Schoolgirl pregnant


This is the story I wrote in my book I taught them to cook about a fifteen year old student who I recognised was pregnant – a story of the 1970s which is in the news today.

Book about teaching in 1970s

Vicky

Vicky has been subdued since the start of term and is not turning up for lessons or palling up with Carol so often. And I haven’t seen her sidle up to Len and stroke his back like she used to. But I’m thankful that she’s stopped asking about my love life and future wedding plans. I don’t need reminders of my extended spinsterhood. 

‘Vicky, are you cooking today? I’ve got some ingredients in the storeroom. You can make some jam tarts.’

‘No Miss, I feel sick.’

She lays her head on the cooking table.

‘Read this chapter on Planning Meals and answer the questions. I’ll see you at the end of the lesson. Sit at my desk, out of the way.’

I hand over the textbook, a biro and some paper. Boring, boring work. I wonder if she’ll bother.

Today we’re making quiches and it’s a busy lesson. Cynthia joins me as we check that their shortcrust pastry ends up as a dough ball and not a floury glue that sticks to the tables. Next, the tricky task of easing the pastry into the flan rings, to make the pastry case. 

‘No holes in your pastry else your filling will run out.’

Bake it blind, make the egg and bacon custard, put it back in the oven and Voila. A golden, set custard with a crumbly pastry. They’ve done well.

As the class packs away, Vicky edges to the door.

‘Vicky, can you wait for a minute. You’ve not taken part in lessons for ages. What’s happened?’

 ‘I told you I’m sick, Miss.’

‘You were sick last week. Did you go to the school nurse or see your doctor?’

She winces at the suggestion.

‘They can’t do nothin’.’

My brain goes Ping. I have the answer. Of course the school nurse and her doctor can’t do nothin’.  

Headstrong, exasperating, gossipy Vicky is fifteen, desperate to leave school and become a hairdresser. And now some of her wishes may come true. Len has joined his mates and is edging out the door. No glance back. No recognition. If she’s pregnant she probably won’t come to school, and may spend weeks in the unmarried mother’s house a long way from here. She might have to give birth in a faraway place and be told it will be best for her baby to be adopted. They’ll no doubt teach her to cook but she won’t take any exams and she can’t come back to this school. For now I suspect Vicky’s dreams of becoming a hairdresser may have been shattered.

Article in The Guardian

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Egg magic


Eggs are teaching magic. My science degree will impress them – a little biology, some physics and a bit of birdwatching along the way.

The egg is the centre of my cooking world, the source of endless cheap dishes, and a great way to teach nutrition. 

‘Go to work on an egg’ was the advert from The Egg Marketing Board found in newpapers, magazines and comedian Tony Hancock and Patricia Hayes did a funny TV advert. ‘Rich in protein and very good value’ Patricia trilled and that’s my message today. If I have an egg, I have a lesson, and even a breakfast to go to work on – or in my case, to boil up when I get to my classroom.

‘Gather round and stand in a circle – I’m going to show you a trick.’

I roll the egg gently in the centre of the floor. It curls, curves and circles back. 

‘Look at that for magic – see how it returns to me. In nature it rolls back if it falls out of the nest. That’s why seagulls have very pointed eggs. They build nests on cliff edges and this way the egg rolls back in a very tight circle.’

My science brain questions this story as I’m thinking that seagulls’ nests cling to the sides of cliffs and the eggs would more likely drop over the cliff edge than roll back to their scrappy nests.  But I’ve got their attention and later I’ll tell them about the poor, beak-clipped battery chickens stuck in cages never seeing a nest or daylight and that lay most of the eggs sold in the shops. I’ve visited an egg farm and seen how their eggs drop through the bars of their prison cages and down into collecting tubes. These sad, featherless birds blinked at me for rescue but their next stop was the chicken pie factory and they wouldn’t need plucking. Battery farmed eggs are cheap, perfect for my low budget cookery recipes and we, the public, don’t seem to care.

Best quality eggs used have a Little Lion symbol stamped on their shells but my box of eggs has no logo and gives no clues to show when or where the eggs have been laid. No dates and no worries about how old, but I know that there is a TEST.

‘How do you know if an egg is fresh Emily?’

I’m trying to give the girls more attention as I’ve neglected them in class when boisterous boys shoot up their hands and shout when I ask a question.

We wait for quiet, gentle Emily to give an answer, but she’s surrounded by male cries of ‘Ask me, ask me!’ ‘I know!’

