Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Plastic pots, plastic education

Clearing out the back of a locker I came across these grotty plastic pots and had a Proustian moment. They came from the days of cookery lessons, or 'food technology' as it was more properly called because it wasn't anything as honest or useful as cooking but it wanted to get itself up as on a par with the technologists (wood work, metal work, chemistry) who in turn wanted to get themselves up with the physics and maths department.

With only one period and a class full of giddy teenagers, the food technology teacher resorted to sending letters which pleaded with the parents to send ingredients weighed out. These would be lightly combined and, if time permitted, heated in some fashion. Sometimes a raw assembly would come back. An uncooked pastry twist is not improved for sloshing about on the bus home.

The constraints made the ingredients very limited. I had no idea you could get an entire curriculum out of wheat, fat and sugar. Fruit was sometimes mentioned and if the teacher was feeling flamboyant, a request would come back for an egg or some milk in a little jar. Once they even asked for garlic, the mad impetuous fools. It meant mashing bottled garlic paste in to butter to make garlic bread. The bread came back - a shop-bought baguette - having had garlic butter surgically introduced. We still had to do the heating, though.

I should have protested when I saw the 'design sheets' for a pizza topping, solemnly planning where to stick the sausage circles on the pre-baked pizza bases. I should have demonstrated. A braver person would have said "If you can't teach something useful, let's sack you and buy some more maths hours or maybe a teacher prepared to do spelling tests and explain punctuation".

But I'm not brave. Besides I just felt so damn sorry for the teacher. It's always the fluffy ones who end up teaching this subject and they have that trembling tearful look of someone who means well but who, for their pains, has been lumbered with all the worst pastoral work. Armed with only a couple of sandwich tins they are supposed to be able to effect profound motivational change. It's not going to happen, is it? Even Jamie Oliver found that trick was harder than he imagined.

So I supervised the measuring-out of ingredients, chaffing that this too was something schools used to teach. Despite my whinging the results must have been alright. At any rate, the greedy beggars ate all the good stuff on the bus home.


JuliaM said...

Ah, I still remember my home economic efforts! One lesson, we made a sort of sausagemeat in pastry case topped with mashed potato thing.

It was ghastly.

I also remember being practically the only one in class who had already been taught to cook by my mother...

Woman on a Raft said...

Just shows the philosophical grip of value-added food, JuliaM. A lesson on how to:

a) peel, boil and mash spuds
b) select, grill or fry sausages (including vegetarian option)
c) make an onion gravy

without burns, cuts or food poisoning would give a child a chance to practice the skills everybody needs (such as explaining yourself down at A&E).

What on earth was the pastry doing in there? It's surplus to reqs. If they are going to put sausage meat in a pastry slice, what is needed is apple so it comes out like a sausage-and-chutney picnic plait.

Submariner said...

[Homer] Mmm. Sausage-and-chutney picnic plait [/Homer]

Captain Haddock said...

I recall when my younger sister was at school it was called "Domestic Science" (I went to an all-boys school, so didn't participate) ..

My late Dad taught me how to cook & many of his invaluable lessons are still in use to this day ..