched it together with strawberry jam. It was so light, it almost floated off the plate and tasted absolutely perfect.
As I said earlier, I love to cook now and I’ve found success isn’t always in a cookery book.
I cried over my first roast dinner as my potatoes didn’t go brown and crunchy. An elderly friend told me her secret of boiling the spuds for 9 (not 8 or 10) minutes, draining off the water, and giving them a little shake before putting them in hot fat, spooning some over the tops, then cook in the oven for about 35 minutes. Perfect every time now.
My yorkshire puds were berets rather than top hats, but a lady in the supermarket overheard my sad conversation and told me to make sure the fat was really hot (blue) before adding the batter.
Crumbles and fruit cake mixes are done by eye and ‘feel’ with the rubbing in method.
Pastry is a rough 3 parts flour, 1 part fat (leaning more to the flour and a 50/50 split lard and marg), pinch of salt and hot water to mix.
Sauces and soups are made from scratch, and seasoned to suit our personal taste.
I use more herbs and spices than salt and pepper these days too.
If Teach could see me now, she’d probably have a coronary as nothing I do is how she said it should be done. My sponges are terrific but no thanks to her. Another friend told me her secret, which is based on the weight of the eggs and adding ½ a teaspoon of both baking powder and cream of tartar when sifting in the flour.
Luckily for me, I only had to do cookery for a single term and needless to say did not take it as one of my O level subjects. I took Music instead, but what a fight I had with the school to do that!