The boys’ enthusiasm must be ignored. My girls have equal importance in this thrusting, testosterone-filled world, and I have to give them a chance.

Ray can’t contain himself any more.

‘Miss you can smell if it’s off – it stinks. They’re good for stink bombs.’

I give Ray a stern look. Some boys nod and nudge and it feels like there’s a glint of a plot. Ray is right. An off egg has the disgusting smell of sulphur but it is the girl’s turn. They must not be bullied into silence.

‘OK Emily, come and help me with the egg test.’

Emily stands beside the large jug of salty water on my demonstration table. She’s nervous as I hand her three raw eggs. Two eggs have been bought recently and the other comes from my old egg collection that I hide in the store cupboard just for this age test.  Once someone wandered in used one and the stench was unbearable.

‘Emily, drop each egg carefully into a jug of salted water – the fresh eggs sink and the stale egg floats.’

One of the eggs bobs to the top of the water and the others are suspended in between.

‘See, this floating egg is stale so we don’t use it. Thankyou Emily for helping.’

Miss, the Magician has done it again, and I’ve let the girls have a turn. This lesson is going well and I’ve got more egg tricks to share andl take this session into the stratosphere.

‘Did you know that whole eggs are passed over a light to see if they are clear inside with no strange bits or chicks growing? It’s called candling and you can do it with a candle. Emily, can you hold the candle and light it please?’

I hold an egg in front of the flame. The egg shell shines and the candle flame is bloody hot but you can’t see through it like the textbook photo. This piece of magic proves nothing. Just that the egg shell shines, and that candle flame is hot. I’m no better at tricks than Tommy Cooper so change tack before I lose my dignity.

They’ve each got an egg, a nice Beryl Ware saucer and a dinner knife.

‘OK. Go back to your places, crack your egg shell in half and slide the contents onto the middle of the saucer. Now for a biology lesson.’

‘Aren’t we cooking today, miss? I don’t want theory.’

Len struggles with reading and writing. He’s neat and quiet in his age group and he says that cookery is his favourite subject. He can ‘do’ cookery but he slides out of the school gates to miss other lessons.

‘Len, we’ll cook when we’ve finished this bit.

‘Crack your eggs and look at the air sac in the top of the shell. This is where the chick takes its first breath before it pecks its way out.’

Egg shells are lined with a thin white membrane and this air sac is one of nature’s mysteries.

‘Do we ever get chicks in our eggs then?’ Len’s enthusiasm is returning.

Some of the girls look up from their shells with alarm. Once again, I forget some city kids tell me that milk comes from the milkman and fish fingers from the freezer in the supermarket. I don’t know if they are teasing but the source of the most of the food chain seems unknown.

‘It’s OK – there are no chicks in these eggs. The hens have been reared in cages with no cockerels around.’

The room puzzles. Hens, cockerels and chicks? Which reminds me – I’ve got a sex education lesson with my form next week and need some condoms.

They crack their eggs onto saucers and poke at the air sac in the shell.

‘Look at the yolk. Can you see the germ – the tiny white circle where the chick grows?’

‘You said this egg won’t be a chick?’

Len is increasingly frustrated and wants to get COOKING.

‘See the two chords – the chalaza – which hold the yolk in place. And the thick and thin whites. ’

They peer at their saucers. What’s the point in this?

‘Miss, when are we cooking?’

It’s Len again. 

‘You might have to draw a cross section of an egg for the exam, so I’m showing you what it looks like!’

Here she goes again. The exam – everything is learnt to pass the bloody exam. Len’s leaving at Easter so no tests for him. But I’ll be judged on the class grades and poor results lead to challenges in my teaching methods.

‘OK class, we’re making Chocolate Mousse – it’s just raw egg and chocolate.’

‘Scoop out the yolk carefully and put it into a bowl – don’t break it. Then whisk the egg white in another bowl until it is stiff. It’s done when you can turn the bowl upside down’

The rotary whisks whir. The upside down test is the most wasteful test- if the bowl is turned over too early the whole lot plops on the floor, accompanied by hilarious screams. Then a gathering round the sticky, eggy mess which streams over the uneven slats of the wooden floor. So we must start again. Thank goodness eggs are cheap.

The cheap cooking chocolate for this recipe is high in fat and low in tasty cocoa. Occasionally, when I’ve no time to leave the room, it’s my store cupboard lunch along with wrinkled sultanas and bright green chunks of angelica.

