It one were to say that I was renowned for my cooking skills, it would be an understatement. I am the queen of cooking flops. Even my children still laugh at the memory of pork chops setting off the smoke alarms, not just once but several times.
Being the first year through Fareham Park Comprehensive School, we attended school as it was being built around us. We didn’t have the home economic facilities until we were third year seniors (aged about thirteen) so, before that time, our cooking classes were outsourced to Fareham Park Technical School.
The school employed a seven day time table so our class schedules had a nice long rotation. Some things like music lessons, embroidery club, after school sports and so forth practiced the usual five day week schedule.
We walked to school. Every day we had our satchels ladened with our books, homework, folders, paper, pencils, rulers, slide rules, pens and our lunch. Some days we had to carry more: freshly laundered PE kits, musical instruments and music, embroidery projects, and there were those days, when we also had cooking class and had to take to school all the fresh ingredients for the receipe and the dish to bring it home in. How the heck did we do it?
Cooking did not start off well. One of my first cooking lessons was making a fruit crumble.
I was feeling so grown up on the day that we went to Fareham Park Technical College for a cooking lesson. Ladened with plastic bags containing a Pyrex dish, a large tin of rhubarb, a bag of flour, a bag of sugar and some margarine, I followed the others into a large room with ovens, cupboards and white, horizontal tables arranged in groups of three. I was assigned to sit with two boys, Robert and Fritz. Both boys assumed that because I was a girl, I knew how to cook. This lady cooked toast and cereal and that was about it. They sought my advice from the get go. It was kind of nice to be looked up to. So I winged it.
The first thing that we did was to get all our ingredients out on the table and our receipe. Some people had tins of peaches, others tins of pears, My mum had given me a tin of rhubarb. We were shown where we could find a bowl to mix the crumble, spoons, tin openers, colanders, and how to preheat the oven.
The second item of business was to undo the tin of fruit that we had bought and strain off the juices. Tough stuff this cooking! Not wanting to waste anything, I commented to the boys that it was a shame to waste the rhubarb juice. Their eyes lit up. “We’ll have it!” They exclaimed. “Are you sure?” I asked. “Oh yes!” They said. So I shared the juice out between them in some cups. They doused it down and I put the rhubarb into my mum’s Pyrex dish.
We got on with our crumble, weighing out the flour, sugar and margarine. We began rubbing in the marg to the flour. The boys started washing their hands with some urgency. ‘Are you finished already?’ I asked them. They looked at me quickly and rushed out of the room. I felt a little abandoned.
I continued to rub in the margarine. It wasn’t very fun as I got my hands dirty. I added the sugar, stirred it in, and put the crumble mixture on top of the rhubarb. About ten minutes after they had left, the boys ambled back into the room. My crumble was ready to go into the oven. By the time I got back from the oven a few yards away, the boys were running towards the door again.
“What were they doing?” I started cleaning up the table and getting the bowls and other utensils that I had used washed up whilst I waited for the crumble to cook. It would take just over half an hour.
The boys sauntered back in again looking a little ashened. The teacher told them to hurry up and get their crumble done. They got back to their bowls. When I had finished washing up, I sat down at the table. With nothing to do, I watched the activity of the boys. They looked up and whispered ‘Rhubarb juice’. ‘Rhubarb juice?” I questioned. “Yes, we will NEVER drink rhubarb juice again!” Suddenly the penny dropped and I suppressed a giggle.
So first lesson in cooking:
1. Know the properties of your ingredients;
2. Don’t share your rhubarb juice if you are trying to impress male friends;
3. Only give your rhubarb juice to your enemies.
One tin of Rhubarb;
4oz butter or margarine;
6oz plain flour;
2oz caster sugar
1. Heat the oven (Gas Mark 6, 400 degrees F 200 degrees C);
2. Drain juice of rhubarb (and be cautious who you give the juice to);
3. Put rhubarb in the bottom of a pie dish;
4. Rub the butter or margarine lightly into the flour until I resembles coarse breadcrumbs;
5. Stir in the sugar;
6. Sprinkle evenly over the fruit and press down lightly;
7. Sprinkle the top with sugar and bake in the centre of the oven for 45-50 minutes;
8. Service with hot custard!
(First published in Roaming Brit on 1st May, 2018)