Sister Mary Josephine of Fright ~ Part 3

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!

13 thoughts on “Sister Mary Josephine of Fright ~ Part 3

  1. wisewebwoman

    I so admire your stoicism in the face of such unbelievable drudgery. I am amazed you didn’t turn your back on cooking
    I was never kitchen trained (deliberately, I should do a post about that!) so had to learn upon marriage but found I totally enjoyed it and still do.

  2. Rhyelysgranny

    Oh Grannymar. I so remember carrying all the stuff backwards and forwards although never a pot of stew or a Christmas cake LOL 🙂 We had to copy the recipes in our jotters. I think I may still have mine somewhere. If my Domestic teacher could see my collection of cookery books now. Over 200 at the last count :0

  3. cathy

    I love those stories of school. I was at school in France, where no domestic science was taught – in mixed classes, they probably thought art and craft was the best the boys could manage!

  4. Grannymar Post author

    WWW – The cooking I enjoyed best was with mammy in the kitchen when everyone else was out of the house. We chatted away and laughed plenty as we worked.

    Rhyelysgranny – My sister went to a different school when her turn came and she had a copybook for her recipes. She still has it and now there are special additions – mammy added recipes over the years, so her beautiful handwriting lives on as well as the recipes!

    Cathy – Glad you enjoyed the posts. Thankfully the world has changed and boys learn to cook as well as girls. Men make great cooks!

  5. Baino

    I swear we had the same curriculum. Although any thing useful I learned to cook from my mother. Much the same as you, my mother went back to work full time and to study for her midwifery which meant shift work. I was left to feed a family of five. Soon learned that you can do a lot with a few staple recipes, savoury mince, bechemel sauce, basic casseroles etc. Unlike your nasty Nun . . our ingredients were largely provided at school so no traipsing around with big bags of flour!
    Lovely stories Grannymar but such a shame about your Christmas cakes.

  6. Rummuser

    As interesting as I find the stories of your adventures in the school kitchen and Sister MJ of Fright, somehow it is a big let down. I expected ovens blowing up, stews hitting the ceiling, girls chopping off their fingers etc. Surely, those things happened too!

  7. Grannymar Post author

    Baino – The Christmas cake recipe was the only decent one from all those years. It was in fact the middle tier of a wedding cake and from Part two of the book I wrote about last week. We were not required to purchase it. I wrote out the recipe and began making that cake in 1960. By the time I was due to make it in school, I knew how to do it in my sleep! I made several wedding cakes for relations and friends and one year I made and decorated eleven Christmas cakes!

    Ramana – There were no exciting tales because the five years I spent in that school were a total let down. The sad part was that my parents paid fees for me to attend.

  8. steph


    I hope Sister MJ had the decency to award you the Domestic Science prize for Best Student?

    My daughter’s Domestic Science teacher was like a bad joke. I challenged her at a parent/teacher meeting once and she improved for a few weeks but then resorted again to her habit of failing to turn up to give the class.

    Guess who won the ‘Best Student’ award that year?

    Yes, you guessed right! She thought that by giving my daughter first prize, she’d placate me but she was wrong.

    I lodged an official complaint about her to the School Principal.

  9. Grannymar Post author

    Steph – PRIZE DAY!!!!! We never heard of prizes. In fact I never heard one word of encouragement or praise in all the five years I was there.

  10. Geri Atric

    A lovely post Grannymar! You paint an intriguing picture. Alas, I was like that bewildered girl in front of you with the wet slop(!) Our DS teacher wasn’t called ‘Fright’ – but she frightened the bejeesus out of me!
    I’m sorry to hear you were never praised for your efforts as a child. Happily though, your own dertermination has pulled you through and your recepies on the blog are much appreciated. Teachers were so odd in those days, weren’t they(?) A kind word of encouragement can do so much good…..

  11. Grannymar Post author

    Geri – Sr MJF was not actually the worst. I was never afraid to stand my ground with her, since I knew what I was doing. Yes, the teachers I encountered in school were odd, I wondered at times why they chose the profession. yet, I knew many good people who were teachers, my father’s sister was amazing.

  12. Alice

    What a delightful memory bank you have. When I reached into my own from my “home economics” class, forced on me in lieu of the psychology class I specially requested in its place from the school principal, all I remember is the “baking powder” biscuits (bread, not cookies, in U.S.) that were hard as hockey pucks!


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