‘Melt the chocolate in a bowl over a saucepan of hot water, stir in the yolk and then fold into the whisked white – gently!’

Soft, brown mixtures are spooned into glass sundae dishes, topped with a glacé cherry and brought for marking served on a saucer with a frilly d’oyley. Someone should make Beryl Ware with a d’oyley imprint. It would save much time and loss of exam marks. The brown gloop can’t leave the classroom. It must be eaten or scraped in the bin.  I don’t want the bus company complaining again of sticky seats after my cooking class has travelled home.

Eggs are teaching magic. My science degree will impress them – a little biology, some physics and a bit of birdwatching along the way.

The egg is the centre of my cooking world, the source of endless cheap dishes, and a great way to teach nutrition. 

‘Go to work on an egg’ was the advert from The Egg Marketing Board found in newpapers, magazines and comedian Tony Hancock and Patricia Hayes did a funny TV advert. ‘Rich in protein and very good value’ Patricia trilled and that’s my message today. If I have an egg, I have a lesson, and even a breakfast to go to work on – or in my case, to boil up when I get to my classroom.

‘Gather round and stand in a circle – I’m going to show you a trick.’

I roll the egg gently in the centre of the floor. It curls, curves and circles back to me. 

‘Look at that for magic – see how it rolls back to me. In nature it rolls back if it falls out of the nest. That’s why seagulls have very pointed eggs. They build nests on cliff edges and this way the egg rolls back in a very tight circle.’

My science brain questions this story as I’m thinking that seagulls’ nests cling to the sides of cliffs and the eggs would more likely drop over the cliff edge than roll back into the nest.  But I’ve got their attention and later I’ll tell them about the poor, beak-clipped battery chickens stuck in cages that never see a nest or daylight and that lay most of the eggs that we buy. I’ve visited an egg farm and seen how their eggs drop through the bars of their prison cages and down into collecting tubes. These sad, featherless birds blinked at me for rescue but their next stop was the chicken pie factory and they wouldn’t need plucking. The public don’t care. Battery farming makes eggs cheap and perfect for my low budget cookery recipes.

Best quality eggs used have a Little Lion symbol stamped on their shells but my box of eggs gives no clues to show when or where the eggs have been laid. No dates and no worries about how old, but I know that there is a TEST.

‘How do you know if an egg is fresh Emily?’

I’m trying to give the girls more attention as I’ve been neglecting them in class as the boisterous boys shoot up their hands or shout out when I ask a question.

We wait for quiet, gentle Emily to give an answer, but she’s surrounded by male cries of ‘Ask me, ask me!’ ‘I know!’

I ignore the boys’ enthusiasm this time. My girls have equal importance in this thrusting, testosterone-filled world, and I must give them a chance.

Ray can’t contain himself any more.

‘Miss you can smell if it’s off – it stinks. They’re good for stink bombs.’

I give Ray a stern look. Some of the boys nod and nudge and it feels like there’s a glint of a new plot. But Ray’s right, an off egg has the disgusting smell of sulphur but it is the girl’s turn. They must not be bullied into silence.

‘OK Emily, come and help me with the egg test.’

Emily stands by the large jug of salty water on my demonstration table. She’s nervous as I hand her three eggs. Two eggs have been bought recently and the other comes from the collection of old eggs that I keep hidden in the store cupboard especially for this age test.  Sometimes, I forget, and we use them anyway.

‘Emily, drop each egg carefully into a jug of salted water – the fresh eggs sink and the stale egg floats.’

One of the eggs bobs to the top of the water and the others are suspended in between.

‘See, this floating egg is stale so we don’t use it. Thankyou Emily for helping.’

Miss, the Magician has done it again, and I’ve let the girls have a turn. This lesson is going well and I’ve got more egg tricks to share which will take this session into the stratosphere.

‘Did you know that whole eggs are passed over a light to see if they are clear inside with no bloody bits or chicks growing? It’s called candling and you can do it with a candle. Emily, can you hold the candle and light it please?’

I hold my egg in front of the flame. The egg shell shines and the candle flame is bloody hot but you can’t see through it like The Egg Marketing photo. This piece of magic proves nothing. Just that the egg shell shines golden, and that candle flame is hot. I’m no better at tricks than Tommy Cooper so change tack before I lose my dignity.

They’ve each got an egg, a nice Beryl Ware saucer and a dinner knife.

