The summer term is the final test for my teaching skills – the cookery practical exam. I have to get 60 students to cook an elaborate, edible meal, with hot drink, flower arrangement, smart tablecloth and all the other silly exam tasks that they throw at us. And they must show all the skills I’ve taught them!
This feat takes place over several days as each student uses their own cooker and sink, which is unheard of during the rest of the year.
And I must shop and provide all the ingredients. The headmaster has agreed that since it is an exam, the school will cover the cost!
These are some tasks.
‘Cook a two course lunch for 4 people and prepare an evening dish for someone coming back from a fishing trip. Clean a pair of muddy football boots.’
‘Prepare a hot breakfast for a family of four who are going out for the day. Make a packed lunch and some cakes and a drink for them to take with them. Wash and starch some napkins.’
‘Prepare an evening meal for a family with a teenage girl. Make sure that the meal is rich in iron and calcium. Bake some pasties for a packed lunch. Wash and iron a shirt.’
The exam lasts two and a half hours. They must keep to time, follow their plan and produce edible, attractive food on the table. I switch from helpful teacher to the role of THE EXAMINER and march round the room with my clipboard, watching students peel and chop vegetables, prepare pastry, bake cakes, biscuits and bread. I take off marks for poor cooking skills, messy worktops and general flustered bumbling.
They’ve had lots of rehearsals at learning what loses marks. I peek over shoulders, open saucepan lids, bend down and peer into ovens, and rootle in the rubbish bin for food wastage. I bark out warnings.
‘Turn the pan handle in – someone could knock over the boiling water.’
‘Don’t cut away all that potato skin– use a peeler.’
‘Use your fingertips to rub the fat into the flour – if you squeeze it will be a soggy lump!’
‘Don’t throw bits of pastry away – make some jam tarts – we have to use everything – no wastage!’
‘Peel the apple with the paring knife!’
‘Don’t lick your food – I won’t taste it if you do!’
Licking loses loads of marks.
Privately I love licking and have been caught eating my favourite – spoonfuls of fluffy margarine and sugar, beaten to pale creaminess for Victoria sandwich.
There are strict rules on serving their food.
Savoury flans and cheese scones are cooked and cut with PLAIN flan rings and cutters.
Sweet tarts and lemon meringue pies must have FLUTED edges. These are the RULES laid down in some Victorian kitchen and they are not to be BROKEN.
Years later, shopping in Sainsburys, I am shocked to see a savoury quiche baked in a fluted flan case. An unforgivable sin committed by food product developers.
D’oyleys must follow savoury and sweet rules – plain for savouries and frilly ones of sweet scones and cakes.
One mark lost for the wrong choice and a scowl from me.
On the exam day they work in silence. except for emergencies.
‘I feel sick miss.’
‘Just keep on cooking Angie – we can’t waste these ingredients.’
‘I’ve dropped an egg on the floor.’
‘Dan, here’s a cloth – clear up and start again.’
I only come to their aid if there is real danger.
‘Paul – put the lid on your frying pan quickly and so that it doesn’t catch fire! And take that tea towel off the top of the cooker!.’
‘Miss, it was an accident!’
I press my finger to my lips. No speaking, no excuses, this is a real test.
‘OK class you have 20 minutes to finish.’
A class gasp of panic.
‘I’ve burnt the cake miss.’
‘Cut off the black bits and cover it with icing.’
‘My chocolate mousse isn’t set.’
‘Stick it in the freezer, quick.’
They scurry round the room, tarting up the dishes with garnishes of parsley for savoury and sticky glacé cherries and angelica diamonds for sweet desserts.
Suddenly it is over. ‘Time’s up – present your food.’
Amazing pies with crisp, golden pastry appear hot from the oven.
Steaming dishes with soft mounds of creamy mashed potato, perfectly cooked cabbage and carrots sprinkled with chopped parsley, topped with a knob of melting margarine.
Pineapple upside down cake glistening with glacé cherries and rings of tinned pineapple served with a jug of creamy Bird’s Custard.
And a pot of tea with a strainer, jug of milk, sugar bowl and matching Beryl Ware cups and saucers.
And a rose in a polished vase.
And a clean pair of football boots.
They scramble out leaving sinks heaving with dirty plates, bowls, burnt pans and sticky baking trays.
Now for my tasting session.
All dishes have to be tried and my face remains deadpan. Students watch from outside the classroom windows. Once, when I tasted a really sweet kidney ragout, I realised the student used icing sugar instead of flour to thicken the sauce. I let out a screech of ‘Yuk’ and the inedible dish got no marks.
Are the bread rolls crisp? Is the shepherd’s pie well seasoned? Are the vegetables overcooked? Has the egg custard curdled? Is the cake soggy in the middle?
I poke and prod, slice, taste and appreciate. It is delicious. They have done me proud.
Marking is over and they surge in to photograph and fuss. Friends come in to congratulate and commiserate. But mainly to eat. Then pack up, wash up, and leave with a wave and ‘Thanks miss – I enjoyed that!’
I have taught them to cook and they have learnt well.