Cooking up a storm at school

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24 August 2017 2:11PM

Can you cook? Can you cook well? And, in this age of almost instant everything,can you now be bothered to do any cooking?

I ask this question because, over the years, I have known of individuals who could make a pig’s ear out of cornflakes – and some of these were women!

When it comes to men’s culinary abilities – or, in many cases, their total lack of understanding of anything that happens in a kitchen, I suspect that many of them have, over the years, succeeded in convincing their partners that they have no culinary competence whatsoever.

True or feigned, this usually frees them from any responsibility for any real cooking.

But then some men, myself included, can be pretty useless in the kitchen.

Now, I’m not totally helpless – I can prepare a bowl or two of breakfast cereal, heat up a can of beans, make a pot of tea and operate a toaster - but probably not much else.

But, over the years, I’ve never had to cook for myself – either as a child or an adult.

I’ve always been able to enjoy being fed by people who are, and were, good cooks. And aren’t I the lucky one?

When I attended primary school, this was in Birkenhead, I was fortunate enough to be able to nip home for dinner. And when I moved up to secondary school, I was really fortunate.

It possessed a superb school kitchen. And when I was a student in Manchester, I also struck lucky.

I stayed in really superior digs where the food was truly excellent – and plentiful.

Many fellow students were not so lucky; some rented tiny bedsits. But they were often the lucky ones when compared to those who had to put up with decidedly grotty digs – which were often crudely painted over in sickly yellow and battleship grey paint.

These colours must have been going cheap in some of the local paint shops at the time.

I remember visiting one friend who was stuck in such an establishment. The carpet in the hallway should have boasted several large bald patches – had it not been completely filled with dust – or whatever.

The whole house stank of burnt cabbage, which had been thrown at the back of a fireplace.

Peculiarly nauseating! I can still smell it even as I write these words. As I remember, he didn’t stay there for long.

I have never been taught to cook in any school I attended. It would have been more useful than learning, at age eight, how to knit, crochet, sew and embroider – not the sort of skills young lads would have been overly interested in.

I have noticed that our local schools did teach cookery a few years ago. You could have seen youngsters, boy and girls, heading of for school laden with various ingredients for use in the day’s cookery classes.

Were you one of those who were taught to cook when you were at school?

Did they turn you into the next Nigella Lawson or James Martin?

I seem to remember that practical cookery was dropped from the syllabus some years ago, being replaced by something more theoretical. Unless you know any different!

But, if my reading of some of the daily papers is right, there was talk of going back once more to teaching youngsters how to cook. It might already have happened.

They seem to have had a similar problem back in late Victorian times. Good reason then to encourage the teaching of cookery – as the following, somewhat sexist, extract from the West Cumberland Times back from January 1892 shows.

“The girls at a certain age in Flimby Lodge are to learn cookery, and to be employed in kitchen and household work there.

"This is a step in the right direction that may well be imitated in every workhouse and industrial school.

"At present the majority of women and girls of the working class (and even of the classes above who call themselves their ‘betters’) only know how to spoil food and kill digestion.

"They pervert potatoes into cannon balls, steaks and chop into unmunchable leather.

"Eggs they drop into the pan, and before they are warm fish out again. Bacon and ham they turn into messes of sickening fat.”

There was more, but you might be eating your breakfast, so we’ll skip it.

The article put much poor national health down to bad cooking – which also caused some husbands to go off to the pub too often. The writer had a solution to this problem.

He suggested that potential bridegrooms “might do worse than require a cooking certificate before placing on the engagement ring!”

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