‘OK. Go back to your places, crack your egg shell in half and slide the contents onto the middle of the saucer. I’m going to give you a biology lesson.’

‘Aren’t we cooking today, miss? I don’t want theory.’

Len struggles with reading and writing. He’s neat and well dressed for his age and he says that cookery is his favourite subject. He can ‘do’ cookery but he slides out of the school gates to miss other lessons.

‘Len, we’ll cook when we’ve finished this bit.

‘Crack your eggs and look at the air sac in the top of the shell. This is where the chick takes its first breath before it pecks its way out.’

The egg shell is lined with a thin white membrane and this air sac is one of nature’s mysteries.

‘Do we ever get chicks in our eggs then?’ Len’s enthusiasm is returning.

Some of the girls look up from their shells with alarm. Once again, I forget some city kids tell me that milk comes from the milkman and fish fingers from the freezer in the supermarket. I don’t know if they are teasing but the source of the most of the food chain seems unknown.

‘It’s OK – there are no chicks in these eggs. The hens have been reared in cages with no cockerels around.’

The room puzzles. Hens, cockerels and chicks? Which reminds me – I’ve got a sex education lesson next week with my form group and need some condoms.

They crack their eggs onto saucers and poke at the air sac in the shell.

‘Look at the yolk. Can you see the germ – the tiny white circle where the chick grows?’

‘You said this egg won’t be a chick?’

Len is increasingly frustrated by my teaching methods and wants to get on with COOKING.

‘See the two chords – the chalaza – which hold the yolk in place. And the thick and thin whites. ’

They peer at their saucers. What’s the point in this?

‘Miss, when are we cooking?’

It’s frustrated Len again. 

‘You might get asked to draw a cross section of an egg for the exam, so I’m showing you what it looks like.’

Here she goes again. The exam – everything is learnt to pass the bloody exam.

Len’s leaving at Easter so no tests for him. But I’ll be judged on the grades of the rest of the class and poor results means I’ll be accused of poor teaching.

‘OK class, we’re ready to make Chocolate Mousse – it’s just raw egg and chocolate.’

‘Scoop out the yolk carefully and put it into a bowl – don’t break it. Then whisk the egg white until it is stiff.’

The room whirs with rotary whisks.

‘When it’s ready you can turn the bowl upside down and the eggs whites stay in.’

This is the most stupid and wasteful test of all. If they turn the bowl over too early the whole lot plops on the floor, accompanied by screams of hilarity. The sticky, eggy mess which streams over the uneven slats of the wooden floor can’t be rescued and we must start again. Thank goodness eggs are cheap.

Chocolate mousse is easy to make. We use cheap cooking chocolate which is high in fat and low in tasty cocoa and if it’s in the storeroom, it’s added to my lunchtime meal of sultanas and angelica.

‘Melt the chocolate in a bowl over a saucepan of hot water, stir in the yolk and then fold the melted chocolate gently into the whites – gently!’

Good mousses are light and fluffy. Bad mousses are just a runny mess which still taste delicious.

They pile the soft, brown mixture into glass dishes, top with a glacé cherry and bring for marking on a saucer with a frilly d’oyley. Someone should make Beryl Ware with a d’oyley imprint. It would save much time and loss of exam marks. The brown gloop must not leave the classroom. It must be eaten or scraped in the bin.  I don’t want the bus company complaining again of sticky seats after my cooking class has travelled home.

2020 update‘Go to work on an egg’ is an advert at the time, made famous by Fay Weldon
These are the days before Edwina Currie’s egg and salmonella scare. By the 1980’s chocolate mousse made from raw eggs will be a pot of poison.

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Filed under 1970 cookery recipes, Boys cooking, Cookery exams in the 1970s, Foods of the 1970s, Home Economics in 1970, Jenny Ridgwell

Making marmalade


Stories of 1970s food lessons in a London school

Making marmalade is one of the kitchen joys of winter and I wish someone would make a marmalade perfume to remind me of its nourishing fragrance. 

A large box of Spanish Seville oranges has been left by the greengrocer outside my room and it’s so cold I wipe the January frost off their rinds. Giant aluminium preserving pans stacked high on the shelves in the food store are getting their first outing and they’ve been dusted, cleaned and scrubbed to remove the graveyard of spiders and flies who died inside unnoticed after years of neglect. Donated jam jars have been stripped of their labels and Syliva has hidden the black haired golly stickers from pots of Robertson’s Golden Shred in an envelope in my desk drawer. 

