Tuesday, 7 April 2009

School Dinners

Hands up who thinks there are some pretty precious celebrity chefs around?
I suppose I had better not name any (I'm talking about British ones here but for all I know they're the same the world over) but you know the sort......their prowess at swearing and boozing and belittling people far outstrips their ability to cook and their recipes and methods don't stand up to close scrutiny. Please can we have a celebrity chef showing ordinary people how to use ordinary ingredients, ones that fit the budget and don't need cupboard-loads of special equipment.

School Dinners
I used to love school dinners in the '50s and '60s. Roast Beef and Yorkshire Pudding, Cottage Pie, Stew and Dumplings, Liver and Onions -everything. Puddings were equally yummy, even when it was rice pudding or tapioca (frogspawn). I even liked semolina, which I was reliably informed was used in the school office for gluing papers. My all-time favourite was chocolate sponge with pink custard. Pink tasted exactly the same as yellow but yellow just would not have done.

And I loved being a 'dinner monitor', in which exalted position you had to be a part of the small posse who put out the tables and set the cutlery. You had to leave your classroom VERY QUIETLY 15 minutes before the dinner bell went and go along to the school hall. Gosh, you did feel important walking out of lessons like that! Our tables were octagonal so each had 8 place settings - knife and fork to right hand and left hand, dessert fork across the top with handle to left and spoon above that (handle right). A water glass was placed at the right of each place and each table had a jug of cold water There would be a teacher at each table and at her place you had to set a triangular folded napkin. Nobody else got one.

As the hungry hordes took their pre-ordained places and 'teacher of the day' joined them the Dinner monitor handed over to the Grace Monitor whose sole duty was to look as pious as possible while he said "For what we are about to receive may the Lord make us truly thankful our men (sic). You may be seated." As this took place on each table you can imagine what a racket there was of shrill little voices and scraping chairs.

The adult dinnerladies brought round the dishes containing the food we were having and the "Serving Monitor" stood up. To him fell the daunting task of equally dividing the main dish - meat pie let's say - and serving it onto plates. All would be well unless someone was absent and there was a piece left. It was the very devil of a job dividing that already small piece among everyone! For sure no-one was backing down, not even in the interests of world peace! You helped yourself from the vegetable dishes and were trusted to only take one eighth so there was enough for everyone.

Around came the dinnerladies again, this time with whatever was for pudding (dessert if you're posh or American) and - cue the "clearing up monitors". Each table had 2 of these, one for plates and cutlery and the other for everything else. The serving monitor dealt with dishing up the pud and, again, you helped yourself to the custard, making sure you left enough for everyone. Mind you, there was sometimes a bit of kerfuffle when it came to who got the skin off the custard! Clearing up monitors did their stuff again and then, when everything was cleared and tables clean, everyone except the dinner monitors, who put away the tables, could go.

See where I'm going with this? The point is that this wasn't a special effort to try and make us eat what was good for us. It wasn't a lesson in table manners. It wasn't an exercise in being considerate of others. It just happened. And we grew up just knowing these things whether we liked it or not. None of our fod was special, just what English school dinners were and if you didn't like what there was ......well there was no other choice!

Yes, I liked school dinners and all they taught me. And there was no need for any celebrity chef to do it or for wringing of hands or gnashing of teeth over it. I didn't like Miss Burlinson though, who was often at our table and was certain we were a bunch of Philistines!

I'm going to publish now just as it is because somethig odd is happening with my computer and I'm afrad I may lose the lot if I mess about with any pictures. Autosave is constantly failing.


StitchinByTheLake said...

Angie this was fascinating to me! When I was in elementary school there was no cafeteria so we all took our lunches. In high school there was a cafeteria and I loved the food though it wasn't cool to love it. But it certainly wasn't served family style like that but more assembly line! blessings, marlene

Kath said...

He-He I loved school dinners Angie my favourite pudding was treacle sponge LOL.Each day starting with table one we had the choice of second helpings if anything was left over,then moving up a table second day and so on.I always hoped and prayed knowone liked treacle sponge if it was on the menu our second helping day heee!The only thing I hated was jungle grass (Cabbage) Heeeeeee.Carn't u tell I have a new keyboard today LOL!!Great posting.Carn't beat a bit of old fashioned cooking without all those fancy ingrediants.Must cost folks a bomb to buy them all for a teaspoon of this and that.Take Care God Bless Kath xx

Sugar said...

hmmm, i don't recall a lot about our cafeteria 'assembly line' food that i liked. i usually took a sack lunch, prepared with love by my mother. :)
happy easter wkend to you & yours.

Little Red Hen said...

When I taught we had local mothers cook the meals for the kids and oh, they were heaven on earth. Probably laden with fat - but these were for growing children that needed all the fat energy-giving food they could get! Those women made meals like you described. No misbehaving in the cafs then, I can tell you! You are spot on, Angie!

Marie said...

Oh Angie, how envious I was a child and I read about your British school dinners in the books I read. All we had was a cold sandwich brought from home in a tin box or a paper bag. I would so much have loved to have a school dinner with boiled cabbage and treacle sponge! It all sounded so exotic and delicious!!! I'm with you on the Celebrity chef score. All highly over-rated and self absorbed. Tasty food doesn't have to be complicated or expensive. Love is the magic ingredient that makes everything taste good!

I'm mostly known as 'MA' said...

There is nothing that can beat the good old fashioned favorites for sure. I didn't get the lovely food you did at school. It all sounds wonderful and yes there must have been a lot learned though sharing and working together so that you all enjoyed the lunch. Much of what you wrote about though happened at home for us as a family. Each helped out from the smallest on up. Happy Easter to you and thanks for sharing your wonderful memories.
'On Ya'-ma

Jan said...

Yes ...That is exactly as it was ..what a memory ,for detail ,I did enjoy this entry ..love Jan xx

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