‘Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. It helps you break your fast, gives you energy to learn things and we all need a really good breakfast to start the day and help us concentrate.’

The newsagent near the school has a busy breakfast rush hour selling Mars Bars, bags of crisps and fizzy pop and my breakfast is a cup of tea sipped through the cigarette haze of the staffroom followed by a Polo mint to give me a fresh minty breath before I start teaching. Mr Bush the headmaster has droned on through a particularly long assembly – bla, bla bla – and finished with his usual praise for the school football team, whose kit I no longer have to wash, thank God. So we’re late and need to get on.

I scratch a chalky BREAKFAST onto the roller board and wonder how I’m going to inspire the boys who are slumped, dozing on my cooking tables.

‘For breakfast make sure you have some breakfast cereal, vitamin C from orange juice or grapefruit, and protein from boiled eggs or bacon, and some toast and a hot drink.’

Stanley stuffs some chocolate in his mouth and pushes the crumpled Bounty Bar wrapper into his equipment drawer. The blue and white label with its desert island palm trees reminds me that I haven’t heard back from the home economics job in Jamaica – I must ring them on the school phone in my lunch break.

‘Today we’re going to prepare and serve a proper breakfast and lay the table – you might have to make it FOR THE EXAM, so we need to practice.’

‘Ain’t doing no exam. I’m leaving.’ gets muttered from the tables. 

This dreaded exam is a threat for all of us. I have to teach them how to cook a three course breakfast, lay the table properly and pretend this meal is served in households throughout the country. 

Our breakfast menu today is

Half of fresh grapefruit with a glace cherry

Fried egg and bacon, grilled tomatoes, fried bread 

Toast and marmalade and a pot of tea.

I would say toast and butter, but we can only afford margarine.

Zigzagged grapefruit

We shift out toast racks, tea services, cruet sets, mustard pots, marmalade and sugar bowls, cutlery and crockery from the store room and lay the tables with seersucker table cloths and napkins. There’s enough crockery and dining equipment in my store room to serve breakfast on the Titanic.  Our textbook tells us that seersucker is OK for breakfast, but we must use embroidered or lace cloths for afternoon tea. I’ll need to explain that to the headmaster when it comes to increasing my capitation. 

‘Bring your stools – I’ll show you how to prepare the grapefruit. Cut it in half, then use the GRAPEFRUIT KNIFE to cut round and loosen the segments.’ 

Ah ha – this is another tool from the museum of food history. I have a box of these specialist knives, with curved blades and a serrated edge on each side. And they only do one job – cutting grapefruit.

My elaborate preparation goes on. 

‘Snip the edges of the rind with scissors so that it’s pointy all the way round. Serve in a glass sundae dish with a glacé cherry on top, on a saucer with a frilly d’oyley and a grapefruit spoon.’

Why do I teach this nonsense? I think it’s a plot from the historical d’oyley factory to increase trade to put d’oyleys with everything.

The boys are experts at a cooked breakfast fry up. They snip the rind off the bacon, put some lard in the frying pan, and fry the bacon and eggs, make fried bread then grill the tomatoes.

Quick – cook the toast and put in the toast rack. Don’t bother with butter curls. Make pots of steaming tea. Put the washing up in the butlers’ sinks.

‘Sit down class, let’s eat.’

Passing teachers and students watch through my classroom windows and Mr Nunn will no doubt tease me later in the staffroom.

‘It’s all right you Jenny. All you do is cook and eat food. We slave away at the blackboard trying to impart knowledge then read and correct piles of exercise books while you just taste and give them mark.’

Yes, right. And who do I see driving off home minutes after the school bell rings? And who sits and listens to the cricket scores on his radio during break time? 

But he’s got a point – what lesson could be better and more useful than teaching cooking!

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Filed under 1970 cookery recipes, Boys cooking, Cookery exams in the 1970s, cooking in the 1970s, Jenny Ridgwell

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