‘This is a lesson on Preservation. Work in groups and we’ll share out the jars of marmalade at the end of the lesson.’

Clever, stroppy, foldy arms Carol looms towards me.

‘I ain’t sharing me cooking. How will I get a mark if we share!’

Carol and Vicky randomly appear in my O level Cookery group as no other teacher wants them. Ever! The class despairs at their constant outbursts and I long for them to storm out to the station coffee bar for mugs of instant Maxwell House. 

‘OK Carol – you and Vicky work as a pair! Now all of you, slice the orange peel really thinly like this.’

I cut tiny slivers of peel into thin strips which burst with zesty fragrance. A warm, pungent calm descends.

‘Put the pith and pips in these pieces of muslin, tie up with string and drop in the pan to simmer with the squeezed orange juice and water.’

Sylvia has dusted down a bolt of white, soft muslin found on the top food store shelf. I imagine that She who ran away might have used it to wrap round Christmas puddings ready for steaming or for straining milk curds to make cheese.  But today my London teenagers are tying up bags with pips and pith to boil in our very large pans.

Carol shouts from behind her Formica table.

‘We don’t want no pips or peel in ours. We don’t eat them things.’

‘Listen class – the pips and pith contain pectin which sets the marmalade, otherwise it’s a runny syrup!’

Carol scowls and mutters as the class settles into the gentle rhythm of slicing peel and squeezing juice.

Ugh! Now Vicky erupts and runs to the bin and spits out a vomit of orange flesh.

‘Miss, this orange is vile. Sour as anything. It’s off! We can’t cook with them!’

‘Class, put down your knives.’ The quiet hush has been disrupted again.

‘Seville oranges are bitter and sour. You don’t eat them raw. You cook them with sugar. The first marmalade was made in a factory in Dundee. They got a delivery of these sour Seville oranges by mistake and couldn’t use them so they invented a new recipe – Dundee Marmalade made with sugar. Now let’s get on.’

I feel like a perky, smartarse Brain of Britain contestant, only with a Midland accent.

We tip vast quantities of Tate and Lyle sugar into the pans of simmering juice and the steam rises and blurs the windows. Ah Bisto! The room smells delicious.

‘Don’t lick your spoons class or taste!’ The marmalade is reaching tongue scorching temperatures.

I spin round the room of pans sticking the jam thermometer into bubbling mixtures and Sylvia, my magical helper,  follows with a cold plate for the wrinkle test.

‘If a spoon of your marmalade wrinkles on this plate, it’s setting!’

They look at me. Bewildered. Wrinkle? Why does it need to wrinkle?

We’re ready. Hot jam jars fresh out of the oven and are filled with scalding, golden liquid. Quick now. Cover and seal it from germs with a circle of greaseproof paper and a crackly cellophane top tied with string.

The room glows orange –  floaty slivers of finely cut peel dancing in the golden jelly of our east London marmalade.

Two pots are different. Carol and Vicky have abandoned their sugary syrup which will probably never set and definitely never deserve the name marmalade. But they’ve no doubt gone for a smoke.

Marmalade recipe

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Filed under Cookery exams in the 1970s, Home Economics in 1970

Sexist food textbooks and exam questions


‘Gender roles and the curriculum boys and home economics’ published in 1983, my friend Susan Johne criticised the strong female bias of the home economics textbooks, and the questions set for the exams.

Here are some exam questions from the time that reinforce the role of the woman as cook, caterer and cleaner for her husband and family. Remember these questions were given to boys and girls for their practical and theory exam and I had to excuse it as old fashioned, but things would change!

Practical Cookery exam questions from 1970s

1. Your brother and a friend are playing football. Prepare, cook and serve a substantial meal for them on their return home. You are all going out for the evening. Iron the shirt your brother will wear and sponge and press either the skirt or trousers that you will wear.

2. Your father and brother are going fishing for the day. Launder your father’s sweater. Leave to dry and press it if it dries in time. Make some meat pasties or pies and pack up with salad and fruit and a flask of coffee for their picnic meal. Cook and serve a substantial two course dinner ready for their return.

This is from 1970s theory exam

Suggest 2 dinners for a housewife who does her own cooking and shopping

a) a dinner cooked quickly on her return from shopping

b) a dinner which can be left cooking while she is out.

Dave Smith has done me some artwork to go with the illustrated edition of the book coming soon.

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Filed under 1970 cookery recipes, Cookery exams in the 1970s, O level cookery