What’s in a name?

It’s 1972 and I have to choose the sign for my food room door.

Jim, the caretaker takes down the Housecraft sign, so what is my door called now?

Cookery, Home Economics, Domestic Science, Housecraft, Food and Nutrition? Baking teacher?
What is the name of the subject I teach? What other school subject has five different names? If a magazine changed its title this often it would have gone bust, out of print and defunct.

What is it called!!

So it is that students arrive through my door, bewildered about what they will study, followed by the ‘I hate all my subjects’ and ‘I don’t know what to do’ and ‘I hate school so they’ve told me to come to you.’ There are also students that other teachers think are too lazy or stupid to do anything else. Anyone can cook. It’s not like other subjects that require a few brain cells to master techniques and learn the facts. Cookery is perfect for the badly behaved, disaffected, non readers and generally daft. My job at the start of term is to keep classes in order and jolly them along to turn up and do some work. And enjoy the cooking too.

The main tactic that I use to keep order and get things done, apart from being stern, is to tell everyone that they will take the EXAM. This is a scary choice for me, as my end of year results are judged on how many exam passes I achieve. Some of my students are not entered for any other subjects, but if I let one person off the challenge, they’ll mutter and moan and disrupt the group. So it’s one goal for all. They have to take a two or two and a half hour practical cooking exam backed up with a long written paper.

For the practical they have to cook meals, and cakes and bread and biscuits and pastry and show as many skills as they can throw into the time. I think the cookery practical is the most challenging exam that a sixteen year old can take. They are competing against themselves and must produce an edible, attractive display of food at the end of the exam time – even burnt food has to be displayed to get some marks. And they are marked throughout on technique, safety and hygiene. That exam over, they have to answer the daft and sexist questions from our silly textbooks for their written exam.

My exam training camp starts immediately the autumn term begins. There is always homework after each lesson, and anyone that forgets has a detention. They are expert at homework excuses. ‘I left it on the bus’, ‘My pen ran out’, ‘My dog ate it’, ‘Jimmy took it and didn’t give it back.’

Detention means that I have to stay late at school to supervise the miscreants, and while other teachers gossip in the staffroom, the end of my day is spent with the usual group who stay after school to complete their work. As the autumn term progresses, the detention group dwindles in size. This means two things. Firstly, the majority are learning that I mean business. Secondly, that those that don’t care bunk off and no amount of threats and remonstration will persuade them to hand in their written work. Often these students leave after the spring term and never take the dreaded exam.

But back to the subject name. What is it? Over the years the exam name changes and I tell the school office that we are to be called this and that. But in the end it is down to basics – I am teaching them how to cook!


Eccles cakes

The quickest way is to buy Puff pastry ready made – home made rough puff pastry is a complete waste of everyone’s time.

200 g ready made puff pastry


25 g soft brown sugar

100 g currants

50 g mixed peel

½ tsp mixed spice

½ tsp ground nutmeg

Grated Lemon rind

25 g butter

Milk and sugar to glaze


Preheat the oven to 220 C / Gas 7.

Roll out the pastry into an oblong and cut into 8 squares.

Mix together all the filling ingredients and place a spoonful onto each of the squares.

Brush the edges of the pastry with milk and fold the edges into the centre to seal them.

Turn over the cakes and roll out to form a circle and until the fruit just shows under the pastry. Make three slits in the top and brush with sugar and milk.

Nigel Slater in his memoir Toast – the story of a boy’s hunger – wrote about his cookery teacher Miss Adams.
‘The first lesson couldn’t have been easier. My Victoria Sandwich rose like a dream and had, according to Miss Adams, the perfect ‘crumb’ and a fine flavour.’ But then he got a job cooking in a local inn. ‘Di was teaching me more in 2 evenings a week than Miss Adams had managed in a whole year of domestic science lessons, or home economics as they had recently decided to call it.’ So he was part of the name change too.

In 1990 the subject changed its name again to Food Technology. This meant students had to learn about the industrial production of food products and make a food product that could be sold to a target group.

The government became concerned that students did not know how to cook, so Licence to Cook was started  to make sure that all students learnt some basic cooking skills during their school life.

So what’s in a name?

1 Comment

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One response to “What’s in a name?

  1. Janet Stuart

    It’s all been an easy and very pleasant read.. by Jove didn’t you work hard.


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