Many years ago (Spring/Summer of 1981 to be exact), I was ‘advised’ by my cookery teacher that “O level cookery is not for you – stick to the academics“. So I did and I began Autumn 1982 doing 13 O Levels not one of which entailed turning perfectly good quality natural ingredients into a burnt mush.So I was never given (thankfully at the time!) the chance to discover the ‘delights’ of domestic science past the age of 14…
Many years later, a relative of my husband visited our home for dinner. She had been a Domestic Science teacher. I showed her my old school cookery book. At the bottom of the Bread Making page I had written ‘I hate Miss T.’ For Miss T had told me, the day I wrote that, that in all her career she had never had a girl who had had to resort to ‘a packet mix’ when baking bread… And that day I had to so resort such was the inability of the yeast to give in to my hammering and pounding as I tried to knead it… Miss Reeve (for yes she was the visiting relative) exclaimed “Oh my dear friend Miss T. I must try to succeed where she so clearly failed“. Yes – it was the case that Miss Reeve and Miss T had been friends, teaching at different schools in the same town. Thereafter, Miss Reeve made her aim clear – with relish – that she could succeed in turning me into a half way decent cook.
Over the years, Miss Reeve gave me some of her old books. She gave me some of her old equipment. She made me my own recipe book (pictured below)
and filled it with a few recipes to get me started. I tried… But life never really gave me the time to try, and fail, at cooking again. I set up my own business (nothing to do with cooking!) and that, and life generally, took me away from my efforts to impress Miss Reeve. Although, I did always try to do something from one of her books whenever she visited. I recall her silently and meticulously peeling the skin from some new potatoes that I had served up. “Isn’t that where the nutrition is?” I asked her. “That is as may be“, she replied, “but this is a meal served to dinner guests. Presentation is critical.”
Miss Reeve died some years later, having tried and failed to succeed where Miss T had also failed. But she never gave up trying. I have old wooden spoons, books in which she had written her recipes, her old war menus, and numerous cookery books by others. She gave me silver trays to present my food on, cotton cloths for tea trays, the Lakeland Plastics catalogue (as it was then). When she died, she had an entire spare room full of baking equipment and other paraphernalia. That was shared out amongst those who baked and cooked and was appreciated. Instead of going to a tip or a house clearance business, they all found a good home. But the books that she had given to stayed on my shelves at home – untouched, undusted, but not forgotten.
A recent reunion at my old school saw a number of us (now in our mid 40s) quivering outside the cookery (or rather Domestic Science) room as the dreadful memories came back of lessons under the watchful and severe eyes of our cookery teacher. The same happened outside the Needlework room. I reflected that, at our age, we really should have conquered childhood fears! What could be so bad about having a go at baking or cooking, and failing? It might even be fun.
So I have undusted the books. Looked through them. And have decided to share them with others. Miss Reeve I think would have been quietly pleased that her job, her career and what was clearly very much a love of her life, would be reflected by new ‘students’ of domestic science today (ie people like me!).
I am hoping that others’ passion, and expertise, will help this site grow so that more slightly nervous cooks like me can feel that we do have a place in the world of baking as we too have a go at the recipes! I will take photos, and maybe even videos, as I go. Disasters and all.
I have a feeling that both Miss T and Miss Reeve are watching and saying “Get on with it, girl. A clean work surface; ingredients laid out before you start; and a plan to follow is all it takes. Put your apron on. Tie your hair back. Wash your hands. LISTEN to what you are told by others. READ the instructions. CONCENTRATE on the task at hand. What can go wrong?”.