Stories from my 1970s food lessons in an east London school
British households in the seventies have a great tradition of using leftover food. Meat from the Sunday roast is made into cottage pie and rissoles and leftover brussels sprouts and cold potato become bubble and squeak. There’s endless ideas for stale bread including throwing it in the bin.
Réchauffé is the posh French term we have to use in lessons for reheating leftover food. I read to them from our textbook bible –
‘An extravagant cook will throw extra cooked food away.
An unimaginative one simply warms it up or serves it cold.
An efficient one will deal with it in such a way as to present an attractive, appetising and nutritious dish.
So today we’ve got to make an attractive dish from leftovers.’
The problem is that we haven’t got any leftovers. No-one wants to bring in their old food – it’s like showing us your dirty washing or the holey socks from the darning basket.
They sit on their stools, aprons on ready, weary at waiting while I read out THE RULES from our bible.
‘Rule 1 Leftover food must be absolutely fresh.’
Please, no-one ask the obvious question!
‘How can leftover food be fresh, Miss?’
‘Good point, Alice – it means it mustn’t be stale.’
‘But, Miss you said to use stale bread – you said..’
‘Rule 2! Reheat the food only – do not re-cook.’
Stupid, stupid books – just learn it – it’s in the book to learn for THE EXAM.
‘Listen – you must learn not to waste food – think how your grandparents managed during the Second World War – there were posters saying ‘Make do and Mend.’
‘Me grandfather ate army food during the war – he was a soldier.’
Bert wants to cook and is fed up with theory.
‘OK! The most important thing to remember is that when leftover food is reheated it must be piping hot to kill the germs.’
“How do I know when it’s piping hot?”
Thanks Alice. Good question. Stick your finger in it and if it’s piping hot you shout ‘Ow it’s piping hot!’
‘We’re making fishcakes today with leftover potatoes, bread and tinned salmon.’
I’ve created our réchauffé ingredients by boiling up vats of potatoes and baking a loaf of Mother’s Pride until it’s crisp.
‘This is how you make the breadcrumbs.’
I seal the baked bread slices inside a polythene bag then bash it with a rolling pin.
‘‘But they’re brown. Breadcrumbs are orange!’
No wonder Bert is jumpy if he’s eating orange coloured packet food.
‘Now it’s your turn.’
They scatter and mash the potato with the pink fish, season then shape into fishcakes.
‘Dip in beaten egg and then roll in breadcrumbs and they’re ready to cook.’
They form a dipping and rolling queue at my table. Well it’s more of a mucking about, jostling, pushing line with the occasional thump as they hurry to get their fishcakes ready to fry for their lunch.
Plates of golden, crunchy fishcakes, some with a sprig of parsley appear on my table, then we’re ready to eat.
For homework they must learn the names of weird réchauffé recipes:
Cooked meat is made into Durham cutlets, meat in aspic, kromeskies and mince toast.
Stale bread becomes raspings, rusk, fruit and cheese charlotte.
Spare fruit is turned into fritters, fools and charlottes.
Where did these peculiar dishes vanish to?
Thank goodness the Réchauffé and Invalid cooking lessons are done and dusted for another year, and the stupid rules and daft recipes will be tested next week.
Pink or red canned salmon
John West has sold canned salmon for over 120 years. The species purchased and sold by John West in the 1970s included canned Red Salmon, canned Pink Salmon, canned Coho (Medium Red) Salmon and a few canned Chum (or Keta) Salmon. The canned Red and Pink salmon were sold in shops in the UK, and Keta Salmon was more commonly sold for catering or wholesale use. As now, the Red Salmon would have been more expensive than the Pink Salmon.
Many ready meal instructions say that food should be heated until it is piping hot but this is no use unless you know the temperature that the food must be cooked to for safety. It’s best to use a food probe and check that the core temperature of the product has reached 75C for 30 seconds.
The term piping hot may come from medieval times and mean the steam from the spout of a kettle – so that means very hot indeed!