Back to the Domestic Science kitchen this week for tales of how we were taught to cook. Last week you saw the ‘bible’ we used for the full five years. By the time you take away the school holidays, the term lasted for roughly nine months. Cooking for 36+ weeks a year multiplied by five and we still didn’t cover all the recipes in the book. In part two you had plenty of details of the type of recipes we were asked to produce. Part one covered the wonders of sewing!
As I said before Domestic Science was considered a very important subject for young ladies about to embark on the adult world in the early 60s, they needed to be able to run a kitchen and feed the world. Who was it said “The way to a man’s heart was through his stomach”? Hmmmmm!
So for 90 minutes each week I stood alongside my pal N as we chopped, stirred or mixed the chosen ingredients for the day. We had no input into the choice of what we made. At the end of each class Sister Mary Josephine of Fright wrote on the blackboard the title of the recipe and the page number for the next week.
My very first session was making Rock Buns! No, they were not heavy like rocks, more like blobs of scone mixture with raisins in! Suitable for same day eating with butter or jam and mine did not make the tea table…. hungry hoards called brothers devoured them when they arrived home from school.
Now you must remember that I started my cooking very early. Mammy was ill on many occasions. So, as the eldest girl I was expected to take her place and prepare, cook and serve the food to my father, brothers and my sister. It was expected on the table at the usual times and to be the same standard as mammy would produce.
My early lessons in those days at home involved mammy giving me instructions from her bed. “I think you should start peeling the potatoes and vegetables now” or “Light the gas oven to reglo 5 now, so that it will be hot when you are ready to put the dinner in”. I made soups, stews, roasts as well as cleaning out chickens & turkeys before cooking them. I boiled hams, grilled fish and much more; all learned by the up and down stairs method.
The baking of bread and cakes were familiar, all experience gained from mammy’s side, so the school kitchen held no fears for me. With baking every day, mammy bought large quantities of the various flours, wheatenmeal, sugar etc. The flour bags weighed the equivalent of 2kg. We worked in old time – lbs and ounces were our usual measures.
We carried all our own ingredients to school each week plus a suitable container to take the finished item home again. School was a twenty five minute walk from home and there was a bus service that came once every blue moon. Even in the rain it was quicker to walk. So on ‘cookery’ day I headed out looking like a Sherpa ready to climb Mount Everest, with my bag of cooking gear and the bag with normal school books as well! I am sure that by the time I have school going grandchildren they will skip along to school with all they need on a memory stick!
Sister Mary Josephine of Fright expected us, no demanded that we bring in our ingredients in the bags with the brand name on. How ridiculous was that. Imagine me carrying a 2kg bag of flour so that I could weigh out 175gms or at most 250 gms. So I rebelled! I weighed out my ingredients at home and put them in plastic bags. I even broke the eggs into a jar with a tight lid – less chance of an accident. Sister Mary Josephine of Fright had a fit, but I said that mammy needed the rest to bake with that morning.
Then there was the day of the stew! We were to make Irish stew. Gigot chops, onions, potatoes and parsley & thyme, pepper & salt and that was it! All good heavy ingredients to carry. Mammy had the bright idea! “If you are making Irish stew, sure you might as well cook all of the meat and save me doing it at home”! So old muggins here, hikes up the road for twenty five minutes with half the butcher’s shop on my back. Thankfully we never got round to a grilled pork chop, or I might have had to carry one of these.
Well now you guessed it. We needed the salts…. smelling salts for Sister Mary Josephine of Fright when she saw the mountain of meat I was preparing for the pot. “Are you feeding an army”? she asked, as she passed my desk. My partner N had to stamp on my foot to stop me saying that “No, it was just a snack”!
We didn’t have fancy snap lock boxes back then I had a saucepan to carry the stew home in. It would be the one day when Eddy the messenger boy from the grocers was riding by on his bicycle. He stopped and offered me a lift. Where was he going to put me? Did he really expect me to climb into the great big basket on the front and balance the great big saucepan of stew while he waddled from side to side on the bendy road? Can you imagine the blue moon bus passing by with all the girls waving and laughing at me in Eddy’s basket, well there was no way I wanted that, so I declined!
The baking had its moments too. Our dear teacher was not familiar with the preheated oven. She would light the gas ovens just as cakes were ready to go into them. I carried home a flop or two and mammy was annoyed at the waste, she knew I could bake because I regularly did so at home. We talked about it and she suggested that I carry a box of matches and just light the ovens when I went into the class so they would be at the correct temperature when our baking was ready to be placed on the shelves. I was in trouble for that.
I was in trouble for separating eggs for half the class. We had two fancy egg separators for the whole class. We never bothered with them at home. Our method was to crack the egg on the side of the bowl and then break it in two halves, carefully switching the yolk from one half to the other allowing the white to fall into a small bowl. I had completed the task for most of the class before the first two people had used the fancy gadgets. Sister Mary Josephine of Fright actually asked me who was running the class that day. I was only helping my mates to speed things up.
The next week the wheels turned…. one of the girls at a table in front of me was to cooking; what I was to maths (though now I believe she is a Cordon Bleu cook!). We were mixing some kind of cake – which one I do not remember. We never had a proper demonstration for anything, since Sister Mary Josephine of Fright never made anything herself, she would float about the class and choose to stop at a desk and call us round to watch as she took over someone’s bowl or what ever and give it a stir while explaining what to do next. I saw her face as she glanced at the table in front of me. “What is that supposed to be”? she ask the girl as she half heartedly moved the spoon through the revolting slop. Totally at a loss, she turned to me and said “See what you can do with that”! The mixture was far to wet, so I was able to adjust it and save the day.
The year before I started at the school the senior class made Christmas cakes. They all burned! The oven temperature was wrong. So every year from then on the cakes were mixed in school, carried home in the raw state, baked and returned the following week to begin icing them. Another year the school was broken into on the night before the cake display. The cakes were set out and ready. When the nuns arrived in the morning the caked were smashed and thrown about the room. So by the time I was due to make a Christmas cake in school we carried it to and from school at every stage of making and decorating. It travelled that much it nearly needed a passport!