It’s been quite evident since lock down that a large section of the nation have been engaged in baking of some form or other. Prior to my op I set up a regular grocery delivery as my immune system was off the Richter scale meaning the weekly supermarket shop wouldn’t be happening any time soon. My experiences with online ordering have been mixed. Items out of stock, substitutions; it’s been a bit of a ducking and diving game but all in all not too bad. And much better, of course, than the current queuing system keeping that 2 metre distancing – which I gather from some people is sometimes impossible. Something that has become clear since I’ve been ordering on line is regular out of stock items appear to be things like flour, baking margarine and eggs and this week caster sugar, leading me to draw the conclusion that a big baking fest is going on.
I have to admit I’ve probably been having quite a few Mary Berry moments myself since lockdown with thankfully not a soggy bottom in sight! Last week I baked a coffee sponge and while I was in the process of beating the sugar and butter into submission, my mind wandered back to school days and our first attempts at cooking. We came very late to the culinary art and weren’t allowed anywhere near a cooker until we were fifteen. Today they start much earlier which I think is a good thing, and boys are included. Back in the day most of the males in our year would have run a mile before they got involved in anything as putting on an apron and using a rolling pin. Almost as bad as having to partner us for dancing lessons in the gym if our PE lesson was rained off.
Our domestic science teacher had for the previous four years, guided us through the intricacies of sewing. A smartly dressed Scottish woman she managed to transfer her total lack of humour from the sewing room to the kitchen with supreme ease. To be truthful I think at times she found our youthful enthusiasm irritating. Although we were referred to collectively as ‘gels’ Miss Jean Brodie she was certainly not. No amusing anecdotes or dry humour. Instead she would lift her shoulders with a tired sigh and a roll of her eyes as if we were all beyond help. There were also occasions when she managed to turn cookery into a ‘no gain without pain’ experience. One of those was making meringue for the first time. My mother used a whisk. We were given a plate and a palette knife. It took ages to whip up the egg white and caster sugar, leaving us with aching wrists and arms.
In a time when Mrs Beaton’s word was law, we were taught how to cook a wide range of dishes – casseroles (which didn’t travel too well on the bus home ), pies, biscuits, quiches and cake to name but a few. Oh and one memorable and never to be repeated fish dish – soused herrings! If we made cake or pastry everything had to be weighed first and then put into glass dishes which were placed in front of the mixing bowl to be used as and when the recipe directed. At the end of each session she would give us instructions for the next week’s ‘creation’ and a list of ingredients to bring from home, although the cookery department had a large pantry and we could buy basics there. On one occasion in a total change from norm, I remember we made faggots. This involved the use of pig’s flead – an inner fatty membrane which resembles a net curtain and is cut and wrapped around each faggot. An unforgettable experience for most of us and not in a good way.
Of course cooking has dramatically changed since my school days when traditional English dishes were considered the norm. As a schoolgirl I watched Fanny Cradock on the box. She dressed as if she was going out to dinner. Full make up, fancy frock and jewellery which seemed totally at odds with what she was there to do. Later I remember Graham Kerr The Galloping Gourmet arrived with natty cravats and occasionally a bow tie. He always used to sample the finished dish he’d been cooking and the look of ecstasy on his face was another of his trade marks. And finally wine lover Keith Floyd, the man who took us beyond British shores, treating us to new and exotic dishes from all parts of the world.
It goes without saying we love our modern TV Chefs too. Cooking is now for everyone. In fact some guys are excellent cooks. You only have to watch Master Chef or The Great British Bake Off to see the great food that’s produced. It’s a far cry from the days of Fanny Cradock with the faithful Johnnie hovering at her side. I sometimes wonder what she’d make of it all today and whether she’d approve of men taking over the kitchen. In all honesty, given her temperament, I think not!
Today we enjoy experimenting with new recipes. Supermarkets and stationers’ racks are full of cookery magazines. At home I have a large collection of cook books ranging from Mediterranean – Greek, Spanish and Italian – as well as Indian and Chinese. Jamie Oliver and Delia Smith also feature as well as my ‘bible’ The Good Housekeeping Cook Book. Each week I do try to include at least one new recipe. Yes, it’s not all about writing!
Many thanks to https://www.pexels.com for the photos